Las Vegas Sun

November 25, 2014

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WHERE I STAND:

Sun Youth Forum: Teens empowered by discussion

Samuel Cooper of Chaparral High School - 2011 Las Vegas Sun Youth Forum representative Tuesday, November 22, 2011.

Samuel Cooper of Chaparral High School - 2011 Las Vegas Sun Youth Forum representative Tuesday, November 22, 2011.

About 1,000 students from high schools throughout Southern Nevada participated in the 55th annual Sun Youth Forum on Nov. 22. The students were divided into groups to discuss a variety of topics. A representative was chosen from each group to write a column about the students’ findings. Samuel Cooper of Chaparral High School writes about issues covered by his group, “Teen Topics.”

They can’t stay out after midnight. They can’t sign a check. They can’t even go to a movie they want to see without their parents. For teenagers, it sometimes seems as though the world dictates every waking aspect of life. With such limited freedom, teens are often limited with their involvement in public issues. After all, politics is only for adults, right?

Wrong.

Teens participating in the Sun Youth Forum proved exactly the opposite. The youth in the forum were confronted with a barrage of topics, ranging from legalizing marijuana to controlling nuclear weapons. The “Teen Topics” forum offered valuable insights into how students felt about many aspects of teenage life in the city, state and country.

The day began with a discussion about lowering the drinking age to 18. Many teens felt that if a person could serve in the military, be sent to jail for life or get married, it is unfair to deny them the right to drink. They also speculated that since they have to handle the responsibilities of citizenship at 18, a person who has come of age could handle the responsibilities of drinking.

Those who opposed the idea reasoned that an 18-year-old lacks the responsibility necessary to handle drinking. To prove the point, they brought up the 1970s, when the drinking age was lowered in many states to 18, which resulted in a significant rise in DUI-related deaths. They also thought that drinking would prove detrimental to the still-developing youth brain. They furthered their argument by adding that drinking is not something to be rushed into.

Moving in an entirely new direction, the forum decided to discuss the problems related to contraception, abstinence and safe sex. Some teens felt as though sex education in school should be required. They thought that since parents may not properly educate their children, it’s up to the schools to provide the necessary protection to keep them safe. They brought up the argument that teens will inevitably have sex and therefore need protection and concluded that schools should readily hand out condoms.

Teens who argued otherwise took a firm stand in their beliefs. They said it is up to the school to promote abstinence and nothing else. They stated that by having the schools teach methods of contraception, it not only enables teens to have sex but also encourages it. They said parents should be the providers of sex education, as the parents also advise teens on moral teachings, as well.

The next topic was problems caused by growing up in Las Vegas. Teens readily criticized Las Vegas as being a poor place to raise children because of the prominently adult atmosphere. They also stated that poor behavior in Las Vegas is caused by a lack of community support. Without a strong community to discipline, supervise and provide a sense of togetherness, teens are able to misbehave more freely. Others thought Las Vegas was a great place to be a teenager. As there is no shortage of bowling alleys, movie theaters and recreational centers, Las Vegas offers many opportunities for teens to stay active.

The day’s arguments concluded with a rousing discussion on the effects of body image on teens. Members of the group felt that teenagers should develop confidence rather than allow themselves to be swayed by opinions of others. Other students, however, stated that much more serious problems exist, as various influences (media, friends, etc.) result in the diminishing of a teen’s confidence completely. They also exhibited displeasure with advertisements featuring unrealistically beautiful people to cause consumers to become displeased with their bodies, persuading them to buy more products.

Teens are faced with many challenges in society. Their opinions often go disregarded. That’s not the case for teens at the Sun Youth Forum, who made it very clear that teens are not only listening and thinking about problems but also trying to take active roles in solving them.