Recently I overheard an interaction between a group of people. They were discussing the prevalence of finding nails in snacks at the local dog run. They were all discussing how very uncool it was (which it totally is). But then, one of them said it was most likely teenagers.
Really? There was no reason to think that teens had anything to do with it. And yet, because it was trouble-making, obviously youth must be involved. (I don’t know about you but I’ve read about some pretty sadistic adults when it comes to animals. And I’ve met more than my fair share of compassionate youth towards animals, sometimes over their compassion towards other people).
Just a regular conversation, no real malice was intended and yet, there was no realization that this might have been an idea based on ageism against young people, a common tendency in our society.
Most people nowadays are very aware of discrimination based on color, religion, ability and gender. But as youth workers, are we aware of age discrimination? As an advocate for youth, I believe it’s our duty to identify ageism against young people in our own and others’ speech and take steps to treat young people with respect despite their age.
Ageism is discrimination of people based on their age. Young people are not the only group to experience ageism; the elderly also experience discrimination based on their age. The majority of the information around ageism is directed at those working with the elderly, with the add-on that young people also experience it.
Both the elderly and the young experience ageism due to adults “[infantilizing]” them. (Hockey and James in Thompson) Both groups are seen as too irrational to make decisions that affect their lives. Both groups also experience limited opportunities for employment and a removal of rights under the guise of protection.
Kerry Young describes the ‘art of youth work’ as ‘the ability to make and sustain…relationships with young people and provide the environment and opportunity for them to engage in moral philosophizing.’ With this understanding, youth workers have a responsibility to challenge ageism against young people and to fight ageist practices, thereby strengthening the relationship and encouraging an open environment.
Thompson outlines ten ways in which ageism can be fought for the elderly. Here are three, paraphrased for youth work:
- Avoid and challenge ageist assumptions and myths – As practitioners, we should comment in public arenas about the use of ageist language by the media, challenge colleagues when they discuss the inability of young people to make decisions and champion the voice of youth, being a voice for those that are unable to express theirs.
- Use terms that edify and empower youth, not infantilize – Use of the term ‘kids, children, little ones, young-ones’ and so on undermine the idea that young people are transitioning from childhood into adulthood.
- Build up self-esteem and positive images for young people – This will help to counteract the negative stereotyping of the media.
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