It had been a long day. My family and I had been in the hospital waiting room for six or eight hours, nervously anticipating the birth of my niece down in Georgia. I was sitting at a table with my dad, who was doing work on his laptop as usual, and my younger brother, who was on his tablet. I had brought a book to read, but unfortunately I finished it long before the day was over. I set it down and got out my phone to check some emails.
It was at that moment that an older nurse walked in to give some news to one of the other families. As she passed our table she laughed, gestured towards my brother and I and said, “Will you look at these two? I remember the days when we used to actually talk to each other at the table! Now you can’t even get them off their phones,” and walked away.
I was taken aback for a few moments before I suddenly realized how offended I was. For goodness sake, I had just put down a novel and my dad had somehow escaped criticism even though he was the most technologically involved of the three of us. Actually, as a white upper-middle-class female living in the south, it was the first time I had ever been judged like that by a stranger, and I was thoroughly confused.
We all know about discrimination. Thanks to UnLearn week, the awareness of racism and sexism and the like has been very firmly ingrained into our lives and worldviews. But there is another type of prejudice, one that I didn’t even know had a name until recently, with which I have become much too familiar over the past couple of months: ageism.
Coined in 1969, ageism typically describes discrimination against seniors based solely on their age, or assuming they should do certain things or act a certain way just because they’re older. But I think it’s about time that we talked about occasions where the finger points the other way.
I have been on the receiving end of countless ageist remarks, both from miscellaneous strangers and from people like pastors and teachers. They jokingly assuming I’m addicted to Facebook, that I’d rather text people than speak ever again, or that I don’t know what a letter is, just because I’m in my teens.
I don’t deny that this teenage archetype can exist, but the stereotype should not. Besides it being an unfair judgment to make, it can completely burn bridges between adolescents and the adults they’re supposed to look up to. Alternatively, the assumption that all teens are lazy and unmotivated can keep adults from seeing the potential the younger generation has to offer.
Unlike some other forms of discrimination, however, this one cannot just go away with time. I’m sure that a lot of our grandparents were hassled for listening to too much radio instead of playing outside, and that we will all nag our future kids about being on their holograph machines all the time instead of actually meeting their friends at the space mall to hang out. It’s all about attitude, and changing your attitude takes effort.
As with all forms of discrimination, ageism is something that has to be consciously fought. It’s hard for a teen to ask for more respect from an adult, and it’s hard for an adult to not just assume all teens are lazy. This may be just one of the many things hindering us from being a more loving and accepting community, but it can be an easy one to fix. Next time, just give someone the benefit of the doubt — see what happens.