Wes: I try not to preach in this column. How well I avoid it is in the eye of the reader. But today I'm going to preach - not about what you should believe, but about believing in something and acting on that belief.
In 1972, 18-year-olds received the right to vote. The joy of this new power lasted about five minutes. Thereafter, 18- to 25-year-olds became the least likely demographic group to vote. Apathy set in. In 2006, too many teenagers are interested in partying, hanging out and hooking up and not interested enough in politics. This puzzles me. Not only do today's politics have a lot to do with the world teens will inherit, but they influence the one they're living in today.
Last week we discussed the move to make consensual sexual contact - perhaps even "fondling" - a form of child abuse. We won't know until March whether the federal court upholds this view. If it does, teens, their parents and the professionals who serve them should be ready to petition their Legislature regardless of the position they hold. If you think this is a good policy, stand up for it. If you believe it's intrusive, take a stand. Either way, warm up your computers and get ready to write. I guarantee you that the folks on the side you disagree with already have their e-mails waiting in the "drafts" bin.
There are many other issues teens of any age should consider seriously. A majority of our State Board of Education is focused like a laser on the proposition that evolution is a "fairy tale." If you agree with this, then fight for it. Get out the vote in the fall election and be sure that your board members are re-elected. If you disagree, then bring it on. This is your education, your future. You and your parents should be heard.
I know people who have died in Iraq. If you don't already, I assure you that someday you will. Tomorrow, your friends or family may be those soldiers. You not only have a right to tell your government your views on the war - pro or con - you have an obligation to do so.
If you think your voice is too small or unimportant to be heard, just remember that there are hundreds of millions of voices that share those views, whatever they may be. If you think politics doesn't affect you, then I would suggest you take a look around. It's what makes our world the way it is today.
Marissa: Marissa Ballard, political activist? I think not. To be honest, I share some of the lackadaisical feelings of my peers. What goes on in the government definitely affects us; but sometimes, a lot of it is just downright boring.
I had a friend once who liked to watch C-SPAN. She was politically charged, and nobody understood why. The thing with teenagers is we're not really shown the exciting or important parts of government. Milestones in the past are simply dates that we were forced to memorize in our history and government classes, and it's hard to establish a connection to their significance. However, what Wes is saying is true: We need to stand up and fight for something.
The issue with Phill Kline caught my attention because it was right near my age group. Although I won't be affected by its outcome, remembering when we were 15 isn't that difficult, and I know how much something like that could have hurt us.
I think if more government issues were this relevant, more teens would get involved. The war has affected me and many of my friends whose siblings have served. Still, it is a little over our heads. I'm not discrediting my generation, but trying to imagine what it must be like to face an angry mob who you're trying to help and doesn't want your help is difficult. It's even harder trying to understand what we're gaining from it. It's much easier to say that the war is evil, George Bush is dumb and the American way of life is superficial. That's the coolest message right now.
There are many issues that concern me, and I think they should concern my peers: student loan rates, education and Social Security. An increase in the rates of student loans is going to affect my age group immediately. I want to make sure that schools continue to get needed funding. Although I will not benefit from the increase that was recently passed, others could be, and it is something that we should work hard to ensure. Though I am 40 to 50 years away from retirement, Social Security is on my mind. The idea that the money that has been taken out of my check since I was 15 will not be there when I'm ready to retire has me riled up. It will be one of my top issues when considering who to vote for in the next presidential election.
While politics can be less exciting than paint drying, it's something to which my age group should start paying attention. As we turn 18, we need to understand our duty as citizens to participate in our government, especially in those issues that involve us the most. We should not take our freedoms for granted. By participating in our government, we are showing respect for those who work to ensure them.
¢ Dr. Wes Crenshaw is a board-certified family psychologist and director of the Family Therapy Institute Midwest. Marissa Ballard is a Lawrence High School senior. Opinions and advice given here are not meant as a substitute for psychological evaluation or therapy services. Send your questions about adolescent issues to firstname.lastname@example.org. All correspondence is strictly confidential.