I Am Not A Kid. Please Stop Treating Me Like One

If you look at a picture of me, or see me walking my dogs around the neighborhood, you will probably incorrectly guess my age. If you are most people, you will guess that I am somewhere between 16 and 21. If you encounter me at a community meeting, read one of my articles in the newspaper, you will probably guess that I am somewhere between 25 and 30. If you look at my resume and try to add calendar years for the degrees I’ve received, you will probably guess that I am somewhere between 24 and 26.

I’m pretty sure that the only people who correctly know my age are those that I met before graduating from high school or people who met me when I first started college. The correct answer? I’m 23. I may be 23 going on 30, but still 23.

This may seem silly, but I really don’t like telling people how old I am. Why? Because I feel like they are going to look at my 23 and tell me that I’m too young to know anything about life, too young to handle a high level of responsibility, too young to be able to offer insight into some of the harder questions that I am working to answer.

Photo by Jonathan Whitaker of the Merced County Times

Photo by Jonathan Whitaker of the Merced County Times

When many people (people who are older than 30) first meet me, I can see this look in their eyes that says one of three things:

  1. “Oh. You’re such a cute little thing. What’d you do today? Sleep in until noon and then watch TV?”
  2. “Why are you talking to me? You can’t possibly have anything worth saying to me.”
  3. “I wish I was young like you. You’ve got your whole world ahead of you; you’re not old and tarnished like me.”

All of these responses frustrate me. It feels like people look at me and judge me. They decide that I’m too young to listen to, and turn instead to talk to someone else. This response negates my agency and my ability to make the difference I want to make in my city.

I’ve been meeting our city council members recently and talking to them about the challenges that we as young adults are facing in this community. Their empathy is encouraging, and it seems like they really do want to listen. I met our mayor last Thursday and talked with him about the network of young adults I am trying to foster here in this city. He called me out at the council’s town hall meeting this past Monday evening and asked me to share with everyone else there what I’m trying to do.

I appreciate his support, and look forward to having some action items to bring to the council in the future – recommendations on how the city and county governments can support the professional and personal development of this city’s young adults and future leaders. I’m excited to feel like they actually hear me and see me as something more than someone who looks like she should still be in high school.

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There is a new program in our community emerging to pair social media savvy young adults with small businesses to provide quality social media marketing. I love the idea and I think it is a great thing for the community. My biggest issue with it? The language that is being used.

Some have referred to the young adults (18 to 24) as “Social Media Consultants”, a term that I like. It gives an aura of professionalism to the program and does a lot to communicate that this is a serious endeavor. However, that’s not the only term getting used. In a weekly city-wide radio show about the program this past weekend, the host repeatedly referred to the young adults as “kids” and “students.” That language takes away agency and puts a power structure in place that makes it seem like the young adults in the program aren’t able to bring anything to the table, that they are simply the recipients of some opportunity that has been bestowed upon them. I would consider joining the program, but for the fact that I feel like it furthers the idea of being a kid without much to offer.

Let me be clear. I am not a kid. I am not a youth. I fit in the 18-24 age group, but that does not define me or my capacity to change the world. So, please, stop treating me like a child and give me two things: 1)be mindful of your language when talking about people, and 2) please give me just a little more R-E-S-P-E-C-T and believe that I can do great things with my life; not in 15 or 20 years, but here and now when I’m still 23.

 

How do you think your age or appearance influences the way other people treat you? If you could be (or seem to be) one age, what age would it be and why?

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