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April 19, 2014

On the Go: Age is only a number, not a way to define us

Our obsession with age dulls as we get older, but it never goes away completely.

Important life decisions and milestones are often dictated by a person’s age. Age shapes our concepts of a person and of ourselves. There are pros and cons at any age and every age group gets judgments made toward it. We label an entire generation. Age is intrinsically linked to our culture and daily life.

When a person walks into a library, she’s supposed to go toward her “age appropriate” section. A child in school is assumed to be at a certain level based on his age. A teen is told when he is old enough to handle a car. Children’s clothes are sized by age, as if all 3-year-olds have identical bodies. Society also dictates how much responsibility and self control a person has. At 18, report cards are still addressed to the “parent or guardian of.” This irks me! My grades are my business. It is offensive to have school policy constantly telling children they aren’t in charge of their own life.

There are a few perks, though, to ageism. 

Children take priority in a fire. There’s the “women and children first” mentality. When being tried in court, a minor receives greater leniency. Parents still shoulder the burden of most of a minor’s paperwork. Age is seen as a valid excuse for most mistakes. Child tickets are cheaper. Kids get preferential treatment in a power outage or fuel shortage.

The judging can hurt, but childhood is a special time, too. It’s the only time when public sentiment is almost unanimously to care for and nurture a person.

Every summer, my family goes to a fabulous camp in Virginia. At this camp, people are sorted into age groups and your group determines the color of your name tag. Last year, teens got an orangey fire pattern. Adults had white. I don’t like the teen program at the camp and prefer to do adult workshops, which is fine in theory, until someone notices my name tag and starts to treat me differently. They lower their expectations and often seem disappointed that a teen has infiltrated their ranks. These people are exceptionally tolerant, yet they aren’t immune to ageism. 

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