November 22, 2007

Youth Phobia

author_karen By Karen Sternheimer 

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 imagean 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 clip_image002[2]_thumb_thumb_thumbraising 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 headshot 009 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. 

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? 

Not exactly. In fact, although McClafferty lost, to prevent any other young people from thinking that they should get involved, the city is trying to pass a clip_image002[3]law making the minimum age for mayor 23. 

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 MPj04074820000[1] 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.


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Wow, really interesting article and statistics.

When adults call kids promiscuous, lazy, loud, etc., I think it's partly about projection. We all had our faults as kids, so we assume that today's children have the same faults - but a hundred times worse, of course. Also, there's the simple bias that stems from noticing badly behaved kids (a child throwing a fit in a store, for instance) while ignoring quiet, well-behaved children.

I thought this article was really interesting to read. It really got me thinking because I really never noticed that older people disliked the youth today. I have had encounters with people thinking that I was naïve and not good enough but I never realized that they had something against my youth. Its sad to say that there are people out there that don’t like us because they think we are careless and rude. We are not all like that. There are some young people that act really rude and careless to others, but there are others who respect their elders no matter who they are. I know I have to respect everybody around me because I know better than to treat them with disrespect.
I do see young teenagers disrespecting their parents and elders all the time. It makes me angry because even though teens don’t like to be bossed around, they have to know when to stop raising their voice to older people. If they want to be treated with respect, they have to give respect. I was not brought up to talk back to my parents. I try to respect people as much as I can because I want to be treated like that. I understand that my youth can get out of hand sometimes, but we have a voice and we are not naïve. We know what goes on these days and sometimes when we want to speak up, we are shut down and told stop. That’s why some teens get frustrated and rebel because they are not being heard or listened to. We may be young, but it doesn’t mean we don’t know what’s best for us.

Don't panic guys, we oldies had to put up with the same crap too. "If you see a boy, hit him... because if he's not come from doing some mischief, he's on his way to do some!"
Having studied Sociology and Philosophy, I feel qualified to remark that the remonstrations of the youth are perennial and as natural as the seasons and not uniquely applicable to this current generation. Experience is relative to previous experience, and, having had little, all of us as youths, we are prone to judge-mentality before the facts. Sadly, in many cases, sanity prevails with time. Enjoy your youth while ye may for those petals that grow will soon fall away....

This is a very interesting post that finally looks at the point of view of the victims. I, being a high school teenager, am given glares and sometimes rude remarks by simple strangers. It seems to me that teenagers just receive hate because some don't know who to lash out to. This post also reminded me of a man by the last name of Schopenhaur who wrote numerous articles about how teenagers are poisoning society and the hope for a strong future. I also feel that no matter what happens, teenagers will be looked down upon simply because the group they are a part of. Thank you for pointing out that we all aren't juvenile criminals and that sometimes one person can't define an entire group.

Intersting article and statistics. I come from a culture that teenagers respect their parents a great deal, and here I see a lot of teenagers disrespecting their parents and that is sad.

It's so easy to stereotype classes of people on the basis of "knowing" just a few. A lack of interaction with these people can reinforce what you already believe.

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