Kids are off limits. Or, at least, they used to be. The civic compact that allows minors to engage in cultural and political discourse without being subjected to much scrutiny depends on a series of conventions. Among them, courtesy, decency, mutual respect, and the understanding that all citizens, regardless of demographic signifiers, are entitled to their opinions. These are essential features of a society governed by law, not honor or status. But that compact also demands that responsible adults take a child’s marginally informed and emotionally charged outlook with a grain of salt, and the arrangement breaks down when that responsibility is abdicated. Given the increasing prevalence of politicized kids, it’s clear that kind of responsibility is in short supply.
The value proposition represented by politically active children is obvious. Sensitive subject matter that withers under dispassionate scrutiny thrives when that kind of analysis is taboo. The logic of restrictive gun-control measures is one such subject. Even well-informed adults like CNN anchor Jake Tapper find themselves under attack when they fail to emote amid an evaluation of the merits of such policies. That’s why the student activists who survived the massacre in a high school in Parkland, Florida, had such obvious political utility. Their moral authority as survivors provided them with a platform to evangelize for gun-control legislation, and their youth gave their supporters ample ammunition to shame their critics into silence. They were flattered and encouraged by their elders—a privilege of which their politically conservative peers were deprived.