During this quarantine, a large surge in teen activism emerged, especially as incidents of racial inequality sparked national conversations. Additionally, increased social network activity in platforms like Tik Tok due to isolation in quarantine encouraged more online interactions regarding social and political issues. With this increase with attention and awareness to remedy the many evils of the world, discussion soon arose regarding the true effectiveness of this so-called “teen activism.”
Historically, teen activism has played a significant role in shaping this nation’s history. From sit-ins to protests, young people have stood up against inequality and demanded governmental actions in persistent, successful methods. For example, the Civil Rights Movement was built on college students preaching their ‘radical’ ideas and planning protests, like the Greensboro Sit-ins. Without youth actions like these, the Civil Rights Movement would not have progressed as it did. Recently, the actions by Marjory Stoneman Douglas teens sparked a national movement after a mass shooting that murdered 17 students and teachers. Filled with a need to inspire change in gun legislation, these students sparked a #NeverAgain movement that became nationwide marches.
Although there are inspirational examples of successful teen activists creating change, the vast majority are ineffective, achieving minimal accomplishment, for many reasons. A recently connotated term “performative activism,” is described as, according to Wikipedia, “activism done to increase one’s social capital rather than because of one’s devotion to a cause.” In other words, many post to gain praise and respect from their peers, yet do not undertake many of the social justice actions that they so emphatically encourage for others. These empty gestures with no real action lead to aesthetic activism, which results in dead-end hashtags and no change.
An additional prevalent problem barring efficiency in the teen activism community is cancel culture. Cancel culture, a relatively new development in internet culture, strives to “cancel” influential and ordinary people based on trangessions, however minor they are. Facing much criticism, many regard this culture as haphazardly turning on people for irrational, minimal reasons, without allowing for the growth in character of the people themselves. This phenomenon results in many teens feeling the need to spread awareness of issues for fear of a lowering of their regard by others and themselves being “canceled.” However, this manipulative push manifests itself in teenagers who do not truly care about the issues they are apparently adamantly concerned with. Thus, not much happens outside of this bare minimum action that they undertake.
Cancel culture also works to scare teens from comfortability in their activism. As cancel culture so rapidly acts onto any small mistake someone makes, teens are scared to express ideas, as they fear possible, immense backlash. “Cancel culture promotes intolerance by shaming someone for often a simple mistake that can easily be fixed if we’re all supportive and encourage learning over anything,” senior Naila Charania said. Charania, who participates in local governments and works with organizations to host roundtables for South Florida youth, continued, “As a community, teens need to be more tolerant of mistakes to make people feel comfortable in their activism.”
Teen activism can lead to detrimental mental effects on teens as well. A frequent effect is known as compassion fatigue and burnout, when teens who are inundated with endless information about social inequalities and issues occurring around the nation, feel a burden to solve everything. Teens often begin feeling incapable and depressed as they try to solve the endless difficult circumstances, as they surround themselves in a barrage of negative news and often lack to console their misery through self-care. This, ultimately, leads to unsubstantial performance, as the teens attempt to focus on all the issues, rather than one that they would be able to practically solve.
Despite this, teen activism should not be abandoned. Although currently there are multiple reasons, including those aforementioned, that often prohibit success, with these factors in mind, many teens can work to combat issues effectively by ensuring that actual action occurs for the ideals they embody. As always, however, teens should always work to learn more about worldwide issues, especially as they grow into adults who are more capable of affecting real change themselves.