Are child crusaders, heroes fair game for adult critics?

Full Screen
1 / 6

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)

NEW YORK, NY – 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.”