Some people believe kids should have the right to vote. They argue that government policies impact children more than adults because kids will have to deal with the consequences of today’s decisions long into the future. Opponents of the idea think that minors are not ready for the responsibility that comes along with voting.
Why can’t kids vote? Kids can’t vote because they lack maturity, life experience, critical thinking abilities, and long-term planning skills. Minors have undeveloped brains that prevent them from being able to fully understand political rhetoric. Parents seeking to prepare their child to vote should get them involved in civic action and philosophy early.
Lack of Maturity
Young people have not had the chance to mature intellectually or emotionally. This is no fault of their own.
They are simply not old enough for their bodies to have gone through the chemical changes that that will prepare them physically and mentally for life’s challenges.
Younger people struggle to acquire wisdom from events that occur in their lives.
Their brains tend to be wired for instant gratification more than adults. As a result, they make decisions that seem prudent to them in the short-term but often overlook key considerations that are likely to occur further down the road.
Remember, 16-year-olds are only 3-4 years removed from playing with toys.
Some kids are more mature than others by their very nature. They may be the ones someone would rely on if they were to make an argument supporting voting rights for minors.
This argument falls short because of the numbers.
Yes, there are some very mature teenagers. Some of them work, help out with family finances, and a few even have children of their own.
But the overwhelming majority are just trying to get through high school and successfully transition into early adulthood.
Once they make that transition and face the responsibilities that come along with it, they will be far more prepared to vote.
Lack of Life Experience
Very few children have significant life experiences that would help them understand the responsibility that comes along with being an adult.
Even at 16 or 17 years old, the biggest challenge most youth are facing centers around SAT scores and which colleges to consider.
They have no precept for foreign policy, financial markets, economic stability, or opportunity.
If they were able to vote, they would be forced to rely on what they learn in high school which is not shown by the data to prepare our students well.
Further, because civics and western philosophy are no longer taught in U.S. public schools on any meaningful scale, students do not have a deep understanding of the American ideals upon which an adults citizens right to vote is based.
Their opportunity to learn will these important lessons will most likely come in college, if at all.
Undeveloped Brain and A Lack of Critical Thinking and Long-Term Planning Skills
The part of the brain that controls rational thought does not fully develop until age 25.
Recent research suggests that teen brains actually work differently than that of an adult.
Adults process events in their lives with the rational part of their brains known as the prefrontal cortex.
This allows them to make good decisions using sound judgment and demonstrate an awareness of long-term consequences.
Teens cannot use their prefrontal cortex because it is not developed enough.
They process information with the amygdala, which is the emotional part of the brain.
Professionals who work with teens and their parents recommend that parents are always there to offer a “frontal lobe assist”.
This is when the parent is there to help the teen through normal challenges that the teen is struggling with because they can’t yet “see around the corner” as a result of their current stage in brain development.
Some common scenarios include helping the teen:
- Establish a morning and evening routine
- Control the risks associated with peer pressure and impulsive decision making
- Establish and pursue a vision for their future
- Manage their workload, hobbies, leisure activity, and sleep schedule
Parents make important contributions to their child’s life by helping them through this stage.
It takes a lot of patience and understanding, but the payoff is a well balanced young adult who has a sense of life’s twists and turns as they enter adulthood.
The question that pertains to this conversation is, do we want teenagers to be even earlier on in the “frontal lobe assist” stage when they get the right to vote?
Inability to Understand Political Rhetoric
Brain development is closely connected to a child’s ability to understand political rhetoric.
Aristotle defined rhetoric as “the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion”. He called it “a combination of the science of logic and of the ethical branch of politics”.
In simple terms, using rhetoric often involves using “common sense” examples to make an argument that appeals to someone’s logic, emotions, or beliefs.
Note that Aristotle paid particular attention to the ethical branch of politics. Not every politician does that. Teenagers will have a hard time figuring out which ones do and which ones don’t.
Adults are better at seeing through the veil when there are ulterior motives at play.
Let’s look at a couple of examples of strategies used by politicians. Both the straw man and the red herring are well-known fallacies designed to misdirect the attention of the observer (or opponent).
The straw man presents misinformation by giving the observer (or opponent) the impression that the speaker is refuting their opponent’s argument when in fact they are arguing against a different position than what their opponent presented.
This gives the impression that the speaker is succeeding in refuting the opponent’s argument, when in fact they are speaking against something different than what was presented.
An example would be if Politician A wanted to relax the laws regulating the legal age to drive and Politician B responded by arguing that eliminating the minimum age for driving would increase accidents and fatalities.
In the process Politician B is creating a straw man that appears to represent what politician A was advocating for.
Of course, it does not, but it does help Politician B counter an argument that is more nuanced and complex with a simple and quick answer.
The red herring is a diversionary tactic designed to distract from the issue at hand.
It’s a decoy that appears to be relevant to the topic when it’s really not.
For example, let’s say a politician is giving a speech to a crowd of educators and wants to persuade the crowd to support a new proposal to bring in new software that can help local students improve their high school graduation rates.
In doing so, he argues that improving graduation rates will help the teachers get a pay raise.
Of course, in this example, graduation rates don’t cause pay rates to go up but the politician knows the issues are related just close enough for the teachers to make the logical leap and establish the connection.
I provided straightforward examples to illustrate the techniques in an easy to follow way.
They are not presented as such in our political discourse.
Further, these strategies are used in combination with others as politicians attempt to navigate the political landscape, creating a compounding effect of complexity along the way.
Many adults have a hard time sorting through it all and find it hard to believe that lowering the voting age would create a more informed citizenry.
Most teenagers are not going to spend a lot of time thinking through the interconnected web of information to identify patterns and figure out where the truth lies.
Should the voting age be lowered?
No, the voting age should not be lowered. The scientific research indicates that teens under the age of 18 are not prepared mentally to manage the responsibility that comes along with voting. They need more time to develop before taking on the responsibility of voting.
The voting age has already been lowered once. In 1971 the 26th Amendment was passed granting 18-year-olds the right to vote.
The previous age had been 21. At this time it was believed that the brain develops during puberty.
The argument in support of the amendment was that 18-year-olds were old enough go to war, get married, work, and pay taxes.
This argument is much stronger than the one to lower the voting age to 16, making it less likely to ever become law.
Political Strategy of Lowering the Voting Age
There is a political strategy behind lowering the voting age, and it is a good case study to share with your kids.
Politicians are usually not eager to support ideas that don’t benefit them, they support ideas that will generate more support for them.
Support is a currency to them. That goes for individuals of any political persuasion and is a good lesson for kids to learn early.
What Should Parents Do to Prepare Their Children to Vote?
Bring them to the voting booth every time you vote. Share the research you do with them on all the candidates and issues and show them how you do the research.
Talk to them about the rhetoric that you hear on the news and read in the papers.
Help them understand through real-world examples what political speak translates to in simple, honest, and direct language.
Explain to them the importance of a candidate’s values and their potential to do good.
If they are really into the topic expose them to Rousseau, Montesquieu Jefferson, Payne, and Voltaire.
Instill in them the importance of American values like free thought, free will, and liberty.
Work with them to see how these ideals take shape in modern society and are more important than ever to uphold and cherish.
Western ideals, specifically American ideals, are still the envy of the world, even if we fall short at times of living up to them ourselves.
Why is it Important to Vote?
It is important to vote because when citizens vote, they make their voice heard to their government.
Every vote is counted and every vote matters. It is the duty of every citizen to participate in a democratic system that puts power in their hands.
Some elections have been decided by very small margins, including; 1960 Kennedy v. Nixon, 2000 Bush v. Gore, and the 1867 vote to remove Andrew Johnson from office.
Had a small number of additional citizens made their voices heard, any of those elections could have gone the other way.
These are just a few famous examples at the highest level. Important races at lower levels are decided much more frequently by smaller margins.
Who is Most Likely to Vote?
Older people are more likely to vote, as age is the most reliable factor in determining who will participate in the electoral process.
About 22% of registered voters age 18-29 participate consistently. The rate gradually increases over time peaking with citizens age 50-65, who participate regularly at a rate of 42%.
Those who are married are more likely to vote than citizens who are single, and Republicans are slightly more likely to vote than Democrats.