Straight Talk Advice

Should 16-year-olds have the right to vote?

May 05, 2015

Just as women were repressed without suffrage, so are children

Dear Straight Talk: I read that the voting age was lowered to 16 in two cities and that San Francisco is considering the same. I don't feel kids this age have the maturity or education to make informed decisions. I think most honest teenagers would agree. —Parent in Santa Rosa, California

Kat 20, Eugene, Oregon Ask me a question

Your beliefs are not only ageist but ignorant. Maturity level depends more on the person than age. Many 16-year-olds are more informed and interested than people I know in their 30’s who aren't even registered to vote. Anyone motivated to register deserves to vote.

Justin 17, Brentwood, California Ask me a question

I agree that teens lack adequate maturity. Very few high school kids care about politics or have mental capacity to separate what's popular versus what 's right.

Brandon 23, Mapleton, Maine Ask me a question

Sixteen-year-olds make bad decisions, get pregnant, use drugs, they've barely finished second-year Common Core English. On the other hand, tech, clean energy, housing, and sustainable food are experiencing exponential growth — with 20-somethings at the helm. The problem is low voter turnout. Giving 16-year-olds the vote could bring more involvement.

Karlee 17, Bentleyville, Pennsylvania Ask me a question

Where I live, kids pay more attention to politics than most adults. To say we lack education only demonstrates yours. We're constantly hit with politics in our history, current events, journalism and English classes. Those social media sites you complain about us on? Top Twitter trends include  #Sec66A, #TedCruz and #BlackLivesMatter. But a 17-year-old can't possibly be mature, right? Except when you have divorced parents and help pay bills with two after-school jobs. Or your friend, barely 18, works at the strip club to pay her mother's bills. Or you were raped. Or you watched someone die from a heroin overdose. Or supported your gay friends after their parents brutalized them. Honest teenagers? How honest are our politicians? You? Think that puzzle over before accusing a teenager of being dishonest for wanting a voice. We've been silenced too long while cleaning up past generations' messes. The voting age should absolutely be lowered.

Taylor 18, Santa Rosa, California Ask me a question

At first glance, giving teenagers (without fully-formed adult brains) the vote seems scary. But 18-year-olds aren't fully formed either. Yet, they vote — and we depend on them as soldiers. My government teacher says it's not so much age, but maturity that matters. Perhaps voting rights could be attached to a driver's license or other maturity test.

Lara 23, Vienna, Austria Ask me a question

I’m a dual citizen and grew up between California and Austria where the voting age is 16. I was always impressed by how informed and involved my Austrian peers were in global politics and positive change. Lowering the voting age is a great idea.

Colin 21, Sacramento, California Ask me a question

The last election saw the lowest voter turnout in history. This is because we are no longer a democracy. Lowering the voting age won't motivate enough new voters to stop our slide into neo-feudalism. Until we reverse Citizens United, the President and Congress will continue as employees of the billionaire class. Every generation passes at least one constitutional amendment, so let's join them and repeal Citizens United at http://www.wolf-pac.com/ .

Samantha 23, Toledo, Ohio Ask me a question

Whereas many 16-year-olds lack a mature mindset when it comes to risk-taking activities, they are in school and many are active community members with maturity enough to be part of their government.

Icis 16, Lehigh Acres, Florida Ask me a question

Icis, 16, Lehigh Acres, Florida: Lowering the voting age sounds wonderful, but my household, like many others, has never been politically involved and I could care less about voting. 

Elle 19, Mifflintown, Pennsylvania Ask me a question

My initial reaction to teen voting is NOOOOO! You read this column: vaping, bullying, sex, etc. — many teens are busy numbing themselves. Hormones are raging, it's an incredibly self-centered time and everything's a soap opera. Many teens have exceptionally clear  minds, but, sadly, not a high percentage. “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.” (Luke 16:10). Even parents don't give a long leash without first establishing worthiness. Civic decisions require even more care.

Brie 23, London, England (US citizen and longterm panelist) Ask me a question

On one hand I feel like a 16-year-old wouldn't have enough information to make informed decisions, but then I don't understand half the ballot measures at 23. If 16-year-olds were required to do some research before being allowed to vote, it could be really good.

Meghan 20, State College, Pennsylvania Ask me a question

Thinking about myself at 16, apathetic and unknowledgeable about the world, my initial response was to agree with you. But I was not completely naïve and had someone trusted me, I might've stepped up to the plate. There is an overarching negative stereotype that young people are reckless, immature and uninformed. And stereotypes breed belief, even by those stereotyped. That said, responsibility must be earned. A first step could be student representatives or collective youth voting. I also worry about the influence of parents on the kids.

Shel 17, Pleasanton, Calif. Ask me a question

I would love being able to vote at 16. We should begin gaining interest and participating at a young age. With the recent Common Core educational curriculum controversy, students should have a say in their education.

Dear Parent: You chose an interesting venue for your question. Out of 13 responding panelists, two vote no for lowering the voting age, nine vote yes (three with conditions), one isn't political, and Colin (political since birth) thinks it won't help. My vote: Many teens are mature and those who want to vote should be able to. Because minors are currently a nonvoting bloc, their needs (education, juvenile justice, food, housing, early-childhood care) get short shrift. To end their repression, we need their voice.

Editor’s Note: The child suffrage movement is finally gaining traction as voter polls slipped to their lowest levels ever in the 2014 election. Two suburbs of Washington D.C., Hyattsville and Takoma Park, Maryland, have successfully lowered their city voting ages to 16 and now the proposal is being considered for San Francisco, California.

I'm a proponent of child suffrage because children's needs such as a good education, maternity leave for their parents (ensuring better early-childhood experiences), better daycare, better juvenile justice systems, and basic things like proper nutrition, medicine, and safe homes are all things children are unable to provide for themselves and all get the shortest shrift in agenda items, elections and budgets. If kids could vote, it would help them get a fair piece of the pie — making us a stronger nation. Just as women weren't self-representing as voters until 1920, children aren't self-representing today and our infrastructure and way of life reflects their repression.

We already consider 16-year-olds mature enough to drive, work, pay taxes, and be sent to adult prison. While full adult-brain mode isn't until age 25, many 16-year-olds have plenty of maturity (just as many 30-year-olds do not). To deny them the right to vote uses the same arguments that denied women the right to vote and kept them subjugated.

Those who worry teens will be proxy voters for their parents, keep in mind that teens are independent by nature. In Scotland's recent vote on whether to separate from the United Kingdom, almost half the 16- and 17-year-olds voted differently than their parents. (Maybe therein lies the fear.)
 
But will they vote at all? Colin may be right that precious few would make it to the polls even if they could vote until Citizens United is repealed and we go back to being a democracy. Among dismal voting records, the young (age 18-24) voted less than anyone.  A University of California Davis study shows that in California, only 8 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds voted in the 2014 election.

Personally, I would like to see Citizens United repealed AND the voting age lowered to 16, in either order. A good place to test youth suffrage is a major U.S. city. I hope San Francisco approves the measure and that teens rise to the occasion and contribute greatly to civic life. I have a lot of confidence in them and believe we need their voices added to the mix in order to heal societal wounds and thrive. But then, you might have guessed this from the founder of Straight Talk Advice. —Lauren

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  1. By Sharon, age 43, from Fair Oaks, California on 05/05/2015

    I don’t believe that age is a good criteria, but since there is no good way to determine when an individual is qualified to vote, we are probably stuck with using an arbitrary age to determine who is qualified to vote, but I wish there were a better way.  I say this based upon my own daughters who are 18 and 16.  My 18 year old has absolutely no interest in political affairs.  She could have voted for the first time last November and I strongly urged her to register and vote, but she refused saying “one vote doesn’t matter,” and that she wouldn’t know what she was voting about anyway and might vote for somebody or something bad, so it was better for her not to vote.  I am very disappointed in her, as I was very proud to be able to vote when I turned 18.

    In contrast, my 16 year old is very interested in and active in political affairs.  She would be well qualified to vote even at her age and can’t wait to turn 18 so that she can vote.  She is much more mature than her older sister in many ways, is an excellent student, and already making college plans.  My older daughter will be graduating from high school next month (after just barely meeting the minimum requirements).  She has no idea of what she wants to do which is very frustrating.  She complains about the fact that her sister proudly displays her academic achievement awards in the room they share and claims that her sister is “lording it over her.”  However, I feel that my younger daughter has the right to display the awards she has earned.  My younger daugher also keeps herself physically fit and maintains an attractive body while my older daughter overeats and has let her body go.  She also claims that her sister “shows off” her more attractive body in their room because she’s sometimes casual about nudity in the bedroom.  Again, I don’t think she’s “showing off” just because she’s likes to comfortable and casual in her own bedroom with her own sister.

    I know that a mother shouldn’t compare their children up against one another, but sometimes it is hard when one is so much more responsible than the other.

    Sharon

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    1. By Gina, age 16, from Vacaville, CA on 05/05/2015

      Your damn right that you shouldn’t compare your kids against each other, but your obviously doing it anyway and it’s very unfair!  That’s all I hear from my parents and teachers “Why can’t you be like your sister?”  My sister’s older, so everybody expects me tomeet her high standards.  She’s actually good to me and doesn’t try to lord it over me, but everybody else expects me to be like her.  The fact is, I just wasn’t born as smart as her and I can’t help that. She was also born much more attractive than me and I also have to hear “Too bad your not as pretty as your sister” and it really hurts.  I don’t feel that she “shows off” her much more attractive body, but we share a room and she isn’t shy about undressing in front of me and me seeing her naked and since were sisters I’m not saying that she should be, but it’s one more thing that makes me feel inferior and I feel ashamed to undress in in front of my own sister because of this.

      On the voting issue, I’m 16, and I really don’t think I’m informed or mature enough to be voting and neither are most of the kids my age who I know, although some probably are.  I hope that I will be qualified when I’m 18 because I do believe that voting is very important.  I just don’t think that most 16 year olds are ready for it yet.

      Gina

      Reply to this comment

  2. By Katelyn, age 20, from Huntington Beach, CA on 05/05/2015

    As a political science major, this issue raises a lot of interesting questions. Most societies rely on a set age in order to determine “maturity,” but even people below that age can exhibit maturity as well.

    I feel like a lot of panelists who responded are insisting that 16 be the new 18. But is it worth the risk? Colin may be right; lowering the voting age may not actually change anything.

    Not only that, the majority of 16-year-olds aren’t as politically involved as some assert. They may follow stories on the news and voice their opinion on social media, but they are less likely to do something substantial, like volunteer with associated charities or political agencies. They also tend to exhibit bad judgment when it comes to their everyday lives, whether it’s brushing off school, following the status quo, or participating in underage drinking.

    Does that mean we can immediately write them off? Not necessarily. They are quite capable of changing the world, if the right passions and motivations are tapped into. For example, 15-year-old named Jack Andraka created a tool to detect pancreatic cancer in its early stages. So with the right education and encouragement, maybe teens will become the new voting demographic that politicians will learn to listen to.

    The only concern I have is if people start pushing 12- and 13-year-olds to vote. There is a point in time where age does matter, and I sincerely hope that we will not abandon common sense in an attempt to stay “open-minded.”

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  3. By Michelle, age 40, from Westminster, California on 05/06/2015

    I agree that age is not what determines when a younger (or even an older) person is qualified to vote.  However, I also agree that it would be very difficult to find an alternate way to decide who should be allowed to vote.  I have a 16 year old twin son and daughter.  I feel that my daughter would be well qualified to vote as she is very politically aware and studies political issues and has been active in political campaigns.  She is much more politically aware than many adults I know, who either do not even bother to vote or vote based upon misleading political television commercials or the misleading “hit pieces” that come in the mail.  On the other hand, my son couldn’t care less about political affairs.  He probably would not vote if he could or if he did would probably base his vote on the commercials and/or hit pieces. 

    My son has many good qualities, but political awareness is not one of them.  I try not to compare the twins as each one has his/her own positive qualities.  My daughter is an excellent student while my son excels at sports.  Therefore, they both have awards to display in the room they share so that is not an issue, and since they are opposite sexes there is no competition or jealousy regarding who has the more attractive body.  Yes, I have read the columns in Straight Talk that raise concerns about opposite sexes sharing a room, but it has never been a problem for them.  They prefer this arrangement even though my daughter would have the option to instead share a room with her 12 year old sister who would be happy to share with her “big sister”  whom she idealizes.  However, the twins are closer and have much more in common and prefer to share with each other.  Things such as undressing and nudity which may be a problem for some from what I have read are no problem whatsoever for them.

    Michelle

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    1. By Marlene, age 40, from Carmichael, CA on 05/07/2015

      I realize that it is not actually this week’s topic and has been discussed in Straight Talk before, but I still feel the need to comment on the issue of opposite sex twins sharing a room.  When my twins were 12 I knew that my daughter was beginning puberty since she wasn’t shy about nudity in front of me.  My son hadn’t permitted me to see him undressed in a long time which I understood and respected his privacy, even though he was still comfortable with his sister.  I was a single parent and could only afford two bedrooms and the twins were getting along very well sharing a room, so I saw no need to change things and decided to leave well enough alone.  However, my daughter came to me in private very upset and told me that her brother’s penis was “getting very big” when he saw her nude and it scared her.  She said she didn’t want to get him in trouble and was sure that he wouldn’t try to do anything wrong to her, but it still scared her.  I decided that a change was necessary and told them that my daughter would now share my room.  I didn’t want to embarrass my son by telling him what my daughter had told me, so I just said that they were now to old to be sharing a room.  We even had to share my double bed in the beginning until I saved up money to buy twin beds.  The arrangement was very inconvenient, especially after I met my future husband and our relationship became very serious and sexually intimate, but we managed to deal with the situation.  As a mother and daughter, undressing and nudity in our bedroom obviously were not a problem.  I also realized that it was unfair for my son to have been in this position once he reached puberty.  I have never regretted my decision and am absolutely convinced that I did the right thing.  I am now remarried and we have a 3 bedroom home, so the problem is completely resolved. 

      I realize that it is not my place to tell Michelle or anyone else what to do in her own family, but I believe that she has a risky situation and it sounds like she has an easier solution than I did by having her girls share a room, even if her older daughter is closer to her brother.  It sounds like a no brainer to me.

      On the voting issue, my twins are now 15 and will be 16 at the time of next year’s presidential election.  I really do not feel that they will be mature enough to vote at that time and they do not seem to have a compelling desire to vote before they are 18.  While it is true that the 18 year old voting age is arbitrary the line must be drawn somewhere, and I do not believe that lowering the age further would be productive.

      Marlene

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      1. By Ellen, age 38, from Toledo, Ohio on 05/09/2015

        I totally agree with you on the issue of opposite sexes sharing a room, and I speak from experience.  I had to share a room with my older brother growing up because our parents could just barely afford the cheap 2 bedroom apartment in which we lived since our alcoholic father could only work unskilled low paying jobs when he was able to work which was less than half the time, and whenever he did have a little money he spent it in bars and on gambling.  However, he was “too proud” to allow our mother to work. 

        My brother was always a good big brother to me and would never have abused me sexually.  However, When he was 12 and I was 9 I couldn’t help but notice the changes in his private area and also saw him getting erections which scared me and made me very uncomfortable even though I was too young to totally understand what it meant.  When I reached puberty a few years later I started feeling very uncomfortable undressing in front of him and he sometimes seemed a little bit too interested in my body when he saw me naked.  With only one bathroom, it would not always have been available when I needed to undress and I didn’t want my mom to think that anything was wrong, so I went on undressing in front of him in our room.  While nothing improper ever happened, it still was a very uncomfortable situation for both of us, and I believe it was unfair to both of us to be put in this position and I would never put my children in this situation.

        My son and daughter are 15 and 13, and as a single parent on a modest income it is not easy to afford 3 bedrooms, but I manage by sacrificing in other areas.  However, if I could not manage I would share my room with my daughter as I would not put them in the situation that I had to live in.

        On the issue of voting, I really don’t think most 16 year olds are mature enough to be voting, and I certainly do not feel that I was at that age.  I agree that it would be nice to have a better criteria than age as some 16 year olds probably are qualified to vote.  However, I don’t see a good way to do this.

        Ellen

        Reply to this comment

  4. By Ingrid, age 16, from Santa Ana, CA on 05/08/2015

    I’m 16 and would love to be able to vote and believe that I would be well qualified.  It angers me that so many people who are eligible to vote do not bother to do so.  I am very politically aware and am even seriously considering majoring in political science in college.  However, it is true that many teenagers are not aware of the issues enough that they should be voting, but that is also true of many adults so I don’t know the answer.

    I also agree that parents should not compare their kids.  My 13 year old sister didn’t happen to born with an IQ as high as mine and that is not her fault.  However, our parents constantly compare her to me and expect her to get straight A’s as I always have, but she simply isn’t capable.  I do not put her down because of this.  I also agree that opposite sexes should not share a room.  As Marlene says, that should be a no brainer for parents no matter how inconvenient it may be depending on the household situation.  Sharing a room, undressing, nudity and even sharing the bathroom “on the facility” are not a problem for my sister and me since we’re both girls and are sisters.  However, I can’t even imaging sharing a room with a boy at my age.

    Ingrid

    Reply to this comment

  5. By Sandra, age 42, from Santa Rosa, CA on 05/10/2015

    As a high school civics teacher, it is my opinion that the majority of high school students are not mature or informed enough to vote before the age of 18.  Having said that, there are some who are very well informed and highly interested in political affairs who would be well qualified to vote, more so than many adults I know who as Michelle states vote based upon misleading television commercials and hit piece mailings if they bother to vote at all.  I wish there were a method whereby the qualified teenagers could be permitted to vote as young as 16, but I am unable to think of a method to accomplish this.

    I also want to comment on the issue of opposite sexes sharing a room.  I have read the previous Straight Talk columns on this issue but never got around to commenting, so I will do so now.  I grew up in a single parent home where we were often on public assistance and my sister, brother, and I all shared one bedroom and my sister and I always had to share a bed.  It was not a real problem before puberty and we just accepted the circumstances as they were.  However, when we reached puberty it became a very uncomfortable situation for all 3 of us.  My sister and I had no problem with undressing and nudity or even sharing the bathroom with each other.  However, we were very uncomfortable with our brother in this regard and vice versa.  Nothing sexual ever happened, but it was a very stressful situation.  I realize that our mother was doing the best she could in a very difficult situation so I do not blame her, but based on my experience this should be avoided if at all possible once children approach puberty.

    Sandra

    Reply to this comment

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