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June 15, 2013

On the Go: We can't let age define us

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The Daily Star

---- — I hate the concept of age. I understand wanting to quantify your existence, but age is blown way out of proportion. 

Age is a restrictive box everyone is crammed into. Age definitely has a place, but I don’t think it should be such an important factor in everyday life. Ageism negatively impacts and restricts people of all ages.

Age greatly impacts the respect you get. Just because you lack wrinkles doesn’t mean you can’t have valuable wisdom and just because you have gray hair doesn’t mean your thoughts are exceptional. Some people don’t have valuable wisdom and some people do have exceptional thoughts but it isn’t contingent upon their ages, and neither should the respect the person receives.

My oldest niece was born when I was 10. My sister had a carrier that you strapped on to your shoulders to hold the baby hands-free. Sometimes when we went shopping or something similar, someone else would take a turn holding the baby. The other two aunties were 12 and 14. When one of us was holding the baby, people gave us many dirty looks. They didn’t offer to help hold the door or any other courtesies usually extended to people, in general, and especially a new mom. People were so shocked and disgusted to see what they thought was a young teen mom that they lowered the amount of respect they gave us just because we weren’t a suitable age.

Another way age impacts respect is with the word “minor.”  I can’t stand that word! It implies that people younger than 18 are not complete or worthy. This is showed in society with things such as voting age and a minor’s inability to give consent to things. I recently had a situation where consent was involved. It juggled teacher consent, doctor consent, legal consent and parental consent, but nowhere did it ask for my consent while it was concerning me. I find that a bit backwards. This teaches kids that they don’t have rights to their own bodies and lives. Minors are worthy of better treatment and a better title.

There is this big misconception that age is equivalent to maturity. This is incorrect. Not all 5-year-olds are socially and mentally ready for kindergarten just because they are 5. In the same way, not all 50-year-olds are at the same level socially and mentally. Grades in school continue to divide and confine kids through senior year. 

I was involved in a workshop last year where I was the only person who wasn’t an adult. When the workshop finished, a few of us started planning our own little group. It was all going well until my age came up accidentally. Everyone seemed to clam up and start treating me differently. They wanted to contact my parents. 

I know they were just trying to be responsible, but it upset me. One day I was capable of making my own decisions and being their equal and the next they wanted parental say-so to meet with them. When they didn’t know my age, they were judging my maturity and responsibility on their interactions with me. When my age was thrown in, I became a teenager in a group of adults instead of a just another member in their group.

People spend a lot of time worrying if they are the way they should be for their age. People say you act too young or you act too old. Why does no one tell you you’re just right? One person’s “just right” is very different from another person’s “just right” at the same age and that’s OK. 

I remember when I was 13, we were having family dinner on a Sunday night. I was sitting next to my sister, who was 24 at the time. I was feeling giggly and being silly. She said something along the lines of, “I don’t like it when you act like a 13-year-old.” Usually I acted more mature around her. 

I remember being struck by that sentence and thinking that, no matter how I acted during that year, I was still going to be 13. At 13, I could be quiet and thoughtful or loud and giggly, but I continued to be 13 regardless. People change with age, but age shouldn’t pressure people to conform or change.

As a teen in high school, I feel like a racecar revving at the starting line. My whole life has been learning and practicing and preparing for the future, but sometimes the future seems too far away. What about now? 

People spend a lot of time waiting for the future and regretting the past. Age encourages this. Let’s ditch the restrictive force of age and embrace the present. Don’t let your age dictate your life. You’re not too old and you’re not too young. You’re just right.

Kate Ahearn is a sophomore at Unatego Junior-Senior High School. ‘Teen Talk’ columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/teentalk.