That thing that was going around this morning made me really frustrated, and I was going to reblog one of Angela’s posts and add to it, but it got out-of-control long, so here it is.
One: as other people have mentioned, it’s even harder for teenagers to get jobs now that the job marked is flooded by older, more experienced people who are also facing unemployment. Not every teenager may fit the immature, irresponsible stereotype- but if you’re an employer, why risk it when there are more proven candidates available? Even eight years ago, when I worked as a library page in a position primarily designed for high school and college students, some of my coworkers were older adults with families who simply couldn’t find any other employment and were willing to take fifteen hours a week at barely above minimum wage because they didn’t have many other options. I can’t imagine what the competition is like for those jobs now, in the current economy.
Two: I don’t have enough information to make a definitive general statement, but in my experience, many of the employers I’ve encountered who made a point to hire teenagers seemed to be doing so precisely because teenagers were easier to exploit. To my mind, teenagers are less likely to sue for workplace abuses or demand higher pay. They’re certainly less likely to get the kind of injuries that people might suffer after decades of physical labor. Many of the places where I and my classmates worked in high school were highly unpleasant places to be employed, sometimes to the point of being illegal but unchallenged.
In college, I worked as a library shelver, and I definitely felt like I was being exploited; despite federal work-study paying some of my wages, I never got any raises from my low wage (making me substantially less well-compensated than almost any student worker on campus), and my hours were directly used to allow the library to avoid hiring unionized adult employees. The guy I worked with was union and a great guy, and he was constantly furious at how little they paid me and how my need to have a job, any job, was being used as a tool to screw over him and his coworkers. Not unrelated was the fact that he and all the other long-term shelvers I knew had had some kind of shoulder, wrist, or back problems because of their job and had to take long periods of time off for surgery. I carried their slack while they were gone, and inadvertently made certain that the library didn’t have to hire another union person- which was in violation of the contract, but they didn’t seem to care. My coworker didn’t hate me, because he knew I needed the work, but he and I both felt that my youth and student status were being used to exploit not only me, but other workers as well.
Three: Teenagers growing up today are stuck in a nasty bind. A college education doesn’t guarantee you a job any more, but you certainly aren’t going to find a decent job without one, and college admissions is a difficult process. At the most prestigious schools, admissions pools are getting bigger and bigger and acceptance rates lower and lower. There is a whole industry built around helping kids to get into the best college possible. If one of the greatest sources of stress in a teenager’s life is the pressure to get into a good college, and we treat this as the foundation upon which their ENTIRE FUTURE is based, it makes a lot of sense to me that they would prioritize building up a resume of substantial extracurricular involvement, good-looking volunteering, and spending as much time as possible on schoolwork, rather than working at a mediocre job for pay.
Some colleges, if they have sympathetic people reading the applications, will look favorably on students who worked. A student with superb academic performance whose achievements came while also working to help support their family might get a leg up because they’ve obviously overcome substantial obstacles. But not every college or reader is like that. And especially if you’re a middle-class student attending a fairly decent high school- someone who admissions officers know will have lots of extracurricular opportunities- I doubt they’ll be especially sympathetic to a student swapping time spent on schoolwork or extracurriculars for working in fast food. Work for work’s sake alone isn’t exactly the kind of thing many college are looking for.
Besides which, I’m uncomfortable with the idea that teenagers should be expected to excel in school so as to get into a good college, AND do lots of extracurriculars and sports and volunteer activities, AND also work for pay as much as possible. All of these things are worthwhile activities, but expecting a teenager to be basically working full-tilt 80 hours a week isn’t any more reasonable than expecting an adult to do the same. I have no problem with encouraging teens to take on responsibilities and learn to do adult things like have a job, or even with expecting teens to pay their own way sometimes, but can’t we as a society have a little more concern for the quality of life and mental health of teenagers? If I had been dealing with anxiety and depression on the level I am now when I was a teenager, I could have never kept up with all the things that were expected of me. I shudder to think of the mess I would have been. Having the option to have free time and rest may be a privilege, but it’s the kind of privilege that I think everyone deserves. I know that’s not how the world works right now, but it makes me extra-uncomfortable with the idea of shaming teens for not taking on paid work on top of everything else they’re expected to do. Who knows how their own personal spoons are allocated.
I try really hard to stick to my math focus. I do. But then sometimes my friends just say the smartest shit about youth oppression and I can’t stop myself from reblogging. I’m not actually in with the tumblr in crowd enough to know what it’s even in response to, but I got excited and wrote stuff anyway.
Teenagers are people too. And they can have all kinds of varying challenges in their lives just like adults can. And they each know more about their lives and circumstances than you do. And as long as we live in this world where the first 18 (or 20, or 25) years of everyone’s life they’re trained to be “seen and not heard” (or however else you could describe the way we center adults, devalue young people, and train them to accept messed up power dynamics), it’s hard to imagine how we’re going to break any other systems of oppression. Anti teenager sentiment is an added excuse for targeting youth with other marginalized identities, and training youth to accept everything we tell them makes it a lot easier to get privileged youth to perpetuate oppression as they grow up.
In conclusion, ageism is the worst.