How to Handle Ageism: Youngs

Ageism is one of those things that can bite you regardless of where you happen to be on the spectrum, which makes it an odd form of bias that essentially resolves itself to attacking anyone who isn’t the person perpetuating it. And while youngs tend to have it a hell of a lot better in terms of institutionally perpetuated ageism, we still get our share of the short end of the ageist stick from time to time. Here’s how to handle (and how not to handle) ageism directed at your youth.

Do: Call them out on it, respectfully. I say respectfully not because a perpetrator of ageism has earned your respect, but because a stereotype of young people tends to be that we have no respect for our elders. You are more likely to get your point effectively across if you defy the easy, obvious stereotypes and express yourself eloquently and kindly. A simple, “Excuse me, but my age has no bearing on this point/conversation/scenario, and I would appreciate it if you would leave it out of the discussion, please” should suffice.

Don’t: Reverse the ageism. The temptation to believe and therefore imply that ageism against the young is based entirely on the jealousy or resentment of the old is not just foundationally incorrect, it’s also harmful if you’re actually interested in opening up a positive dialogue – or shutting down a negative one. Don’t allow even the implication of ageism into your response to the negative talk that’s been aimed at you; instead, stick to the point, and again, be respectful.

Do: Be willing to explain why someone’s comment was ageist, and why that’s harmful. A lot of people believe that with age comes greater reason, wisdom, and perspective, and that belief can lead them to disregard the perspective of young people. Clear, polite, and reasonable briefing on the harmful nature of that assumption can go a long way to earning their respect.

Don’t: just shout “That’s ageist!” and get into a huff and refuse to cooperate or discuss the issue at hand. You know what that looks like to someone who’s already judging you because you’re younger than them? A temper tantrum.

Do: recognize that you’re going to have to be willing to prove yourself, often for longer and harder than older people will, because you likely have fewer years’ experience in whatever the topic at hand happens to be and it’s not really fair to expect people with long resumes in a given field to just give you the benefit of the doubt cause you majored in something or happen to be pretty good at it. Just put in the work; they all did, and that’s only fair.

Don’t: resent the fact that you’re the only one in the room who is hip to the latest technology, pop culture references, or developments in a given field. You’ve been in school more recently with access to really current research in databases that aren’t always available through local libraries or professional organizations, and pop culture and technology developments are generally marketed directly at you. And just because that’s true, don’t assume that the people in question are completely ignorant, either. The most savvy social media people I know are at least a decade older than I am, and my aunts- and mother-in-law are way more hip to pop music and television references than I am. It’s really not age specific.

Do: be patient. Despite the fact that marketing and culture seem to revolve around a cult of youth, which older people just kind of have to deal with day in and day out, the truth is that there are a lot of cultural biases against young people. We “take” jobs from older people, we have no respect for our elders, we don’t have the life experiences we have that helped to formulate their opinions so there is often an assumption that our opinions are only half-formed and baseless. Of course that’s not fair, but give them a break. They have a point sometimes, don’t they?

Don’t: sweat it. In the grander scheme of things, though ageism can sometimes cost you employment opportunities or the benefit of the doubt in a basic conversation, you really do have the majority of opportunities still open to you in a way that older people see waning in their lives. (Just ask a Baby Boomer how it feels to enter a new career field at this point in their lives, for instance.)

In essence, youngs face ageism in the form of doubt, and rather uncouth demands that they prove themselves, sometimes above and beyond what those who are older have to do in similar settings. But we also get pandered to by our culture quite a bit, and a little sensitivity from us as we try to combat the insensitivity of ageism can go a long way toward bridging the divide.

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Meghan Young Krogh

Meghan had a number of quality writing mentors over the course of her education, which just goes to show that you can't blame the teacher for the way the student turns out. Team Oxford Comma represent.

3 thoughts on “How to Handle Ageism: Youngs”

  1. My biggest frustration in this topic is that I look several years younger than I am (22) and get infantilized and spoken to in a condescending manner by people who assume I’m the age that I look. Then, if the people being condescending discover my age (either by directly asking or by seeing my ID), they invariably remark upon the fact that I look younger than I am and bust out the tired and sexist “oh, but you’ll be grateful for it when you’re older.” No, I will not be grateful for being infantilized and disregarded because of my apparent age well into my 30s just because looking youthful is supposedly desirable for women. I can’t wait for the day that I get gray hair and can go out in public without being sexually harassed (or at least sexually harassed as often) and get called ma’am instead of honey, sweetie, or girly.

  2. Don’t: just shout “That’s ageist!” and get into a huff and refuse to cooperate or discuss the issue at hand. You know what that looks like to someone who’s already judging you because you’re younger than them? A temper tantrum.

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    This could (and should) be said about any (internet) debate that touches on sociological issues.  We’re not supposed to expect the oppressed party to explain things to us, but sometimes it’s the only way to solve the problem.  Telling the privileged class to do their own research assumes that everyone already knows enough to suss out the appropriate google search parameters, which isn’t often the case.

    1. Yeah. It’s understandably difficult to keep calm and repeat the same lessons to people over and over again, but… it’s the work that is before us (regarding ageism, sexism, homophobia, racism, or any other form of discrimination), and it needs to be done. It’s not fair to expect victims of abuse to have to explain why what they’ve suffered is abuse, but it’s also not fair to expect that everyone who is raised in a given culture automatically understands and has partaken of the entire discussion about what needs to change in that culture. This is in no way an apologetic for culturally-entrenched discrimination, but rather an appeal for those who are better informed and who have had the benefit of participating in these conversations to be patient and continue on with the work of educating others. I often hear people complain that it shouldn’t be their problem to teach people how not to be sexist/racist/homophobic what have you; that people should just know not to be an asshole. No, it shouldn’t be. But it is. Yes they should, but clearly they don’t. Do we resent people for the ignorance they were trained into, or do we recognize that if we’re going to call sexism, racism, ageism, etc. systematic, we must also address it as a systematic problem rather than continually fight it on a personal attack level?

      I guess my opinion comes down to the idea that compassion and understanding are worth putting the effort in for, and that building bridges is always a better use of my time than pointing out that we’re lacking one and getting angry about it. It’s hard work, there’s no doubt about it. But it is literally the only way things will ever change.

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