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Rick Santorum is a Disaster for Teens

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Alex is a teen participants in the Junior States of America (JSA), a student-run political organization for high school students.

For many teens, Rick Santorum is just an amusing Internet meme. His recent surprise primary wins in three states, however, have shunted him from the "me too" position to the spotlight. The youth of America need to take note of this new, serious GOP contender -- even though they will not like what they see.



Former senator Santorum seems to have successfully cast himself in conservative circles as the family-oriented candidate based on his strong opposition to abortion and gay marriage. Yet his policies glaringly ignore a significant member of the family -- the child. By espousing his far-right agenda, he has all but abandoned the needs of a generation.



One of Santorum's primary issues is foreign policy in the Middle East, where he advocates active military intervention to combat perceived threats. In this era of deficit concerns, such an increase in U.S. military spending -- which already makes up over 40% of the entire world's defense budget -- would come at the cost of something else. That "something else" is the education of American youth.



While in the Senate, Santorum was an outspoken critic of federal involvement in education. He opposed Pell Grant increases and pushed private voucher systems for low-income families, a means for financing religious education with taxpayer dollars. As reported by CBS, Santorum accused colleges of "indoctrinating kids with left-wing ideology" at a recent Florida rally. To people who give money to supposedly liberal institutions, he declared, "Let me have a suggestion: Stop it."



Now more than ever, education is one of the few ways for economically-strapped youth to pull themselves up in life. Yet Santorum rejects the notion of equal educational opportunities and instead supports continued military involvement in Middle Eastern affairs. Many low-income students would join the armed forces because they would not be able to afford college. In Santorum's America, youth would risk their lives in another ill-defined, unending foreign conflict instead of furthering their education.



On the home front, the Pennsylvania senator is willing to sacrifice the health of teenagers in order to support his conservative agenda. This unfortunate position manifests itself in a touchy subject: sexual education. In addition to championing states' rights to ban contraception, Santorum has insisted that contraceptives are morally wrong and "counter to how things are supposed to be."



Yet focusing on abstinence education for teenagers shows a complete disregard of scientific reality and common sense. Studies have shown that teaching abstinence does not stop premarital sex, though it does cause young adults to more likely engage in unsafe sex.
Moreover, Santorum's staunch anti-entitlement, anti-abortion policies would drastically increase the risks of unwanted pregnancies. The number of premarital births likely would sharply increase, putting even more young adults in economic peril. 



Finally, Santorum endangers a significant group of youth with his signature issue: opposition to gay rights. As an adult and public figure, it is would-be president Santorum's social responsibility to promote a safe and healthy environment for all American youth. His singling out of a particular group with inflammatory language makes such protection impossible. The candidate's anti-gay attacks send a frightening and insulting message to LGBT teens at a time when sexual orientation-related suicide rates are alarmingly high. Rather than helping LGBT youth build confidence and self-esteem, Santorum seems intent on tearing down their dignity and sending out a widespread invitation for bullying. Such discrimination is educationally unproductive and potentially dangerous to students.

Rick Santorum's stances on youth-specific issues may not be widely known, and this lack of public knowledge reflects his willingness to ignore the needs of teens and young adults. The future leaders of America must wake up and make their voices heard in American politics before Santorum's conservative rhetoric drowns them out completely.