Do you hate kids? Okay, maybe not you, but do you know someone who does?
When I was about eight years old, I lived next door to an older couple who was very friendly with my parents, stopping to chat with them whenever they saw each other. The lady would occasionally make cookies for us and share the recipe with my mother.
So when my Girl Scout troop had its annual cookie sale, I thought they would be my first customers. My mother allowed me to go to their door by myself, since they were trusted neighbors. I rang the bell, and very clearly heard the man say, “Go away!”
A bit confused, I stood there for a moment. Maybe he didn’t realize it was me. “Get lost, kid!” He yelled.
And so I did. Dejected, I wondered why he would be so mean to me. What did I do wrong?
I told my parents how he yelled at me, and apparently they mentioned it to the neighbors, because one day, the lady told me that they really didn’t like children. “We are all kidded out,” she said, trying to explain that after years of raising their own and having throngs of grandchildren (now all out of state), they just didn’t want to be near children. She said it rather politely, as I recall, making it seem almost reasonable. But it still hurt. After all, I was more than just a “child,” I was me!
Imagine if they would have said, “no offense, but we just don’t like [insert your ethnic group here].” I suppose people do say things like that, but somehow not liking children is considered a bit more acceptable. Or at least complaining about kids is.
There’s even a website for people to vent their anger towards young people. It features clips like this one of people explaining why they can't stand kids.
As I wrote about in my book, Kids These Days: Facts and Fictions About Today's Youth, disdain for young people is by no means new. The ancient Greek philosopher Socrates complained that kids were less obedient, more disrespectful and ill-mannered than in his day. In Robert and Helen Lynd’s classic 1929 study of “Middletown”, people complained about girls dressing immodestly and twelve-year-olds acting like adults. The more things change, the more we complain about kids.
You might have experienced this yourself. Have you ever been treated as if you were a public nuisance, or had your ideas dismissed as naïve and unimportant, or just brushed aside because of your age?
Age discrimination is an interesting thing, especially when it affects young people. Unlike racial, ethnic, or gender discrimination, people who have prejudices against kids have all been in their social position before. They have, to borrow a cliché, walked in their shoes. So much of our ideas about diversity are based on the premise that if only we can see how the “other” is really a lot like “us” we would be less likely to discriminate against them. But in the case of kids, we were all “them” once, right?
That’s where the anger lies. Older people sometimes argue that they were never like kids are today. “Today kids are ruder, more violent, and promiscuous,” some argue. “After all,” the angry elders continue, “look at all the foul language on television. That wasn’t there before. And porn is all over the movies and the Internet, so of course kids just figure sex is like a handshake,” many reason.
But they’re wrong. Social science data tells us that in fact kids are less violent, less promiscuous, and less likely to use drugs and alcohol than their predecessors were.
- Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) data indicate that violent crime amongst teens has dropped dramatically since the early 1990s;
- According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 47% of high school students reported being sexually active in 2005, compared with 54% in 1991;
- Teen pregnancy is at an all-time low in American history, according to the CDC;
- 73% of high school seniors reported ever drinking alcohol in 2006 compared with 92% in 1985;
- 48% of high school seniors reported ever trying an illegal drug in 2006; 62% did in 1985.
At the same time, kids today are more likely to live in poverty. They are coming of age at a time when the gap between the richest and poorest is increasing, and costs of college are soaring. Yet many people also claim that kids are self-centered and materialistic. And when young people do try and get involved politically, they are often considered naïve or troublemakers.
Consider the case of Brett McClafferty of Streetsboro, Ohio. At eighteen he ran for mayor, which one could interpret as a sign of interest in public service—something that his elders might commend, right?
As the Los Angeles Times reported, some of the locals felt that McClafferty wasn’t experienced enough to be mayor; one 37-year-old said that he knew that when he was eighteen he couldn’t have been mayor, so McClafferty apparently couldn’t either. Of course, in a democracy people are entitled to choose candidates that they think will best serve the public’s interest. But by focusing on some adults as a disqualifying factor raises important questions. After all, it is the youngest adults who are asked to sacrifice their lives for us during wartime.
Another claimed that “Six months before he ran, he didn’t even know where the City Council meeting room was,” a charge that might apply to many new candidates. But being a political “outsider” is not always a bad thing. In fact, allegations of “insider” corruption motivated McClafferty to run in the first place. One official pled guilty to mail fraud and income tax charges and was sentenced to thirty months in prison. The former congressional representative from the district, James A. Traficant Jr., is currently in prison for racketeering and taking bribes. McClaffery told the Times, “I thought I could do better.”
But due to the persistence of age discrimination, we might never know if young people would make better leaders than their elders. That is, until they become older themselves and rage against kids of the next generation.