The word ‘teenager’ has become synonymous with laziness, disrespect, recklessness and stupidity. Although, I can think of many examples that would seem to verify this stereotype, I argue that the use of the words ‘teenager’ and ‘child’ in order to belittle ideas, feelings and opinions, is simply ageism and worse than that, it’s a kind of prejudice that seems to be accepted in society. I feel it shouldn’t be and should be tackled just as racism and sexism are.
Age is a protected characteristic according the Isle of Man Equality Act 2018. However, we live in a gerontocracy, so this law is hardly ever used for its purpose – to protect people of all ages from discrimination based on their date of birth.
Ageism seems to be accepted widely in our society, just to name a couple examples: the stereotype that the ‘elderly’ can’t use technology and the idea that ‘children’ don’t have valid opinions. I wish to call this out for exactly what it is; prejudice – and worse, it leads to discrimination. But, ageist discrimination, to me, doesn’t seem to get anywhere near enough publicity. It appears to have become socially acceptable to discriminate against someone based on some judgement you personally have about their age – or the age you think they are. Ageism is often overt and still, it goes unnoticed. For example, one can’t drive a company car under 25. Though, one can back it up by saying that you need to have been driving for a long time for that responsibility etc, however surely, if the purpose of that rule is to ensure that only people who have been driving for a period of years can take on the responsibility, then a less discriminatory way to ensure that would be to state “One must have been driving for three or more years to drive the company car.”
If this were any other type of discrimination, society would not stand for it.
Discrimination and prejudice are cyclic: you, as a business owner, decide that a person over 50 will not receive training in ICT (due to your personal prejudice that ‘old’ people can’t use technology). The person in your company then does not receive training in ICT, as a result of your prejudice, they are then behind on various advancements in the field, then, this reaffirms your prejudice that ‘old’ people cant use technology. So, next time there’s an opportunity to train that worker in ICT, you choose not to, as you believe they can’t handle it. Then, when the company comes into difficulty, that person is first to be made redundant because you feel them a less useful member of your team (than, say, the 30 year old that went on the last two ICT courses). The result of your prejudice and discrimination is that a 50-year-old is now without work. This is a more serious example of ageism.
However, as with racism and sexism, it is not only the huge issues that are a problem that needs addressing. It is the smaller, more colloquial examples that matter as much, as they give rise to the idea that ageism is acceptable. Using throw away comments and casual dismissals of young people perfectly depicts the issue. If you assume that teenagers (those aged 13-19) don’t have valid opinions you automatically dismiss any argument they have as ‘disrespectful’, ‘confrontational’ or ‘rude’. This is not acceptable – well, it should not be. Just because someone is under 20, their arguments, opinions and ideas should not be trivialised. Indeed, Amika George, 19, in the UK recently made it part of the provision of all state secondary schools that they must be able to provide period products to students as required.
If you don’t like someone’s opinions, you can’t simply tar them as ‘disrespectful’, ‘confrontational’ and ‘offensive’ just because they’re under 20. If you disagree, approach it properly. It is not enough to simply disregard their arguments because you feel ‘they don’t have enough life experience”. I, for one, believe you have no right to judge a person’s life experience based on their age. At age 16, I have already had my first novel published and started a political party. I have travelled to over 20 countries and had many major issues to overcome. The extent of my life experience (a phrase often used to discredit the arguments of ‘teenagers’) is not for you to ascertain. Personally, I feel I am more ‘able’ to ‘take responsibility’ for my choices, actions and opinions than a person my senior when the extent of their argument seems to be ‘you’re being offensive to me’. If you (at any age) are offended by a logical, elucidated viewpoint, then I am not the ‘childish’ (another word used to discredit perfectly valid opinions of young people simply because they differ from one’s own) one. I suppose, it’s true, there is nothing more offence than a reasoned argument. And there’s nothing more ‘childish’ than a person of any age only able to disagree with someone by trying to run away from the debate in lieu of an actual reasoned counter argument. If you disagree with someone of any age (including, dare one say it, teenagers or children), don’t brand their ideas ‘disrespectful’, actually think about them and if you still disagree, argue against them in a reasoned fashion, not a flurry of buzz words used at a futile attempt at intimidation. This is prejudice in its worst form: the kind no one picks up on, allowing it to slip under the radar and continue.