Happy 13th Birthday! Now Get Out.


Karl Smith, a man who obviously has too much time on his hands, performs a massive core dump today of stuff he’s been thinking about but hasn’t had time to blog seriously about. One of them is the question of whether children should be allowed to vote:

Though this seems like a silly issue to a lot of people it’s part and parcel of the whole: “are there a such thing as human rights” question.

People often appeal to the immature nature of children. But clearly there are mature children and immature adults. If you draw the dividing line at age then this is a line of convenience.

You can count me among the vast throng that thinks, in general, that this is a silly question. Kids can’t vote for the same reason they can’t do lots of things: because millions of years of human history informs us that children aren’t capable of looking out for themselves. They need adult supervision. We make the same judgment toward others who are deemed unable to look after themselves — the mentally ill, elderly people suffering from dementia, etc. — so this is hardly something unique to children.

Still, at least Karl poses this question in a more interesting way. Using age as a dividing line for adulthood is indeed clean and simple, and for that reason it’s convenient. But should kids be able to “test out” of childhood if they want? Maybe allow anyone over the age of 12 to apply for full citizenship and get it if they — what? Pass a test? Demonstrate maturity in some way? Rescue a dog from a burning house? And what about parents? Should they retain responsibility for kids who have been declared adults? Or could they kick their 14-year-old out of the house if they felt like it?

Or is this solely a voting question? That hardly seems worth the trouble, frankly. Maybe the whole 18-year-old thing really is convenient enough that we should just keep it.

THE BIG QUESTION...

as we head into 2020 is whether politics and media will be a billionaires’ game, or a playing field where the rest of us have a shot. That's what Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein tackles in her annual December column—"Billionaires Are Not the Answer"—about the state of journalism and our plans for the year ahead.

We can't afford to let independent reporting depend on the goodwill of the superrich: Please help Mother Jones build an alternative to oligarchy that is funded by and answerable to its readers. Please join us with a tax-deductible, year-end donation so we can keep going after the big stories without fear, favor, or false equivalency.

THE BIG QUESTION...

as we head into 2020 is whether politics and media will be a billionaires’ game, or a playing field where the rest of us have a shot.

Please read our annual column about the state of journalism and Mother Jones' plans for the year ahead, and help us build an alternative to oligarchy by supporting our people-powered journalism with a year-end gift today.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.