Ageism — The Issues for Young People

“Ageism” was coined by Robert Neil Butler to explain discrimination against the elderly and disenfranchised. Now, children and youth face systemic ageism that disables them from voicing their opinions. Two summers ago, I had the privilege of attending a conference called “Shaking the Movers”. The conference is organized and run by youth across Canada, enabling the voices of children and youth to be heard. One of the topics discussed was the recent decommissioning of the Child Advocate’s Office in Ontario. It was upsetting that opportunities were being limited for youth to advocate. How could I be encouraged to join a society that will be built without the consideration of my opinions and beliefs? This governmental action drove discussion, and I remember hearing something about children and youth being too naïve and inexperienced. This statement was certainly based on prejudice and stereotypes involving young age and children and an example of ageism. Children and youth are simply too young to get a say, or without enough knowledge to make educated decisions. I know that the knowledge, understanding, and thinking of children and youth invalidate these claims for the many adults who support them. The fact that children and youth are less experienced and mature on average than adults cannot be overseen. However, due to this knowledge, many still believe that all young people lack qualities that only the elderly members of society possess.

I still remember the most recent Canadian federal election. Justin Trudeau, the current Prime Minister of Canada, was the Liberal party leader. Stephen Harper was the more “experienced” leader of the Conservative party and the Prime Minister at the time. One of the Conservative advertisements against Trudeau stated that “He’s just not ready”. This advertisement contained many meanings, but it mainly targeted Justin Trudeau’s lack of experience and relatively young age. The example from the federal campaign proves that connections in society between youth, and the lack of experience and preparedness already exist. The advertisement aimed to benefit from the preconceptions and depreciate the values of someone young.

Adults are constantly surprised by the talents, creativity, enthusiasm, and abilities of children and youth. Yet, only adults can participate in a dialogue that involves critical decisions. Ageism, while subtle, is an essential and ongoing phenomenon that drives social inequality. Many are aware of ageism that targets the elderly, but lesser known is the ageism against young people. I firmly believe that the existing attitudes toward young people drive this example of social inequality. The primary cause of ageism against youth stems from existing preconceptions around young people, and this stereotyping cannot exist if we are to empower the children of the future.