December 27, 2003
A New View of Age
The first thing you read as you arrive at youthlib.com (or read my hypothetical book-to-be) should be an abstract -- an overview that tries to summarize all the ideas within in short-form.
However, after that, I think the next piece has to be about age. If I'm going to spend countless pages talking about the relationship between adults and youth, after all, it seems like I ought to start by defining the terms "adult" and "youth"!
The day before yesterday I had a new idea about what I need to talk about under the heading of "age". However, before I get to that, I'm going to summarize the sub-sections of my thought that lead up to it...
Models of Age
I've got an introductory piece that I like to use, that discusses how there are different models for the concept of age. Increasingly, I'm thinking that a good way to present this piece is as a quiz... The interactivity (I imagine) will help draw people in. The main choices on the quiz:
- age is biology: baby teeth, height, puberty, years since birth, etc.
- age is personal character: you can act "like an adult" or not; "maturity" is an achievement
- age is a legal status: if under 18 years of age, then you're a minor
Here are a few additional quiz options I've been giving more weight lately:
- age is about developmental stages: an adult with a mental handicap can have the mind of a child
- age is a mindset: you're only as old as you feel; a sixty year old can be "young at heart"
- age is irrelevant: it is a factor that should be ignored as much as possible
Understanding the Legal Age-Lines
Now, following the "models of age" quiz, I've typically moved into a discussion about how the legal lines are drawn. There are multiple age lines -- but despite variation, there is a recognizable idea underlying them all. They're based on intrafamilial generations: minor / adult / senior citizen = child / parent / grandparent.
There's an additional piece that goes with this: distinction between "kids" and "college kids". In trying to describe what "child" means in contemporary society, I focus on content: children are people who live in the home of their parents, and who are financially dependent upon them. [I address exceptions to this generalization: street youth and emancipated youth.] "College kids", despite living away from their parents, tend to be financially dependent -- which is the essence of why they aren't given the respect that other adults are. [I tend to conclude this bit with a note on how the clincher for being seen as an adult is to become a parent oneself.]
Based on these two main pieces, I point to people who are 18 and under as genuine "youth", and establish the existence of an "in-between" group, 18 - 25 year-olds.
New Ways of Thinking About Age
OK, finally, we're at the new bit that I want to talk about!
For some time I've been playing with a piece that I'm calling "A metaphor: adulthood as organization". The main gist of this section is to draw out the comparison made in the title... Like an organization, adulthood has: members and non-members, a governing structure, policing of the boundary between members and non-members, membership privileges, a dress code, etc.
I've toyed with placing this section before the "Understanding the Legal Age-Lines" piece. Increasingly I see this as the central metaphor of all my work -- so it seemed like the age-lines piece simply embellished upon it. However, now I'm beginning to think that I can deal with legal issues without superimposing the metaphor. I can bring it in afterwards, and thus avoid raising mental hackles with the skeptics just a little longer.
...And so here's today's innovation: what if the "adulthood as organization" piece gets paired with a new bit on "accommodating age differences", and the two get subsumed under a heading called "New Ways of Thinking About Age"?
I think most people will have a hard time wrapping their mind around the "adulthood as organization" concept because they won't be able to get past the biological differences between youth and adults. In the organization metaphor, I treat youth and adults as if they are identical beings. This leads to the false impression that I'm ignoring the differences entirely. Not so!
Rather, in my world-view, I've eliminated age as a factor by replacing it with language from the people with disabilities movement. There are adults who are limited in their physical abilities, or in their mental abilities, who need the assistance of care-givers to live their lives. I've yet to identify a biological aspect of childhood that has no parallel among some subset of adults.
So, rather than argue that youth are more competent than adults give them credit for (a doomed argument, I believe), I want to take the most incompetent child and argue for their essential dignity by linking their human nature to handicapped adults. This leads to a novel vision of society. And, in combination with the "adulthood as organization bit", I think I've created a pretty interesting "new way of thinking about age".
Hm. Since "adulthood as organization" is premised upon ignoring biological differences, I suppose this "accommodating physical / mental differences" bit should come first...
[In the scheme of things, perhaps all I'm just talking about a rhetorical tweak -- but it's the kind of thing that gets me all excited.]
Posted by Sven at December 27, 2003 04:19 AM