I turned eighteen in the April of 2015-just in time to vote in this year's General Election, an opportunity taken by myself and the majority of my classmates. Far from the oft-depicted representation of teenagers in the media-slouching, lazy creatures who have less interest in politics than in whoever's the latest to break down weeping on TOWIE -in the weeks leading up to 7th May, the common room was filled with constant discussion of politics with posters tacked to the walls and frequent debates that seeped into lessons and recreation time.
There were a few, being a couple of months off their eighteenth birthdays, who weren't able to cast their vote. There was a feeling of unfairness about the issue- those people who hadn't yet reached their eighteenth birthdays weren't necessarily less intelligent or passionate about the issues that plagued them. But because they happened to have been born a few months later, their opinions were deemed irrelevant and therefore they couldn't contribute to a vote which would affect them as much as the rest of the country.
There seems to be a general consensus that teenagers simply are not ready to vote. The reasons I've heard from teachers/parents include: they don't have enough political knowledge; they're too idealistic; they'll simply conform to peer pressure. These reasons throw all teenagers under the same label and denounce them as completely incapable or unwilling to understand how voting works-despite the recent activities of politically-engaged teens such as Abby Tomlinson, who completely disprove the stereotype.
In my experience, this is the epitome of generalization. My classmates were hugely interested in the election; in the preceding weeks, it was one of the most frequently-discussed topics. Nor were students parroting views they'd heard from snatches of TV debates; people were quoting websites that explained more about each party's aims and bringing in print-outs of articles sporting facts and figures to support their arguments. They were the opposite of uninterested -several took the step of joining political parties, and getting involved in the campaigns.
I'm not saying all teenagers possess the same intellect and interests-that would be another generalization. But just because someone's age ends in teen, does not mean that their views should be discounted or negate their intellect or value as a person. It's not as if when someone turns eighteen, a switch flicks, implanting all the knowledge they need to make an election decision. Studies indicate there isn't a huge difference, developmentally, between sixteen and eighteen year olds. Some scientists believe people aren't fully mature until age 25, but no one's calling for that to be the voting age.
However, a significant argument I've heard for the voting age being eighteen is that teenagers don't have enough political education to understand the voting system.
I'd agree we don't receive enough political education in schools. In fact, I'd consider enough an exaggeration. I don't remember anyone actually outlining what the parties stood for or explanations as to what terms like deficit and bedroom tax mean. "It's not fair" one of my friends pointed out. "How am I meant to vote when we're not taught anything?"
Until I turned seventeen, most of my political knowledge was gleaned from snatches of Prime Minister's Questions- which seemed mostly to consist of people shouting at each other- and my family-which seemed to consist of arguing with the television. While both are entertaining, neither was an informative source of basic voting facts.
Surely if people believe teenagers don't have enough knowledge to be allowed to vote, we should be focusing on objectively providing them with that knowledge. If we don't allow them access to that education then they'll clearly have less political understanding. It's like completely skipping half the curriculum's topics before an examination. Maybe it's time that the government start focusing on implementing changes in the national curriculum that will allow for some political change in schools. it can't be argued that this couldn't be a positive contribution to young people's futures. For those who claim that we should be focusing on other, less dramatic educational priorities- this is the same government that offered the suggestion of nine-hour schooldays. Considering extra political education seems rather tame in comparison.
Of course, we can't just give sixteen-year-olds the vote with no more discussion-but the idea is worthy of more discussion. It makes sense to be educating our generation politically-one day soon, we'll be the ones responsible for the country's future.
I suppose a lot of people might say that I'm another idealistic teenager who doesn't know what I'm talking about. But it's the fact that I'm young that makes me passionate about this -because I've seen young people who desperately want to contribute to the vote, yet are essentially told their opinion is irrelevant. British law deems sixteen-year-olds to be capable of consenting to sex and joining the army-how is it acceptable for them to be allowed to fight for their country but to be denied any say in how that same nation is run?