I feel like there’s so much I can say about this, and this definitely feels unfinished, but here are my current thoughts on the matter.

Since 2006, I’ve been an advocate for the elderly.  I was initially drawn to working with elderly people because I needed a job while I was in college.  My two friends were working at an assisted living facility in La Grande, Oregon, and because they were well-respected, it was easy for me to gain a great reputation there (thank you Cody and Tosha!).  I immediately started as a caregiver the following week.  Little did I know that this “simple” little job I worked on the weekends would turn into somewhat of a career for me until 2015.  By the fall of 2009, I was managing my own adult care home in Portland and it was through that experience that I learned of the serious harm ageism can have on an individual.

Ageism runs rampant in our society. It’s an ugly thing to see day and day out.  We see elderly discriminated against because they’re old, and we see young people discriminated against because they’re young. Our political system is a great example of that.  Many older politicians fear the young vote because of the more progressive stances that they have.  Young people want to see significant changes in our country but older generations make it difficult for them to have a strong voice leadership. While relevant, I’m afraid I have digressed.  This is not a political post.

These days I no longer work with the elderly.  I have since moved on to teaching high school.  You know, the “dreaded teenagers.”  I’ve had many people ask me why I decided on high school.  “It’s too difficult.” “Teenagers are too stubborn.” “Why not middle school?” “Elementary would be fun more.” Etc, etc.  My response is usually somewhere along the cheesy lines of empowering youth because they are the generation that will see this country through for the next 50 years.  I always find it confusing when we simply ignore empowering our youth.  Don’t we want them to become strong leaders for our country? Don’t we want them to learn what it means to be strong individuals?

That is just an example of the extreme ageism that we have in this country.  We value middle-aged adults over anything else.  We consider the middle-aged mind to be the strongest when, in fact, our younger minds are the ones that carry all the passion desire for things to change for the better. In the English 12 class I teach at McKay High School, we’re working on King Lear.  A few of the kids find it interesting, many do not.  I’ve told them I don’t expect them to become experts in Shakespeare over one unit.  However, King Lear carries a message with it that I hope they can hear loud and clear. King Lear is a man battling with the issue of age and what it means to be pushed away by the middle-aged people in one’s life.  Lear’s feelings are often dismissed or ignored because he’s old and no longer understands how the world works around them.  This is the very thing that teenagers today are facing. We spend too much time tearing them down and not building them up.

I tell my students they can’t understand what it means to be old, but they do understand what it means to be on the receiving end of ageism.  Adults forget what it’s like to be to have those thoughts and feelings that teenagers deal with every day.  I response, we dismiss them as frivolous teenage problems that don’t actually exist because they are too young to understand how the world works. I call bullshit. What teens have to face every single day is real.  By denying them their own feelings we’re telling them they don’t matter and they’re insignificant.  We’re denying them of what it means to be a person.  All those problems we faced as teenagers: significant others, friends, bad grades, taking care of younger siblings, and working are all real-world problems that we expect our teens to just deal with.  Instead of teaching them strategies for coping with these problems, we tell them to ignore it.

It’s time be on their side.  Not against them.