Yeah, I’m Young. So What?

Something that’s really been bothering me lately is all the youth-bashing that has been going on around me lately. Not the typical “teenagers are young and dumb” type of thing, but the subtle dismissal of the around-30 crowd from the above-40 crowd. I suppose every generation feels this way about the generation above them. But when these people are actually your peers, when they are the people you work with, or the other parents you socialize with, it’s actually hurtful and really counterproductive.

Where I live and work, the trend is for parents to be relatively older. Women have generally established their careers in their 20s and early 30s, and had children in their mid-30s. They are now in their 40s, raising their kids. Cool.

In public education, administrators also tend to be older. I suppose working up the bureaucratic ladder takes time.  That’s cool too.

I’m different, which is okay, at least it is with me and my close friends, regardless of age. I had Big A when I was 24, before I had really decided what I wanted to do as a career. I had Little A at 26, right when I was starting my grad school career. I’m 30 now, still working toward my degrees. I have a baby face and am often mistaken for a high schooler. Everyone says I’ll love it in 10 years 🙂

But in any case, no matter what I look like, the truth is – when I start talking about my stuff, my research, my experiences – one QUICKLY understands that I know. my. Ish. I’m not at one of the top graduate schools getting a dual PhD and JD off of my looks (although I’m pretty cute if I say so myself. Just kidding.) I’ve been in graduate school for the past five years doing nothing but studying and perfecting and becoming an expert at what I do. THAT has been my career, my full-time job.

So it truly pisses me off when I’m at a meeting and the over 40 crowd starts talking about how young everyone is and starts pretty much dismissing the 30-something crowd based solely on age, even when the 30-somethings have positions and titles that deserve respect because they worked to get there and have demonstrated superior skills and performance. In education, this is particularly irritating because it is the younger people that are bringing the innovation, that are bringing the fresh perspectives, that are trying to work with folks for the betterment of educating children.

In advocacy groups, especially those wanting to advocate for black and brown children, I think one of the reasons it hard to mobilize parents is that younger parents don’t want to be treated like second-class citizens. If I go to one more meeting where 30-somethings or younger are talked about like they couldn’t possibly know how to do their jobs, or have cogent opinions, or just have anything of value to add, I really might blow.

And when it comes to parenting – UGH. That REALLY gets my goat. I’m young, yes. But PLEASE don’t make the mistake of thinking that I’m a lesser-than parent because of it. My mother was 19 and my dad 20 when they had me, and then had my brother 11 months later. Fast forward 17 years and I had a full scholarship to an Ivy-League university and my brother behind me went to college too. I learned everything about being a great mother from a teenage mother, so at 24 I felt OLD. I’m not perfect, but neither are the 40-something parents I know. We all have the same struggles, and go through the same issues.

I don’t know what this is all about, whether older folks feel threatened or what, but it needs to stop. I want to learn from people who have lived life more than me, but I don’t want my perspectives, my ideas, my expertise to be dismissed solely on account of my age or what I look like.

What is going on? What do y’all think I need to do or say to get these folks to quit it?

3 thoughts on “Yeah, I’m Young. So What?

  1. I think I’m guilty of making this comment here (I mean, actually there, in your other blog)… something in the lines of “oh, you’re so young, I’m so old,” but I’m positive I didn’t say anything condescending like what you describe. And I see how insulting it would be to hear it from academic peers or other parents in an advocacy group/meeting, etc.

    Anyway, my two cents from the perspective of a still fairly young-looking woman (I don’t know if you saw my post from yesterday mentioning this) who’s about to turn 40 is that it feels, frankly, VERY scary to be getting old. I don’t know why, but it does. And I know that 40 is NOT “old” really, I know that.

    In any case… lately I do find myself talking to my friends and making passing remarks such as… “yeah, I think I’m the older one here in this room” or “wow, you’re so young” and stuff. And I do that very often. Why? Because it’s somehow reassuring to assert that, it assuages my fears somewhat (although it is, ultimately, useless and I now realize that it may make the other person feel really bad).

    In any case, I spent a lot of my day hanging out with a very young cocoa mama at the conference today and *not once* I said anything about being older although I felt it keenly (it’s her first conference & her first presentation and she did a fantastic job). We talked about our sons (hers is 6) and I also know — because she shared that the boy’s father died last year [I didn’t ask for details] — that in this sense, regarding life experiences, she is much older than me.

    Anyway. Thanks for this post. I will keep it in mind and try not to make any condescending comments to colleagues or fellow parents. I think one of the things that sometimes keeps me from being obnoxious that way is that I’m very insecure and regardless of the fact that I’m turning 40, I still feel like a young girl inside. That helps.

    But maybe those people you’ve encountered are insecure too and the only way they can try to dispel their insecurity is by putting younger people down. Very ugly, but maybe true. Thanks for helping me think about this and my apologies for (as always) using this space as therapeutic reflection (that’s why I blog & read blogs, I must say!). 😉

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  2. You can’t control what other people think, feel, say and do. All you can do is decide how it will affect you. Use wisdom in who you deal with and be careful who you share your (and your children’s) accomplishments with.

    I struggle with similar issues. I’ve learned that I can’t keep company with the average person. Jealousy, envy and just plain old hating is at an all time high (esp. in the black community). There are people who will applaud your wisdom, accomplishments, and just think you’re the best thing since sliced bread. Your job is to find them.

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