A friend stumbled across this poster in the Lake District at Halloween. It reminded me of a sign that used to be up in our local corner shop when I was at school, prohibiting more than two children in the shop at the same time, in case of shoplifting. Because of course ALL children shoplift. And of course ALL “young people” are only going to buy eggs and flour to throw at other, presumably “old” people. God forbid that any of them might actually be BAKING.
This is a brilliant example of age discrimination. It is against the law to discriminate against anyone because of how old they are. This poster manages to discriminate in such a vague way it is not even clear who “young people” are. Am I a young person? Alas, at 32, I fear I am no longer the target audience. I suspect this poster is targeting teens. It is adolescents that get the worst rap in the media, and so it seems also in the Lakes.
The stereotype of teenagers, as written about brilliantly by Professor Philip Graham in The End of Adolescence, sees them all as sex-mad, drug-taking, irrational, risky, bad, hoody-wearing hooligans who can’t control their darkest desires. Philip Graham would argue that teenagers are just like any of us when we encounter new situations and make mistakes as we learn. Some of the brain scan evidence suggests more than this, that in fact teenagers are more prone to risk-taking and find problem-solving harder because of the way their brains are developing. In teenage brains areas related to feeling rewarded by social interactions are hyper-active at the same time that areas related to planning and problem-solving are still under-developed (fuller explanation here). Professor Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, amongst others, argues that this means teenagers are more likely to take risks if their peer group are encouraging them.
Either way, whether we want to attribute difficulties in problem-solving to new experiences or to brain development, the best method to help teenagers problem-solve is not to ban them from using flour. The most helpful way to help a teenager problem-solve is to talk to them about the different courses of action available to them in a given situation and weigh up the pros and cons of each, clearly and methodically. They might still need to experiment and try other less sensible solutions out first but that doesn’t mean we should put up posters demonising them. And we certainly shouldn’t be discouraging use of eggs and flour in the wake of the inspirational Great British Bake-Off.