Age discrimination against ‘young people’ is alive and kicking

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.

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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.

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7 thoughts on “Age discrimination against ‘young people’ is alive and kicking

  1. cjsmiley

    I really like this, as a teenager I’m struggling with age discrimination a lot. Lately I’ve been frustrated when, as a family, we go to family friends and the conversation goes serious. Because I have valid points to make, yet no one really seems to care. The only thing I have an issue with is that at the end you kind of end up writing as if teenagers are a different species and that you weren’t one, once. In my opinion, teenagers should be treated equally to adults as long as they don’t take advantage of it. Well my opinion is really that everyone should be treated equally unless they take advantage of it. I have a friend who said that he was talking to someone in his scouts group who was really tall but it turned out that he was really young. My friend said something like “I kept talking to him like I would to my friends at school but I kept remembering that he was younger so I stopped”. I love my friend to bits, but when asked if the boy took advantage of him treated him equally, he said no. If he reacted well to how he was being talked to, what’s the issue? Thanks again for this! It really makes me feel like I’m not the only one fighting this battle.

    Reply
    1. psychologymagpie Post author

      Hey! Thanks for your comment! Glad you got something from the post and I appreciated your feedback too 🙂

      Reply
  2. ElspethGrace

    Just saying, as a 16 year old girl who has had to study discrimination at school – the 2010 Equality Act does not cover people under the age of eighteen. I’ve got friends who have been refused service at restaurants because a customer didn’t want a ‘large’ (read: about 8 people) group of teenagers near them. Never mind the fact that they weren’t being any louder than the several groups of twenty-somethings in there, they were teenagers and therefore inherently evil. And don’t even get me started on the things about only two kids at once and not buying eggs and flour, and especially not the ‘Mosquito’ to stop teenagers standing outside shops. When me and a friend or two stand at the end of our street waiting to meet someone, and there’s people giving us sideways glances and walking past us especially quickly… Well, it makes me angry. And sad. But mostly angry. I know it isn’t necessarily the person’s fault – they may have had bad experiences in the past or something – but if media carries on portraying teenagers as people to be scared of, who’ll just as soon mug you as look at you, then this’ll only get worse. Yes, there are teenagers like that out there, but there are people like that of every age, every gender, every race. If you’re not meant to discriminate against people for gender, or race, or religion, or for being over sixty, then why are people practically encouraged to discriminate against people for being under eighteen?

    Thank you.

    *bows and gets off soapbox*

    Reply
  3. Sarah

    I just went through this today when I was working my shift at my local charity shop. I decided to get some volunteer work in a shop so I could find it easier to get a job when I go to university next month. A woman came up to the till today while I was working, and as I was packing her things into several plastic bags, she kept making extremely personal and ageist comments, basically saying how I was “too young to be working here” and she kept asking me if I was still at school, which to me was extremely offensive as it had nothing to do with my performance at work, but of course I had to act like nothing was wrong and go with the whole “the customer is always right” motto, because I don’t want to get a bad reputation amongst any future employers. In short, I was just doing my job. I had to look her in the eye and very sternly and clearly tell her that I am 17 years old, and that I am going to university in a month. She didn’t even apologise for her comments, and left the shop in a huff without even saying thank you. It really does lead you to question who was acting more mature in that situation.

    Reply
    1. psychologymagpie Post author

      Oh no! Sorry to hear you experienced that. I think sometimes ageism just doesn’t get thought about in the same way when it’s directed at younger people.

      Reply
  4. Drake

    I remember back when I was not the most mature, I would think that others had a place in saying that my opinion didn’t matter when it came to adult conversations. Granted, I didn’t expect to be giving any useful addition to the conversations, but don’t discard it like a gnat who is annoying you. When I matured, I realized that the people were wrong in they’re accusations. I worked really hard to be able to give a valuable sentence in an adult conversation, which made me learn things which had made me loose my innocence and most of my youth. I would take a lot of time browsing the internet, and that would result in me maturing a lot faster than a lot of my peers. Of course, I was still naive and ignorant, but I was wiser and less innocent. These type of things happen, and when you have an alcoholic father living in a trailer and your going to a private school, you tend to research why your dad has a bottle, or why others are much more rich than you.

    Reply
  5. Alphasquad

    I have run into this kind of thing dozens of times. I have several younger siblings that my mom watches while I go into stores, and I have been stopped multiple times by cashiers and people at the entrances who ask me questions and sometimes even have taken me back to the checkout lines. I have been told that they are “Keeping an eye on me” before, and that teenagers simply are not trustworthy. It is extremely rude and hurtful, and slows me down when I am trying to just get back to the car with the groceries. Once when I had gone to a neighbor to pick up eggs, I was screamed at by a man saying he would call the cops if I took one step closer to his house with those eggs. I tried talking to him, but ended up having to go around the other side of the block to avoid going near his house. People seem to think that teenagers are completely untrustworthy and will only vandalize, steal and destroy if not kept under control. It is really quite sad.

    Reply

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