As the survivors of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida stand up for themselves - organizing marches, confronting lawmakers and lobbyists on live television, and inspiring walkouts across the nation - the world watches with surprise.
Whether or not that surprise is positive (“Wow! You go, kids!”) or negative (“They must be paid actors!”) varies. But surprise is the overwhelming feeling I see expressed on social media and in news clips.
Frankly, I feel this surprise is unwarranted. And some people on Twitter feel the same.
The caricature of the careless teenager is incredibly misguided. If there’s one thing that young people do well, it’s care. Things matter to them, and deeply. What that thing is varies among different people, of course. It could be friends, or grades, or their hobbies. Whatever it is, it matters, and they care about them.
Often the things that teens care about are seen as unimportant by adults, so the depth of the care about those things goes unnoticed. This lack of notice is a mistake.
Young people care deeply enough to fight for the things they care about.
They fight without politeness, without hesitation, without letting the idea that someone else thinks that they’re wrong get in their way. They fight to win, because it matters to them that they protect the thing they care about. Sometimes the fight is for classroom popularity. Sometimes the fight is for a high-ranking spot on a sports team. Right now, the fight of teenagers in Parkland and across the United States of America is for their lives – and it’s the same level of care, and the same kind of fight.
Young people are fighters. They always have been. We just don’t often notice their battlefields.
And this is by no means the only time that young people have fought for something that an adult would see as important. The two tweets below are part of a thread that shares the stories of Barbara Johns and Diane Nash, teens who fought against segregation. I highly encourage you to click the images and read more.
People commonly refer to young people as “the future.” But they are, perhaps more importantly, the present.
The Parkland teenagers, and all the others they have inspired, are not politicians trying to keep a job, or actors trying to present a role, or anyone else doing what they do for a paycheck. They are doing what they do because they care. They are fighting for their lives because they care. They are not rebels without a cause, though some adults would encourage them to be that stereotype instead of actual people that need to be reckoned with. They are rebels with the most important cause of all, and the drive to see this fight through to the end.
At this point, the truly careless thing would be to dismiss and ignore them.