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Are child crusaders, heroes fair game for adults who snipe?

23 Comments
By LEANNE ITALIE
This combination photo shows Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg speaking at the COP25 summit in Madrid, Spain on Dec. 11, 2019, left, and President Donald Trump speaking at a campaign rally in Battle Creek, Mich. on Dec. 18, 2019. When climate activist Greta Thunberg, also 16, was named Time magazine's 2019 person of the year, President Donald Trump took to Twitter to call her choice “ridiculous." (AP Photo/Paul White, left, and Evan Vucci) Photo: AP

The point where childhood ends and adulthood begins isn't as straightforward as it seems. Add the limelight and things can get complicated for young people who either voluntarily or through circumstances live very public lives.

Those public lives often come with heaping helpings of adult-size sniping. But are children and adolescents who find themselves under global microscopes still entitled to age-appropriate protection from the harshness of public discourse? And, more importantly, can they handle it?

Children and teens, in this era of blurred boundaries, have at their disposal mobile megaphones — for the first time in human history — to reach the entire world. That allows them to be heard, and potentially taken seriously, by hundreds of millions of people, all the way up to heads of state who include the president of the United States.

But does it give those who hear them the right to slap back? At what point does the imperative to treat children more gently collide with their decision to enter the marketplace of ideas — and what happens when it does?

In 2012, 16-year-old gymnast Gabby Douglas became the first African American woman — and woman of color of any nationality — to win Olympic gold in the individual all-around. The feat was joyous, but some on social media bemoaned that her hair wasn't perfect.

The teen clapped back: "Are you kidding me? I just made history. And you're focusing on my hair?”

When climate activist Greta Thunberg, who just turned 17, was named Time magazine's 2019 person of the year, President Donald Trump took to Twitter to call her choice “ridiculous,” going on to say: “Greta must work on her Anger Management problem, then go to a good old fashioned movie with a friend! Chill Greta, Chill!”

To that, Thunberg responded by changing her Twitter profile to mock the president's words. She told The Intercept: “Honestly, I think it's funny.”

Since Serena Williams was a teen, when Malala Yousafzai won the Nobel Peace Prize after being shot in the face, with the ascent of 18-year-old pop star Billie Eilish and in the aftermath of the mass school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that turned young survivors into gun control activists, the treatment of young people in the public eye has had its ups and downs.

“For anyone who shares public opinions about civic and social issues, like Greta Thunberg and the Parkland teens have done, it can cut both ways. It can be empowering for young people to use their voices in such a public way. Young people can also be especially effective in changing public conversations about important issues. People listen to young people in a different way,” said Dr. Parissa Ballard, a developmental psychologist at Wake Forest School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

“At the same time, public political engagement can be very stressful and can put young people in a vulnerable position when they receive criticism or people publicly disagree," said Ballard, whose research focuses on the intersection of civic engagement and adolescent health and wellness.

Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who began speaking out for gun reform soon after the shooting there were already in a devastating position when they faced accusations that some were “crisis actors" and the group was under the manipulation of gun control advocates.

The teens were unfazed.

“There are people who are going to be putting us down. It doesn’t matter. Everything we’re doing, it can’t be stopped,” Diego Pfeiffer, an 18-year-old senior at the time, told The Miami Herald in February 2018. "We are children and we have a message. They are bashing survivors of a school shooting. You can go ahead, but our message is going to be heard loud and clear.”

Development psychologists prefer to speak of stages when describing life's slide from childhood into adolescence and on to young adulthood, such as the onset of biological changes and shifts in social roles. Some use more rigid measures, considering childhood to extend through age 12, with adolescence roughly between 12 and 18 and young adulthood the period between 18 and 25.

Richard West, an Emerson College communications professor who focuses on family, bullying and identity, said that's only part of the story for young people who prematurely find themselves in adult spaces.

“These are individuals who are emotionally driven and passionately obsessed with having a dialogue,” he said. “I don't feel that they should be held to a standard that we hold, for instance, a president or an ambassador."

Finding that line isn't easy.

“We all need to jump in. It's not just Greta's family. It's not the Parkland kids' families. It should be all of us jumping in when we see something or hear something that might be completely out of line with the values of this country,” West said. “We don't have the value as a country of attacking young people who might be activists.”

Jumping in is exactly what former first lady Michelle Obama did on Twitter after Trump's “chill” tweet about Greta.

"Don’t let anyone dim your light,” Obama urged Greta. “Like the girls I’ve met in Vietnam and all over the world, you have so much to offer us all. Ignore the doubters and know that millions of people are cheering you on.”

Eilish, who grew popular in 2016 with her SoundCloud single Ocean Eyes, has long been surrounded by family in her entourage, including her parents and her older brother and collaborator, Finneas Baird O'Connell. But fame has had its rough spots nonetheless.

“I forget sometimes that they’re not literally my friends,” she told Variety of her fans. ”It’s weird, like, that’s probably the biggest con in it all: that people I’ve never met think I’m really close friends with them. And then they forget that I’m not, and sometimes say stuff at meet-and-greets or post things that are joking or sarcastic about how bad I look in (a certain) photo, and I’m like, wow, that’s so mean. But then I remember that it’s just part of being friends — you make fun of your friends as a joke, and they make fun of you back — so it’s all love, and I really, really don’t want it to change.”

Ballard, too, sees a key role for supportive adults when public young people face detractors, especially those like Greta and the Parkland survivors who are up against grown-ups with immense power and resources.

“Adults can support young activists by helping them understand the range of possible reactions they might get and to help manage their expectations about public political engagement,” she said.

Daryl Van Tongeren, an associate professor of psychology at Hope College in Holland, Michigan, specializes, in part, on questions of morality.

“I think sadly in our society they do sometimes forfeit their childhoods, but I don't think that they should have to,” he said. “I think as a society we view them as no longer being children and somehow we now have rights to kind of put them in a different realm, put them in a different category. It's a moment for us to pause and say, just because this is happening, does that mean that it's good or it's healthy or it's right?"

Williams, who is now 38 and owns 23 Grand Slam singles titles, knows some of the issues well.

“People have been talking about my body for a really long time,” she told The Fader in 2016. “Good things, great things, negative things. People are entitled to have their opinions, but what matters most is how I feel about me, because that's what's going to permeate the room I'm sitting in.”

© Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

©2020 GPlusMedia Inc.


23 Comments
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Malala said that children, especially girls, deserve an education.

She was right.

Yet Greta, who was born in a privileged country, openly disregards her own education.

What kind of message does that send to young girls around the world?

15 year-olds shouldn't be spending their lives finger pointing, they should be in school.

Get a degree, write a paper, earn your Ph'd and then change the world.

-4 ( +7 / -11 )

Well, usually such sniping by maturing young folks stops after they turn 14 or so. People eventually realize that such taunts reflect more on them than on the person being taunted. I suspect our president is a bit older that that, but maybe he is a late bloomer, and will stop soon.

2 ( +5 / -3 )

@Burning Bush - Get a degree, write a paper, earn your Ph'd and then change the world.

Agreed! Greta's education extends as far as what she reads in the media. She knows very little of the science and economics behind climate change. She also does not comprehend the drastic effect her dreams of cutting CO2 would have on her lifestyle. If her dream was to come reality, she would have no light, mobile phone, internet, heating and no international platform for her to make her rants from.

1 ( +6 / -5 )

I admire her guts and conviction to fight for what she believes and she should be credited for that. But she is obviously misguided by the adults in her life, phony science, fake news media and the globalists.

I think we can criticize her ideas, but we ought to treat her respectfully, as we ought to do with everyone.

If she were guided properly she could be a great advocate for genuinely needy causes such as child abuse. poverty, homelessness, drug abuse, etc.

-2 ( +5 / -7 )

and the globalists.

OMG! You said globalists. I’m triggered by that even though I don’t understand what it means.

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

We don't have the value as a country of attacking young people who might be activists.

This, exactly.

She knows very little of the science and economics behind climate change.

She doesn't have to understand the science behind it. All she, and everyone else who is not a climatologist needs to do is believe the climatologists.

People who argue against climate change are the ones learning about science, since they seem to think they know more than 99% of the experts. I encourage anyone who disagrees with the consensus to publish and show them they are wrong.

I'll be waiting.

3 ( +7 / -4 )

Flubbed that. It should read,

People who argue against climate change are the ones who need to learn about science, since they seem to think they know more than 99% of the experts.

1 ( +5 / -4 )

No, 16-18 year-old young adults should not be fair game for older adults who snipe, but if they're in the public arena then they have to be prepared for constructive criticism. There's room to challenge Greta Thunberg's personal approach, to question some of her statements and solutions, but not the central message that motivates her - which is that human-caused climate change is real, not a religion, not a fraud, not a phony science conspiracy, and specifically for Thunberg, that governments worldwide are not doing anywhere near enough about it and are adversely affecting her generation's future.

Telling her she's too young to understand, telling her to go back to school, saying she's just a pawn of her parents, all the rest of it, is not constructive criticism. But then so far, even when the sniping comes from the rich and powerful, it doesn't seem to bother her.

She told The Intercept: “Honestly, I think it's funny.”

3 ( +6 / -3 )

Are child crusaders, heroes fair game for adults who snipe?

If someone, or their parents, makes the decision to live in the public eye, they should not be surprised that some members of the public will not like them.

If a group choses to use underage children to make their case (whatever that case may be), they will not be allowed to hide behind the age of that underage child. They will not be given a free pass to make whatever statements they deem necessary to sell their cause to the public, and then try to hide behind their very own underage spokesmodel.

My personal problem with Greta Thunberg is has been repeatedly telling other children NOT TO GO TO SCHOOL. Thunberg's parents should be ashamed of themselves.

-1 ( +4 / -5 )

Some posters, rather than directly addressing the articles point of - are successful / limelight kids fair game for public attack and condescension by adults - have wheeled out the worn-out "she should be in school" cart.

ATM she isn't in a school - she's way above legal age to leave school - and she may well decide to return to formal education in the future. Now she's doing it "her way" and I'm fine with that. The bottom line is not one of her global armchair critics - incl the chosen one trump - knows her or her world intimately enough to justify the garbled put downs and heckles they utter.

And the article is not just about Greta, but highly successful kids in general.

Some adults just can't come to terms with acknowledging such success without reverting to "Yeah, but....".

A kind of sub-conscious projection of their disappointment in their own self worth and the need to rank themselves higher by disparagement.

0 ( +5 / -5 )

Yet Greta, who was born in a privileged country, openly disregards her own education.

What kind of message does that send to young girls around the world?

15 year-olds shouldn't be spending their lives finger pointing, they should be in school.

How dare you!

-4 ( +1 / -5 )

Are child crusaders, heroes fair game for adults who snipe?

They are certainly fair game for the adults who manipulate them, and those adults are absolutely fair game for criticism.

Gotta love these propaganda headlines in the "mainstream" media.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

girl in tokyo:

People who argue against climate change

Who exactly is "arguing against climate change"??

1 ( +2 / -1 )

saying she's just a pawn of her parents, all the rest of it,

Looks to me like she's a pawn. And not just of her father since he's connected to the UN

Facebook Glitch Reveals Greta Thunburg's Father Posting As Teenage Climate Activist

A Thursday evening software update at Facebook accidentally allowed anyone to view exactly who is posting under the accounts of public figures, businesses and other entities, according to Wired.

The result? For starters, some 3 million followers of teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg have been reading posts written by her father, Svante Thunberg, and a climate activist in India who serves as a delegate at the UN's Climate Change organization, Adarsh Prathap. Thunberg, Inc. claims Greta is still the one writing the content.

https://www.zerohedge.com/political/youve-scripted-my-childhood-facebook-glitch-reveals-greta-thunburgs-father-posting

0 ( +2 / -2 )

browny1 - Some posters, rather than directly addressing the articles point of - are successful / limelight kids fair game for public attack and condescension by adults - have wheeled out the worn-out "she should be in school" cart.

She should be in school. It's a time honored tradition. But Greta Thunberg isn't just ditching school, she encouraging other children NOT TO GO TO SCHOOL. I find it strange when adults advocate for Greta Thunberg's DO NOT GO TO SCHOOL diatribe.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

BigYen - Telling her she's too young to understand, telling her to go back to school, saying she's just a pawn of her parents, all the rest of it, is not constructive criticism.

Yes, it is constructive criticism.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Yes, it is constructive criticism.

I beg to differ. Firstly, she's 17, not 12. You can't just dismiss her like that. Secondly, she's a public figure. She's got a worldwide audience, thanks to the UN. She's got supporters, most of them her age or younger, but by no means all. You dismiss her (and therefore, by association, her supporters) by not responding with logical arguments to what she's actually saying, you're going to alienate those people big time, and they're never going to listen to anything else you say. They might not listen anyway, but that might be for other reasons.

So that's why I say it's not constructive criticism. And I'm no fan of Thunberg's, either, although probably not for the same reasons as you.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

BigYen - I beg to differ. Firstly, she's 17, not 12. You can't just dismiss her like that. Secondly, she's a public figure.

Yes, she is a public figure. Public figures can be dismissed at any time, and for any reason. Your permission is not required. Begging isn't going to convince anyone to change their mind. DO NOT GO TO SCHOOL is still not a positive message.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Public figures can be dismissed at any time, and for any reason.

Really? How do you go about doing that, then? Issue an edict?

Your permission is not required.

Given that Thunberg is 17, neither does she require your permission, or otherwise, not to go to school.

Begging isn't going to convince anyone to change their mind.

No idea what you're talking about here.

DO NOT GO TO SCHOOL is still not a positive message.

Why then don't you combine your GO TO SCHOOL message with a logical and analytical rebuttal of Thunberg's views on climate change? Then everyone would be happy.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

...and now, a Facebook glitch revealed that Gretas father, Svante Thunberg, and a climate activist in India who serves as a delegate at the UN’s Climate Change organization, Adarsh Prathap, wrote a lot of "her" posts. Yeah, sure, no manipulation there.

For one, I am not surprised.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

BigYen - Given that Thunberg is 17, neither does she require your permission, or otherwise, not to go to school.

I don't care if Thunberg goes to school. I'm concerned about Thunberg's repeatedly telling other children NOT TO GO TO SCHOOL.

Why then don't you combine your GO TO SCHOOL message with a logical and analytical rebuttal of Thunberg's views on climate change? Then everyone would be happy.

I'm happy. As I mentioned earlier, "DO NOT GO TO SCHOOL" is still not a positive message. Thunberg's views on climate change consist of telling others to "listen to the scientists". Not exactly as deep, or profound, as the CO2-is-evil zealots are trying to make it out to be.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

@arrestpaulJan. 14 07:37 am JST

She should be in school. It's a time honored tradition. But Greta Thunberg isn't just ditching school, she encouraging other children NOT TO GO TO SCHOOL. I find it strange when adults advocate for Greta Thunberg's DO NOT GO TO SCHOOL diatribe.

Here is a question. Do you support the right to strike or to advocate others to strike?

If you do, then you cannot complain because fundamentally they are the same mechanism. To not "work" as a form of advocacy and also a form of coercion to push for the desired change.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Kazuaki Shimazaki - Here is a question. Do you support the right to strike or to advocate others to strike?

If you do, then you cannot complain because fundamentally they are the same mechanism.

I understand that to be your opinion. Do you understand that your opinion is not universally shared, or mandatory?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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