THE BLOG
11/30/2012 09:18 am ET Updated Jan 30, 2013

Youthists & Age Discrimination

While attention is given to discrimination against people of different races, gender and sexual orientation, age discrimination remains a topic that few speak about. Feminists work for women's rights, civil rights activists work for the advancements of racial minorities, and youthists work for the recognition of youth. To me, being a youthist means to be proud of being young and to continuously strive to end age discrimination againt young people. The problem with age discrimination is that it is fundamentally rooted in the devaluing of youth and their ability to recognize the issues that affect them. Decisions are being made every day concerning youth from around the world, but no young people are part of that decision-making process.

Age discrimination is something that is prevalent in many countries. This is evidenced in the United States: The average senator and congressman are the ages of 60 and 55, respectively. While age does not reflect competency, there is a disservice done when there is such a disconnection between the policymakers and the youth. Although those under 18 may not be able to vote or sometimes may not have the intellectual ability equivalent to an adult, it does not mean that we do not have a right to have our voices heard. There is not a big intellectual discrepancy between the ages of 17 and 18, yet our government only chooses to recognize us once we cross that arbitrary threshold.

Sometimes, even upon reaching voting age, the voice of youth is undermined. I once visited two of my representatives in DC, and both of them spoke and answered questions in a way that made it seem they did not care what our opinions are, even from those who were present and over the age of 18. It is for the reason of disconnect that decisions being made can end up being faulty or inaccurate. It is also worth mentioning that although many youth councils aim to compensate for that disparity, it can ultimately be dangerous. By giving the the false illusion that the voice of youth are being recognized, governments are siphoning power away from a demographic that deserves to be heard.

In countries of extreme poverty, age discrimination can manifest itself as cruelty. Violence is an expression of power, and since children do not have power, they are often left vulnerable to abuse. The devaluing of youth contributes to problems such as human trafficking, abuse and the existence of sweatshops. The core of this problem can be extrapolated as society viewing young people as being of inferior intellect, and as a result, they are left doing physical work. When children are discounted, they do not express themselves when they are hurt or abused because they do not see adults as friends or confidants, only as a threatening authority figure. The deconstructing of age stereotypes and the fostering of mutual understanding is another step for all young people to have the opportunity to pursue the happiness they so rightly deserve.

I received my first internship at Nebraska Appleseed Center for Law at the age of 15. I achieved this not because I was branded a certain way, but because while attending a legislative hearing, my future supervisor saw that I had something valuable to contribute. While I interned there, I performed just as well as older interns. And so, one possible solution to age discrimination is simple. Employers -- anyone who hires, appoints, selects -- should stop looking at rudimentary and superficial factors that have no correlation to performance. They ought to shift their focus on a person's character, determination and commitment. In the end, those three things contribute to performance.

Age discrimination does not start or begin with just young people -- it starts with the cooperation of both the young and older generation. By fostering that collaboration between the young and old, it builds intergenerational communication between two groups of people who share the goal of creating positive change. However, this is not happening currently. The lack of communication and the refusal to work together is hindering this process. If government officials become more approachable and young people are more accessible, the two groups will interact and find common ground. I do not think that young people have any skill in particular that adults cannot access; however, the one thing that young people do possess is strong idealism. Although that may sound foolish, sometimes doing the absurd is what is needed to change the world. The world needs people who are willing to challenge the conventional. When looking at the history of most civil rights movements, it was young men and women who took the risk and laid everything on the line in hopes of bringing change. It is that insane leap of faith that has brought change to this world. We should take that faithful jump in hopes of changing the world for ourselves and those around us.

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