By Shahen Boghoussian
Whether it’s climate activist Greta Thunberg or gun control advocate David Hogg, when minors take center stage to advocate for change that will affect millions across the nation, they have entered the arena of public discourse. What does this entail? Well, in no short order, they, their ideas, and the messages they promote will be met with a wave of backlash and criticism, which makes sense. If you enter a public debate expect to be treated like an adult, especially if you have amassed millions of supporters.
Still, this angers many of those who side with their goals. But rather than debate the complaints lodged against them, supporters hide behind the fact that they are children. For example, during a back-and-forth between “CNN Tonight” host Don Lemon and conservative commentator Tara Setmayer in 2018, Lemon claimed criticizing the Parkland gun control activists made you a bad person because “they are kids.”
I would imagine, despite their intent, that these comments would come off as insulting and demeaning to the child activists they are defending. Already weighed down by academic stress, parental pressure, and uncertainty about their future, these teenagers have taken it upon themselves to fight for global issues they feel strongly about. To say, “they are just kids,” undermines all that they have accomplished. On the other hand, by criticizing aspects of their movement or policy goals, an honest discussion and dialogue takes place. Not only are all sides given an opportunity to speak, but when people voice their concerns, they are taking these advocates seriously, which is what they want the most.
Of course, ad hominem attacks are never okay. There is a difference between bashing Greta Thunberg’s arguments and bashing Thunberg herself, as is evidenced by Fox News guest Michael Knowles. After Thunberg delivered an impassioned speech at the United Nations Climate Action Summit on Sept. 23, Knowles attacked her on national television, making disparaging comments about mental illness as a way to discredit her. These same tactics were used against the Covington Catholic students earlier this year. Numerous political pundits, celebrities, and politicians falsely attacked, disparaged, or threatened the teens.
But reasonable criticism should be welcomed instead of viewed as a social taboo. Take, for instance, Reason’s Nick Gillespie, who suggests Thunberg’s rhetoric is counterproductive to developing “good environmental policy.” In his piece, Gillespie acknowledges that the hateful comments directed towards Thunberg are unwarranted, but he does not shy away from pointing out the flaws in what she’s advocating for.
Supporters claim these children are the perfect people to speak out against problems that past generations helped create — but that, though they are grown-up enough to lead a mass movement, they are still too young for critics to come after them. Supporters can’t have it both ways. No one pushing for political change is free from criticism, regardless of age. At the same time, however, when people criticize child activists, they ought to maintain a level of decorum.
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