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Act your age January 30, 2008

Posted by Teen Atheist in backstory, career, issues, rants, teen angst.
Tags: , , , , , ,

While waiting at the clinic for my pre-employment medical exam, I met Janice, a 45-year-old fellow applicant who had three kids, all older than I am. (Most of my co-workers are in their mid-20’s to mid-40’s. Am I intimidated? Naaah.)

Like many other fellow applicants, as well as a couple of the folks at HR, Janice was shocked to find that I was only 18 and hadn’t even set foot in college yet.

Janice: “What about your studies?”

TA: “I’ll probably have to put that on hold in order to fully focus on this job. I’m taking it seriously, because this is something that I think I could really flourish in.”

Janice: “Sweetie, let me offer you some advice. I’ve got three girls, and my youngest is 20, so you’re already like a daughter to me.” (TA’s note: Whoa! Overstepping the boundaries a little, aren’t we? We just met!) “I think you should quit this job and focus on your studies, because college is very, very important.”

At first I thought it was a manipulative, underhanded attempt to sway my decision (in which case: Wow, she really is like my mother! Bada-BOOM!) and eliminate the competition, although I soon realized that Janice really did mean well; it’s just that, like most adults in my life — excluding a few awesome high school teachers — she was underestimating me.

Janice: “This job is for people like me. I’m 44 years old and I don’t have a lot of other options. You, on the other hand, have so much potential. Don’t waste it by staying here.”

I appreciate that she gives a damn about my future, but she didn’t even consider the fact that I wanted to work there. It was a beautiful office, with a great working environment (think Google), and it was a huge company. Why wouldn’t I want to stay and try to work my way up?

I’m writing about Janice because I’d like to address the older readers of this blog on how to deal with teenagers. I don’t mean to get all lecture-y on your asses, and I don’t claim to be any kind of expert on this, but this is something I’ve been subject to from both my interactions in real life, and my interactions on this blog.

As whiny and bratty as some of us might be, teenagers are smart enough to recognize when they’re being patronized. If you talk down to us like we’re just kids who don’t know any better, we’d be less inclined to listen to you. For instance, I only smiled and nodded at Janice, being equally patronizing back to her, because I knew that she was making assumptions about me based solely on my age. She felt that as an older, wiser woman, it was up to her to guide me back to the right path. (Just like my mother, and you all know how I feel about her.)

On this blog, I get a few good-intentioned comments which are marred with a tone of condescension. They don’t explicitly state that “You’re just a kid going through a little teen angst,” but the sentiment is clearly there.

If you treat us like adults and talk to us like equals, on the other hand, we’d be more likely to consider your sentiments and hold them in high regard. Two of the awesome high school teachers I mentioned above, Mr. Benjamin and Ms. Vicky, treated me like I was on their level, and as a result, they became massive influences in my life and I always gave their opinions high priority.

I’m also happy that most of my older readers communicate with me the same way. Even though I’m only a teenager, they don’t condescend to me, and I in turn respect their opinions.

Basically, make us feel smart. It doesn’t matter how dumb or clueless the teenager is; if you’re addressing us with a tone of “I’m older and therefore smarter than you, so you should listen to me,” we’re going to disregard whatever it is you have to say with a wave of the hand and a “This is, like, sooo beneath me.”

So, there you have it. This PSA was brought to you by Teen Atheist. And now I’m off to hang out with my girls at the mall, get my nails done and flirt with boys. OMG, squee!


1. mait - January 30, 2008

My father once told me: “Granddad had a lot of stupid ideas when I was young, but over the years he apparently learned a lot.” Of course the irony in this went right over my teenage head.

But now I’ve noticed the same to be true as I get older. Dad’s ideas and views seem more and more sensible as time goes by and I’ve learned to respect his experience.

One thing he told me – right after I dropped out of college for a nice and demanding job – seems to apply here: “Any job interviewer worth his pay values five fluent languagues and field experience over freshly crammed college degree”.

Take a few years to find out what you love doing, but keep working on yourself. Don’t take the job as an excuse to stop developing as so many often do.

Despite sounding like a grumpy old man, I’m in my twenties;)

2. atheistgirl - January 31, 2008

“I’m older and therefore smarter than you, so you should listen to me.” I get this all the time and I’m sure most other teens do too. Thanks for saying what’s on every teen’s mind.

3. Stephen Johnson - January 31, 2008

I have one word for you: Plastics.

4. Teen Atheist - January 31, 2008

Stephen Johnson: Sorry, I don’t get it…?

5. Teen Atheist - January 31, 2008

Thanks, Mait! Now I just have to work on becoming fluent in three other languages. πŸ˜›

6. Teen Atheist - January 31, 2008

No problem, atheistgirl. That’s what unsolicited PSAs from teenagers are for. πŸ˜€

7. Stephen Johnson - January 31, 2008

I was making a reference to a movie you apparently haven’t seen: The Graduate. I recommend it if you ever have some spare time.

In the movie, the main character is a young guy who doesn’t know what to do with his life, and a know-it-all family friend gives him that patronizing advice.

8. Teen Atheist - January 31, 2008

Ah, I haven’t seen it. I thought you were making a reference to Mean Girls, and I hated Mean Girls. Hee.

9. Nobody Important - January 31, 2008

I symapthise i get crap like that all the time.I wish they’d just think before opening thier gobs.Cheers for letting me know i’m not the only one.

10. Teen Atheist - January 31, 2008

No problem, N.I. πŸ™‚ I’m pretty sure it’s something every teen goes through.

11. Les - January 31, 2008

Being one of your older readers I thought I’d toss in my two cents here. I think it may be especially relevant seeing as I have a 17 year old teenage daughter myself.

I obviously can’t speak for all older folks and there’s probably plenty that are being patronizing, but based on what little info you provide in your entry I tend to think that Janice was being sincere and not trying to patronize you.

I had about a year and a half of community college under my belt when I dropped out to take a job at Michigan Bell (local telephone company, now AT&T) in part because both of my parents had worked there for years and I thought it’d be a good career move. The job didn’t last and I never got back around to going to school full-time, but it didn’t seem to affect me for years to come and I thought for the longest time that I didn’t need a college degree.

To make a long story short, I was laid off two-years ago and have been struggling to get back on my feet ever since. Here in Michigan the economy has been in the toilet for quite awhile and there’s a lot of people looking for work in my field (PC tech support) and the lack of a college degree has worked against my getting interviews. When there’s lots of people to choose from companies tend to use whether or not someone has a degree as a sort of litmus test before ever scheduling an interview. Not to mention that had I had a college degree I probably wouldn’t have gotten laid off to begin with (the position went from contract to in-house and the company requires you to have a four year degree to be hired in-house).

The point I’m trying to make is that the advice she was giving you is very sound advice. Something which yours truly here took over 20 years to recognize himself. Right or wrong, having a college degree does make a difference. So much so that I plan on returning to college this fall at the age of 41 to see if I can’t get one under my belt to help improve my situation.

And, yes, it’s exactly the sort of thing older adults always harp on about to such a degree that it’s almost a cliche and probably sounds a bit patronizing. We don’t mean it to sound that way, but some of us have learned the truth of it the hard way. Bear with us, we’re old. πŸ™‚

12. sigma147 - February 1, 2008

Here’s another older reader’s take on this for you. I’ve been in the pharma industry for about 12 years now, and am at roughly the middle management level. I’ve done a lot of interviews for a wide range of positions. When I am interviewing, here are my concerns:

1) does the candidate have the experience and background I’m looking for? I honestly don’t give a rat’s ass about the degree and the granting institution if the interviewee can show me that they know what they’re doing. The field in which I’m working is highly technical, however, and almost all applicants have some college degree. That said, there are positions we’ve hired for that require only a high school diploma. Level of education will, however, determine how far you can rise within certain job tracks.

2) does the candidate have the proper attitude? I want someone who’ll fit into our corporate culture, rather than be miserable working here.

3) (here’s the important bit for you, I think) can the candidate present their experience (ie, prior job and education history) in a coherent and cohesive manner? I want to see that the candidate is thinking about where they are and where they are going, rather than just drifting from job to job. So, I’m interested in seeing that changes in position and/or situation are driven by cogent reasoning and follow a reasonable “life plan”. I don’t want someone who’s likely to move on at a whim, so seeing that the candidate has given thought to their career pathway is important, even if that pathway is nontraditional in its tragectory.

As long as the candidate is smart and motivated, and they can convince me that they can do the job, I’ll hire them. However, having the right educational pedigree will open more doors than it’ll shut. Looking forward, you can expect that you will not spend the rest of your career at the same company (most people will have at least 3 career changes in their lifetime).

Take the opportunities you can, and be open to whatever life throws at you. It may sound trite, but you may find wisdom coming from may places. However, only you can take well-meant advice as condescention – it is up to you to decide the how you’ll recieve the advice you’re given. To give an example, I have a PhD in my chosen field. I still take advice from others such as my much younger personal trainer. I’ve found that as I gain experience, I value peoples’ advice more for the source and less for the age of the source. There are more than enough elderly people with crazy ideas for me to recognize age as a poor indicator of knowledge and intelligence.


13. Karen - February 1, 2008

Here’s a somewhat contrarian observation from an older reader. Caveat: I happen to be a grad student working on an MS, having decided to change careers in my 40’s. People don’t usually do this — most of my friends think I’m crazy — and perhaps you should use that fact to assess my observations/advice. πŸ™‚

The university I attend happens to be a “commuter” school in a reasonably large city. Many of our students work at least part-time, and quite of few of them are not recent high school graduates; some of them have done military service, some of them have worked a few years before figuring out what they want to do with their lives, and some are “retreads” like me — people changing careers. This is a school where you might find a baby sleeping through a lecture while her mom takes notes nearby, or a student stepping out of class to answer a cell phone because his boss is calling with an urgent question.

Overall, the school has a fairly dismal graduation rate, consistent with similar state schools. My anecdotal observations, though, suggest that the dropouts are mostly people who went from high school directly to college, and haven’t really found a path for themselves in life. Working hard at school, when you’re really not sure why you’re there, requires more discipline than most people have. The older students are there because they have a plan for their lives. They study harder, and they usually graduate.

I went to college right out of high school, found a subject that was reasonably interesting, got my degree, and worked in the field for 2 decades before I reached the point where I could barely roll out of bed in the morning, because the kind of work I was doing had ceased to interest me at all. I’m changing careers to a field that has always fascinated me, but as an undergraduate I was strongly urged to avoid, because my family and friends didn’t understand it, and convinced me (wrongly) that it was a dead end professionally. If I’d worked for a few years before going off to college, I might’ve grown enough backbone to follow my own instincts, and be a veteran in that field now.

A college degree is valuable; but its far more valuable if it puts you on a path you want to follow.

14. overcaffein8d - February 4, 2008

how is that tagged “atheism?”

15. Teen Atheist - February 4, 2008

I tag everything “atheism.” Because it’s penned by the fucking Teenage Atheist.

16. Jersey - February 5, 2008

I am a 20-something and got supergood grades in HS. Everyone expected me to excel in university and get the good computer job with the good money and maybe put career fist for several years before settling down.

Long story short? I had one of my many self-talks…all I want to do with my life at this point now is to eventually become a professional, well respected barista (read: espresso maker) who can also make all those designs with the froth on top, and I want to be a massage therapist later on in life.

I can do tons better than that financially. You know what? Despite all the pathetic cheers about my good grades, I always wanted to work blue-collared and strange so-called “part-time” or “college” jobs: barista, ranchhand, rocker/musician, artist, chef, writer. I HATE desk jobs despite never having worked one yet…I can’t stand sitting in one place for 10 hours a day.

Why do you think, besides a ton of lesser reasons, why I decided to not pursue multimedia programming anymore? πŸ˜€

17. Varying degrees of condescension « Diary of a Teenage Atheist - March 3, 2008

[…] Or when I told Stella, 45, that I loved this job too much to quit and go back to college like everyone else (her included) tells me to. “You’re still young, you’ll understand the importance of education when […]

18. phildebate - May 17, 2008

Ive set the domain to forward here. It will be operational in a while.


19. metacynical - May 18, 2008

hullo thar, (miss) TA. :3 my name’s gian and i just wanted to say i love this post of yours. 16 years of adult condescension from teachers, strangers, and parents have me saying “fuck you” inside, every time they blow off my remarks with a stupid “you don’t understand yet.” kudos, kudos, from one teen to another.

oh and i found your blog via atheista. i’m linking it from mine. πŸ˜€ (and so far i’m only racking up atheists on my blogroll, lol)

20. Teen Atheist - May 18, 2008

Phildebate/Benj: Thank youuuu! My gratitude post will be up in a few, as well. πŸ™‚

21. Teen Atheist - May 18, 2008

metacyncial/Gian: Glad you liked it! I find that eye-rolling is pretty good therapy. XD

Atheists are fun, witty, brilliant writers. πŸ™‚ <— hee biased

Just saw your blog today, you’re pretty awesome yourself. Will drop by and leave a comment later on. πŸ˜€

22. missingpoints - May 18, 2008

Have you considered the fact that she’s trying to tell you that she needs the job more than you do? She mentioned having three kids and nowhere else to go. It may not be a case of talking down to you; it could be an attempt to lessen the competition. Since you don’t need the job and have more options compared to her, you can easily drop out of the running. πŸ™‚

23. Teen Atheist - May 18, 2008

Missingpoints: Why would she need to do that when we were both already hired at the time?

That was not a reason. With the tone she used when speaking to me, Janice just thought she was doing me a favor by telling me the “right thing to do” with my life.

24. missingpoints - May 18, 2008

My bad. Well in that case she’s given you good advice. You may not like her tone but she’s right.

“I appreciate that she gives a damn about my future, but she didn’t even consider the fact that I wanted to work there. It was a beautiful office, with a great working environment (think Google), and it was a huge company. Why wouldn’t I want to stay and try to work my way up?”

Because you can go to college and get a better job afterwards, working your way up from a higher starting point. Because you’ll be overtaken by someone with a college degree who’s just as smart as you are with the benefit of higher education. Because going to college will give you more opportunities afterwards.

Question: how should she have phrased her advice?

25. Teen Atheist - May 18, 2008

No, no, you’ve missed the point entirely, which I only now realize sounds kind of funny given your screen name. Janice is NOT right, because there is no right or wrong answer to a question like “What should you do with your life?” There may be good advice and bad advice, but the validity of her suggestion is not relevant to the point I was trying to make with this blog post, which is “Don’t talk to us like we’re idiots, regardless of whether or not we are.”

Also, missingpoints, I am not dumb enough to turn away good advice just because of the way it sounds. Which, again, brings me back to my original point.

If you’d asked me of my plans instead of jumping to that conclusion, I would have told you that, yeah, I do plan to go back to college, I just need this year to focus on my job, so that next year I can ask for a part-time shift and resume my studies. This brand values loyalty, and that’s exactly what I intend to give them.

You want to know how she should have phrased her advice? I’d also like to tell you how you should have phrased your advice, so here: re-read the blog post. That’s what this whole thing was about.

For example, you could say “I think you might want to consider…” or “I think this is a good idea” instead of “This one is right.” Plugging the little “I think” at the beginning confirms that this is just your opinion rather than a judgment, and it is less likely to put the other person on the defensive. (Learned that nifty trick from a couple of psychology articles.)

I apologize if I come off a little hostile here. I’m not mad. It’s just slightly frustrating when you write a lengthy piece and then get comments that kind of don’t get what you were trying to say.

26. missingpoints - May 19, 2008

Irony. I thrive on it.

β€œDon’t talk to us like we’re idiots, regardless of whether or not we are.” And why shouldn’t people talk to idiots like they’re idiots? πŸ™‚ Why should anyone condescend by pretending to treat you intelligently when you’re not acting that way?

Oh and this doesn’t refer to your specific situation, I’m talking in general terms. I really want to know your opinion (academic interest). Google the Matt Nisbet “framing” thing if you want to know why.

27. Teen Atheist - May 19, 2008

Why should anyone condescend by pretending to treat you intelligently when you’re not acting that way?

Well, I was not talking about how all people should treat all other people. That’s entirely up to you. I was just discussing effective ways to get teenagers to listen to you, and talking down at them like they’re retarded? Not effective.

You’ll notice from the other comments here that my fellow teenagers are also sick of being patronized, as well. We’re smarter than most adults perceive us to be.

28. metacynical - May 20, 2008

We’re smarter than most adults perceive us to be.

hear, hear. MUCH smarter.

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