Ageism commonly denotes discrimination of the elderly, but recent studies suggest the need for a second definition in the form of youth discrimination. Society often treats adolescents and young adults according to stereotypes which portray young people as irresponsible, irresolute and untrustworthy. This hampers a recognition of the positive attributes of young people, and of the problems they face.
Adults often fear youth, often because of misrepresentative stereotypes, and their fear is reflected in policy decisions. Studies show, however, that it is more true to say that young people fear adults, that it is the young people who are the victims and the adults, the aggressors.
A five-year study of a thousand 11 to 16 years olds in the UK found that more than half of them had been victims of adult bullying: 59% had suffered in some way at the hands of adults; almost 50% said they had been verbally abused; 23% had been physically attacked. An estimated 10 to 20% of the approximate 200,000 British students having started college courses in 1992 will require psychiatric treatment before their graduation.
Often youth are assumed to be immune from social, emotional and physical problems. This assumption is in direct opposition to the belief that individuals are exposed to more violence, sex, familial decay and overall anxiety at increasingly younger ages. Youth, in this aspect, is getting older all the time. Lack of understanding serves only to alienate the young from the society they will someday govern.
Teenagers know that older people see them as a nuisance, and few can resist the temptation to do as they are expected to do: be a nuisance.