Carolyn Kaster, Associated Press
Students rally in front of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, March 14, 2018. Students walked out of school to protest gun violence in the biggest demonstration yet of the student activism that has emerged in response to last month's massacre of 17 people at Florida's Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Our youths are bright, capable and engaged. They deeply desire to be seen, heard and involved in their families, schools and communities.

Recently we have seen the impressive activism led by teenagers following the Parkland, Florida, school shooting. As we have witnessed in the past, school shootings are generally followed by profound grief. In the immediate aftermath, this shooting seemed no different, but there seemed to be a difference in the days following: how this generation of students responded.

With a sense of urgency and without reluctance, these students have taken over the safety-in-schools discussion and are insistent on receiving answers. Do they want sympathy? No. Cameron Kasky, a junior at the school, started “Never Again,” a campaign on Facebook where survivors could share their stories with one another, raise questions and find and provide comfort through their shared feelings and experiences. The common themes are "Don’t let innocent people die in vain" and "It’s time to work together and ensure nothing like this happens again."

With over 680 March for Our Lives events happening on March 24, created by, led by and inspired by students, their collective voices will be heard. Many groups are holding walkouts, sit-ins, marches, and peaceful protests, inspired, created and led by students across the nation who refuse to risk their sense of safety at school. In some cases, this activism has been well-received; in others, this student-led movement has been met with backlash, discouragement and even discipline.

It is time to cut loose from the idea that adolescents are a hormonal generation whose underdeveloped brains cause them to constantly have their heads in their phones, eat Tide Pods and continuously make reckless choices.

Developmentally speaking, teenagers are interested in exploring novelty. They are engaged in examining questions about themselves, including who they are, what they can contribute and what their future holds and how they can shape that future. Essentially, teenagers are in a heightened period of learning. If we do not allow them to learn — and that learning includes advocating for their psychosocial needs — how can we expect them to gain the wisdom needed to be valued as adults? We need to support their activism and their desire to make change.

As a state and a nation that values freedom of choice and voice, we need to proudly stand by our youths and accept that change needs to occur and that teens are the ones that can, will and want to do it. Their willingness and desire to make change on a community and policy level should be encouraged, not deterred or disciplined.

After all, if they are organizing marches and peaceful protests for great causes, that means their heads are away from their cellphones, they are keeping out of the laundry detergent and away from risky social behaviors like sexual activity and drugs. Is that not what we all want?

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If we discourage their activism and in turn invalidate their voices, we are sending a message to a generation that already has disturbingly low self-worth that they are not valued. We are perpetuating the notion that adults in power run the world and that the youths have no say in their own future. Our youths need our undying support, our unconditional love and a platform where they will be believed, valued and heard. No more shaking our heads saying, “They’re just being teenagers.” They have value and worth beyond compare, and it is up to us to recognize that by encouraging, believing and upholding their voices and experiences.

The most powerful message we can send to our youths is giving them the credit that they deserve and standing by them every step of the way. In Utah, this could mean joining them at a March for Our Lives event. It is time to see our youths as the future of our world.

Correction: The online version of this article accidentally listed Gretchen Anstadt as the sole author. Carly Parsons is a co-author.