Ageism grows as “youth is wasted on the young”

Today (Friday 12 August) is International Youth Day and the theme this year is ‘Intergenerational Solidarity: Creating a world for all ages.’

Senior Lecturer in Social Care Jodie Low is passionate about understanding and supporting young people. Here, she blogs about ‘inverse ageism’ in our society and the difficulties younger people face.

Did you flinch when you read the title of this blog?

Ageism is so widespread that we do not recognise the “detrimental effect on our dignity and rights”. We accept and allow negativity and blame regardless of any evidence.

As a Youth Worker this week our team have dealt with reports including “a group anti-social young people causing chaos and fear in the square” – which was actually seven young people sitting on the grass creating a radio show with two youth workers. “A room trashed because it’s the type of thing only young people would do” – in a building the youth group do not have a key to.

This type of aggression on the part of adults is clearly acceptable and openly unchallenged by adults. Who can young people trust to support them?

Young people in every era have experienced discrimination connected with their age. They deal with stereotypes of being mad, bad and out of control. Expectations are that they ‘grow up’ ‘take responsibility’ and behave in a way of a younger, or smaller version of adults. They are criticised for the decisions they make, the relationships they have and often simply being together in a park.

When we consider the common phrase ‘Youth is wasted on the young’ it illustrates the challenges our adult society puts in front of them. Primarily, we are disrespecting the choices and journeys they take by judging these as wasted opportunities.

Personally, I think there is envy of the energy and freedom young people naturally have and that this phrase maybe should be “why did I waste my youth?”. Owning the ageism we hold is a step towards enabling a kinder and healthier community.

What we commonly miss is the lack of comparative opportunity young people have to the adult generations around them. As adults we have created the societies and communities that young people live. We expect them to socialise in a pro social way meaning quietly, not drawing attention to themselves, not interrupting the adults in the same spaces. Young people have very few meeting spaces which are pro social, the cinema, leisure centres or fast food spaces. These all cost money and are time limited; therefore they need money or work to fund these.

The UN Global Report on Ageism highlights the disadvantages young people face in the workplace with schemes such as internships which enables lower pay and employment rights as we discriminate through promoting that young people should see this as opportunity as they are young.

When facilitating safety mapping with 11 year-olds recently there was frequent reference to fear of being kidnapped, being bullied or beaten up and the risky, drunk adults in their community. When communicating this back to strategic leads these points were met with the assumption that there is too much violence on social media. The adults had clearly missed that these are the experiences of 11 year-olds with real incidents in their own community.

When asked for top tips on we can support young people more effectively they asked for:

  • ‘Don’t have favourites’
  • ‘Don’t take your bad mood out on us’.
  • Be a role model for your own aims ‘don’t talk about (things like) body image in a bad way, mainly about weight’.’Encourage children; they can easily be disappointed’.

Such basic tips highlight their experiences of adults.

At University of Northampton our programmes enable students to understand the level of ageism along with other ways our social development creates adversity for young people.

Our undergraduate programmes in Childhood and Youth and Social Care and Community Practice enable students to understand the life course and how society develops to reinforce ageism. Students learn how ageism manifests through education, social care and health workplaces and our students are prepared to tackle this.

Our MA in Youth & Community Leadership develops professionally recognised activists to enable collective action with young people, their peers and communities to lead a kinder, inclusive society respecting young people for the strengths and potential for our future.



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