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.