A ban on youthanasia

I won’t sit down, I won’t shut up, but most of all I will never grow up. Keeping those under 18 quiet can have negative effects.

For about a year after I returned from Northern Ireland, my friends would abandon me outside bars after I had one too many drinks and instruct, âÄúHere, talk to this pole! When you get all of that âÄòyouth povertyâÄô and âÄòsectarian violenceâÄô shlack out âÄî then you can come back inside, but you were bleeding the poor boyâÄôs brains out with all your IRA talk!âÄù People come to the bar for two things: to fornicate and to forget. Nowhere in that equation is there mention of the desire to fester in the futility of foreign conflicts. Thus, for the sake of my friends and to fit in with our mostly sleeping society, I promised myself that my days of sounding like a broken record were over. I shelved my beloved copy of Robert EnglishâÄôs âÄúArmed Struggle: The History of the IRAâÄù and I restricted my columns and conversations to all things light and airy. It worked well enough. Yet with two British soldiers and two pizza deliverymen pronounced dead at the Antrim barracks on Sunday and yesterday morningâÄôs shooting of a Belfast police officer, IâÄôm finding it impossible to choke back my concern. The âÄúpeace processâÄù in Northern Ireland has officially been in motion since the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, but their new power-sharing government is barely 22 months old. The recent attacks were claimed by splinter factions of the now-obsolete IRA, known as the Real IRA and the Continuity IRA. The barracks killing even carried the unsettling hallmark of former IRA strikes âÄî where no distinction is made between the enemy and civilians who aid the enemy, even if their participation is as immaterial as delivering a pizza. The majority of Northern Ireland is in support of peace and the outcry against these acts of violence has been strong; it is the first British soldier shooting since 1997. Yet when grappling with how such an act could happen after the rest of the world has watched Northern Ireland come so far, both the media and the locals are all too easily inclined to place the blame on ill-informed, recalcitrant youth. In reference to why sectarian violence continues to persist in the North, I once had a Derry man tell me: âÄúItâÄôs the kids, so it is. They donâÄôt have any role models, save for the leprechauns âÄî and [the leprechauns] are good for nothing.âÄù His response was probably the best IâÄôve heard yet, but even so, it uses black humor to gloss over an issue that is prevalent almost everywhere: the marginalization of youth. As a child, I was fortunate enough to be labeled as very âÄúprecociousâÄù and âÄúmatureâÄù for my age, but for this, I gained nothing. I was simply told âÄúwait until you get olderâÄù (my father), âÄúyour time will comeâÄù (my grandma), or âÄúpeople donâÄôt start valuing your opinions until youâÄôre at least 18, but for you, it will probably be never because youâÄôre so short. YouâÄôll always look like youâÄôre 12âÄù (my brother). This was an immensely frustrating roadblock for me and an underlying catalyst for why I consequently spent half my high school career stoned. If the world wasnâÄôt going to take me seriously, I could at least return the favor. The problem in Northern Ireland and everywhere is that weâÄôve grossly misrepresented the value of youth. Youth are criticized for being apathetic, lazy and self-involved, yet their avenues for empowerment and participation in the political process before the age of 18 are few and far between. In a country like Northern Ireland, their involvement is crucial to the success of the power-sharing government. If they arenâÄôt allowed to share in the burdens and benefits of citizenship, they will turn elsewhere âÄî as their paramilitary presence has proven. (For example, most members join the IRA or UDF between the ages of 15 and 18). The three main arguments for youth exclusion in politics are that young people lack the skills and qualities necessary to be active citizens, they do not have the ability to responsibly share power with adults and for the most part, they are uninterested or apathetic to community and international needs. You will find these kinds of underlying assumptions everywhere âÄî in religion, in schools, in society, and most especially, within the government. Now obviously, I am not proposing a âÄúTeenage Revolution.âÄù But I am arguing that perhaps itâÄôs us, the adults, who are being a little bit naïve and, quite frankly, completely apathetic. When I look back on my life, I view its progression in terms of people rather than personal experiences. Specifically, I have come to understand my existence through the lens of the many mentors who I have been so fortunate to have. I have never âÄúnot caredâÄù about anything unless I was repeatedly denied the opportunity to express myself. My mentors never stereotyped me in this way either. They treated me like an equal and encouraged all of my ideas. Instead of growing up and fixating on their personal careers, these people did a 180 and held out their hand to the rest of us still waiting to be heard and understood. This is what Northern Ireland needs âÄî not just unity between Catholics and Protestants, but unity between youth and adults. Race, political affiliation, gender and color have always served as criticisms for the way in which we separate ourselves, but what about age? Why do we marginalize the contributions of the youth and then blame the media and music for their lashing out? Why do we lock old people away and make them invalid along with their ideas? Why do we structure our lives in a bell curve in which we can only achieve notable relevance to society for a short period of time? It is a sad day when the youth turn to paramilitary organizations such as the IRA to find validation because they canâÄôt get it anywhere else. ItâÄôs the adults that need to stop being so selfish and start working hard to bring young people into a more positive, respected realm. If you do anything with your life, please, be a mentor to someone else. Ashley Dresser welcome comments at [email protected]