Report - Partnership for Young London
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Report - Partnership for Young London

ContentsIntroduction----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------1Discrimination and Stereotypes---------------------------------------------------------------------2The Media---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------2Age Discrimination----------------------------------------------------------------------------------3The Workplace ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------3Cultural Issues----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------4Perceptions of Age-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------5Teenagers 13-18/19 --------------------------------------------------------------------------------5Young Adult 18/19 -25----------------------------------------------------------------------------5Adult 26-35-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------6Mature Adult 36-45 & Middle Age – 45-60--------------------------------------------------6Senior Citizen/OAP – 60-70-----------------------------------------------------------------------6Elderly 70+ --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------6Getting Older--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------7What did Young People want from Older People?--------------------------------------------8Conclusions ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------9London Youth----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------9Peer Facilitator--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------10Our mission is to improve services and opportunities for young people. --------------12

IntroductionWhat do young people think about age, ageing and the older generations? Do theybelieve that they are victims of discrimination? How do they feel about getting older?What do they think older generations can offer them and how do they view people ofother ages?In August 2010 London Youth ran a series of workshops with diverse groups of youngpeople aged between 13 and 24 to enable them to explore some of these issues. Deliveredin a fun and interactive way by a team of young trainers, the workshops stimulateddiscussion and challenged young people to look at their own perceptions of age.1

Discrimination and StereotypesThe workshops began by examining the participants’ views on discrimination andstereotyping. We asked the young people to draw and describe a stereotypical middleaged person and an old person. There weren’t many surprises here: young peopleclassified the middle aged character as stressed out and over worked, and the olderperson as very grumpy, weak and unkempt with ‘one foot in the grave’. We then askedthem to draw and describe how they thought people of these generations saw them andwhat stereotypes and perceptions existed about young people. Interestingly, they allchose to represent the young person as a hoodie-wearing, knife-wielding label obsessive.It was unanimous that this was how they believed everyone, from people just a few yearsolder than themselves up to old age pensioners, saw them.The MediaThe amount of negative terminology surrounding young people stood out immediatelyand it was apparent that young people were very used to hearing themselves portrayedin a negative light and were almost resigned to this fact. The groups were savvy about2

the role of the media and were keenly aware of what sells newspapers, but explainedtheir view that this prejudice against young people was causing a rift in society.‘It’s the media that categorises people and we (the UK public) just follow what they say.’They highlighted the lack of stories about young people who were doing well forthemselves - the ones starting businesses, winning awards and volunteering. However,the focus was always on the ones causing trouble.“The media perception of young people is that there are some good ones out there but themajority are up to no good. They’re not the same as they were 20, 30, 40 years ago.There’s a slight negative feeling about the young people we have today. What I see andwhat I hear never seems to be good, you don’t hear about the brilliant things that youngpeople do.”Age DiscriminationTo gain more of a sense of how age discrimination had impacted upon their lives thegroups were asked to role play situations when they had felt they had beendiscriminated against because of their age. In one a young person spoke of going to seehis local Councillor to try to get more politically involved in his local community. He wastold by the Councillor to ‘come back when he had lived his life’, instantly denigrating hisknowledge and experiences.Another member of the group, a law student, told of her experiences on jury servicewhere she felt her opinions were completely ignored due to her being 20 years youngerthan the others on the jury. Her suspicions were confirmed when she was told by afellow juror that she was only young and so ‘what did she know?’“I really felt that age was in fact an issue as I was the youngest person there. It becamelike a barrier for me as the older jury members didn’t value my opinion at all, which Ibelieve was a result of my age. At times I felt belittled, which, as a law student I did notappreciate!”The WorkplaceOne of the key areas in which young people felt discriminated against was theworkplace. Young people in each of the groups felt that they were overlooked when itcame to meetings or opportunities and often felt patronised by older colleagues. Peoplefelt that complaining in these situations – which they said occurred frequently - wouldbe difficult, as it was often just a look or the way that something was said. They werekeenly aware of the importance of looking right and fitting in with older colleagues,although there was a sense that it was the young people who were forced to adapt ratherthan vice versa. Some of the group also felt they were overlooked at interviews and that3

jobs, opportunities and promotions always seemed to go to older (although not alwaysmore experienced) candidates.Cultural IssuesThere were cultural difficulties too, and for those in the second generation from Africanor Asian backgrounds felt that age discrimination was deeply entrenched. Members ofthe group from Nigerian backgrounds spoke about the difficulties of coming from aculture that puts a significant weight on age. Being second generation with Nigerianparents often means a clash of views, with the younger generation trying to get acrossthe message that in Britain it’s about ability and not age. Many also linked agediscrimination to cultural discrimination, with older people (and the media) finding itmore acceptable to publically criticise a young person’s youth than their cultural orracial background, although this would be implied in the criticism.4

Perceptions of AgeHow is age classified?We asked the groups to categorise and name the different age groups as they saw them.They found it quite easy to agree on the younger ages but much harder to categorise pasttheir own age.TermAge RangeBaby 0-2 Adult 26-35Infants 3-6 Mature Adult 36-45Child 7-10 Middle Age 45/50 – 60Young Teen 10-13 Senior Citizen/OAP 60-70Teenager 13-18/19 Elderly 70+Young Adult 18/19-25The most shocking aspect of this exercise was when we asked them from which agegroup they would consider people old – and found it to be the youthful ‘Mature Adult’category of 36-45 year olds. However, when looking at people who fell within thesecategories, whether celebrities or friends and family members, they found justifyingtheir perceptions more challenging. It was harder to agree that anyone over 60 was asenior citizen when one of the group had a parent who was full of life at the same age.Teenagers 13-18/19Surprisingly, the groups’ opinions of younger people than themselves were as prejudicedand dismissive as the views they complained older generations held about them. Theyspoke of the younger generation’s lack of respect for others and themselves, a shortage ofdiscipline and manners, and then with disgust, of 13 and 14 year olds having sexualrelationships. They were keen to distance themselves from them, although their ownmemories of being this age was that this was the time when they were happiest - a timeof discovering their own independence.Young Adult 18/19 -25Again, the group spoke of 18-19 as being a great time in their life where their identitieshad started to emerge; they had few responsibilities but in many cases were enjoying agreater amount of freedom. However, in the few short years that moved them into theirmid-twenties, they started to identify stress, the fear of having to deal with increasedresponsibilities and the pressure to succeed.5

Adult 26-35Looking to the future, the group felt that by the time they reached this age bracket, theyshould have fulfilled some of their dreams and ambitions: the good job, the car, thestable relationship. Interestingly, a lot spoke of their fears of reaching this stage and notbeing able to afford their own house or get a mortgage – a typical right of passage formany generations above them. They viewed this time as being all about achievement.However, there was also a real fear associated with this time, as they perceived that bythis age you were meant to know all of the answers.Mature Adult 36-45 & Middle Age – 45-60After 35, young people started to find it hard visualising what they might be like whenthey were older. People in these age groups would have families and careers. As theymoved up the age range to 50+, there was a feeling of winding down and spending lesstime working. This was the age when you were established and you were enjoying yourlife. Worryingly, many said this was the time when they would start to think aboutstarting a pension!Senior Citizen/OAP – 60-70This was where young people identified the generation gap as being an issue. A seventyold would have had a totally different life from that of a younger person, from technologyto travel, from jobs to changes in society. Young people believed that this huge gulfmeant that few older people were willing to attempt to cross it.Elderly 70+When imagining themselves at 70-plus, the young people felt they wouldn’t careanymore and that they wouldn’t have any worries! They saw this generation as oftengrumpy and always complaining – although surprisingly, they overwhelmingly agreedthat they had a right to! They could easily imagine why this generation would look downon or be disappointed with their generation, as nowadays they had access to a lot ofsupport structures, such as benefits and EMA’s, that hadn’t existed when today’s 70 yearolds were their age. They spoke of old people with a lot of respect and couldn’t imagineliving through many of the things that this generation had to.6

Getting OlderThe majority of the group confessed that they didn’t spend any time considering gettingolder – and that even if they did it was just the next few years ahead of them. They hadfelt certain milestones pass – most mentioned the end of free travel as a real marker ofnot being a child anymore - but their timeframe was very limited.The general feeling towards getting older within the group was one of both excitementand fear. It was exciting to consider what it would be like to grow up on Facebook orother social networking platforms, watching the stories of their lives unfold for everyoneto see. The fear seemed to stem from the amount of responsibilities linked to gettingolder: jobs, marriage, mortgages and having families. Although most aspired to achievethese things in their lives they were also worried about losing the feeling of freedom theyhad loved in their early teens.“There’s so much responsibility about getting older; money, work, babies, husbands,houses and mortgages. It sounds really stressful. I’d rather just be carefree and not haveto worry about all of that.”7

Another fear was being in a position when they were meant to know all of the answers.They felt that, as young people, it was okay to make mistakes and there was lesspressure to get things right.What did Young People want from Older People?Young people could clearly see the benefit of working with older people, in particularthose who were the generation or two above them. In fact, most of them seemed to reallywant it. They regarded the older generations as having the answers, being able to tellthem how to get where they want to go and give them support on the journey. The youngpeople felt that although they knew what they wanted, they needed to break some sort of‘glass ceiling’ to get there. Many of the group were the first generation to go to universityin their family and felt that although their parents want them to make a success ofthemselves, they weren’t often in a position to advise them on how to get there.They also wanted to be understood better and to be judged on merit rather than age,especially in the working environment. Maybe older people could take time to considerthemselves when they were the same age?“I look at adults like they were never ever young. It feels to me that they were alwaysold because they look at young people as though they were never like, they were neverthis age, they were always the way they are. And it really does frustrate me because inorder for us to get where older people are, we going to need the help of adults who havebeen there before.”When asked about the importance of specific intergenerational projects, most saw thebenefit but were unclear as to what these would look like. They did agree that it wouldbe important that people were bought together on common ground and with a commongoal. For projects to genuinely make a difference on both sides all participants wouldneed to be on an even playing field with everyone working together for mutual benefit.8

ConclusionsLondon YouthAs an organisation, we have tremendously enjoyed working on this project. The chanceto explore issues in a very open way with young people is something that happens lessand less in our world of funding and short deadlines. Although the research was carriedout with a small section of young people and shouldn’t be considered as reflecting theviews of all young people, there was some learning that we think is highly relevant.The first thing that was apparent was that young people spend little if any timethinking about getting older. The older generations are seen as ‘others’ and in mostcases, young people struggled to see an immediate connection with them. With this inmind, we found it was important to get young people connected to or at least to start toexplore how they might be as an older person. Who would be important in their liveswhen they are old? What will they be wearing? Where will they live and what will beimportant to them? Making this connection proved to be invaluable in facilitating a moreopen and less prejudiced exploration around age.Young people also questioned why older people could not understand younger peoplewhen they had been there themselves. If we look at bringing groups of younger and olderpeople together, then it seems that getting both generations connected to themselves atthe other groups’ ages would help tremendously in breaking down some of the barriersand stereotypes.“I don’t get how older people don’t understand young people, because it’s like – you werethere! I can almost imagine how a young person can’t really connect with an olderperson you’ve never been there. I just don’t get why they can’t look back and think youknow that’s what I was like when I was young and find the connection there.”Another topic that stood out was how young people felt they were treated and perceivedin the workplace. It was alarming to hear how many young people had had negativeexperiences going into work and how they obviously did not have an outlet for thesefrustrations as they felt either not confident enough to talk about how they felt or thatthese concerns would not be listened to. What can we do to make the transition intowork easier for young people? How can we ensure that younger members of staff feel asmuch a part of things as older ones and how can we increase their confidence to expresstheir concerns if they do not feel they are being treated fairly?The third was around the fear that young people have about getting older, and theirfeeling of not knowing the answers as they move into adulthood. In all of the workshops,there was a strong sense that young people would enjoy and benefit from the experienceof older mentors offering practical support and guidance. They felt that currently no one9

The Beth Johnson Foundation would like to thank all of the young people involved inTalkin’ ‘bout my generation. We would also like to thank London Youth for leading onthe project and Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation for kindly funding it.Sound recordings with young people talking about their experiences can be found and

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