Unravelling the youth stigma

With growing attention being paid to youth participation in the development sector, it's easy to forget that young people are often dismissed simply by virtue of their age. New blogger Elizabeth shares her personal experience, and pushes back against the youth stigma...

I was recently referred to as ‘just a young person starting in the workplace’. I was sat in a room with two others and neither batted an eyelid as the individual carried on talking as if the comment was entirely called for. My internal response was a bubbling sense of outrage that someone could cut so deeply with a flippant comment. I withdrew into a deafening chasm, hastily wallpapered with insecurities.

That feeling of being overlooked, underestimated and most importantly, under-valued was unbearably suffocating.

The comment was flippant, and I know it was delivered without direct malice. I have since accepted and filed it, in a similarly flippant way, under oblivious ignorance. Inexcusable, yes - but I’ve got bigger fish to fry than mull over a single frayed thread in a tapestry embedded with stigma.

A stigma that I was subconsciously feeding into. It dawned on me that there are two parts to every conversation: the one delivering it and the one receiving it. It was delivered as dismissive, but similarly, I’d received it as dismissive. I’d automatically associated being called a ‘young person’ with being an insult.

To add context here, I work to put young people at the forefront of the global agenda. My work to date sits at an intersection of political, social and educational policy. I graft in order to make the world recognise what young people can do. To make young people the solution and not the problem. And by accepting ‘young person’ as an insult here, in one fell swoop, I’d pulled my own rug out from underneath me.

Do you know what can come up in Google when searching ‘young person’? Inexperienced, immature and undeveloped. True, I am young, in the numerical sense, 25 and grudgingly edging towards 26. But so what? Age is irrelevant here. I choose to identify myself as a young person, and will for the foreseeable future.

So how do we unravel the stigma attached with ‘youth’? Well, we celebrate it.

Let’s use our assumed ‘inexperience’ as proof of our hunger for new experiences, fresh thoughts and ideas, all paired with an impressive desire to broaden the mind.

I hold my hands up, we are immature as we may struggle with the sluggish current state of affairs, so resoundingly stuck in its ways – and we may stand to question, absolutely everything. And then some. We are the first to find a different answer and inspire a new direction.

Most importantly, we are undeveloped, which just so happens to come with an impressive provision of space to grow in every single sense word.

Youth is not a boundary, but an asset.

However you see it, you create your own identity, it is yours to harness and shout from the rooftops or pack away into a woolen blanket if you so wish. Anyone who dares prescribe it on your behalf stands to completely undermine your potential.

Youth is not a boundary, but an asset. Fight the stigma by celebrating it. #YouthForChange.