The Importance of Young People’s Participation in Ethical and Political Debates

By YPAG member Louie Glover

The term “young person” usually refers to someone between the ages of 14 and 17, so legal rights of a person within this incorporating term varies, almost yearly. The law is complex but I feel it is necessary to present a quick outline of the major laws for young people going up the age range, as given by Childline (14/05/2017).  At the age of 10, you become legally responsible for your actions and can be sentenced accordingly; at 12 you can see your medical records; at aged 13 you can work part-time; at 16 you can get a full-time job, join the army out of service; at 17 you can drive; and at 18 you can buy alcohol and vote. I have picked these laws for a very specific purpose: all of these areas have some large political and/or ethical considerations within them. With this in mind, why then do Young People not seem to get a say in any of the ethics or politics that govern these actions, or, when they do, why is it not properly listened to?

My view on this issue

I think that one reason may be found in those studies from psychology and neuroscience that link the adolescent brain to increased risk. Because young people are assumed to be biologically more prone to risk-taking, many believe that they do not have the maturity to be able to sensibly contribute to the field of ethics and politics, and so they should not be taken seriously when concerning these important matters.

Being an adolescent myself, I believe that to derive such a conclusion from scientific studies of the brain is a form of stigma against young people. This is because, even though my brain may be more inclined to make risky choices, my real-life experiences have often showed me that I can easily overcome this inclination, if I carefully reflect on the situation at stake. In other words, I think that everyone could make rush decisions; however, in the adolescent as much as in the adult brain cognitive processing are there to help us to think logically.

Therefore, adults should not assume that young people are too immature to contribute to public debates due to the way scientific studies have showed their brains work. I think that considerations about young people’s capacities to make informed decisions about ethics and politics should not rely only on neuroscience. On the contrary, more attention should be paid to young people’s accounts of their own experiences and behaviours, which would show adults that young people can make clear decisions to avoid risks – as I as a young person feel that I can.


Louie is a member of the NEUROSEC Young People’s Advisory Group.

This blog post is based on the opinions of the author and does not necessarily represent the views of the University of Oxford or the Oxford Department of Psychiatry.

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