How young is too young?

Cartoon: Kate Mitchell

The recent inclusion of sixteen and seventeen-year old voters in the Scottish referendum has generated a discussion regarding whether the UK voting age should be lowered for the next general election. This raises the question of whether a group of people who still live at home, do not support themselves or pay taxes should really be allowed to make decisions for those that do.

Proponents of lowering the voting age argue that the Scottish referendum has proven that young people can be passionate about being involved in the processes of political decision-making, and that they should be able to contribute to making choices that impact their future.

Though it could be said that there is some truth to these statements, the fact is that at such a young age, most teenagers simply do not have the life experience required to truly make an informed decision, even if such decisions will affect their futures. That is not to say that young people cannot be involved in debates regarding politics or be aware of political issues, but that nothing can replace actual experience in an adult world.

It’s also crucial to consider the age of voters in context with other age-related restrictions. A sixteen-year old teenager is unable to legally drive, drink alcohol and is still considered a child by law. If a sixteen-year old isn’t considered mature or responsible enough to be in control of their own alcohol consumption, then this implies that they are ultimately not fully in control of their mind and body. Is it therefore reasonable to consider a young person mature enough to vote on the future of a country, when they are not yet responsible enough to make many other decisions for themselves?

In addition to this, the simple fact is that many of these supposed voters would still be legally classed as children, and would have never lived away from their parents. We should not assume that these young voters would automatically share their parents’ political views. However, with the majority still living at home, they may not yet have had the chance to be truly exposed to a variety of political ideologies and form their own independent and informed perspective.

Whilst everyone is shaped and influenced by the environment around them, young voters would be particularly vulnerable to such influences. Therefore it is difficult to say whether their political beliefs could yet be regarded as truly independent and personal. Although political maturity essentially depends on the individual and may be reached at any age, it seems safer to allow young people to vote at an age where they have at least lived independently, and had time to be exposed to a range of political viewpoints.

To hold off on giving teenagers a vote isn’t to deny them the opportunity of being involved in politics. Young people should be encouraged to be politically active, and given the chance to develop their own beliefs. However, this doesn’t necessarily have to be done by rushing them into a vote. Developing an informed and independent political stance is something that requires time.

We should be focusing on how we can help educate young people on political issues, not forcing them to make up their minds before they are ready.

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