Wikipedia:Ageism

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Often at requests for adminship, the age of a candidate comes into play. This is almost exclusively the case when dealing with a potential administrator who is not yet 18, but it has sometimes been applied to users under the age of 16 or as old as 25. Many people believe that people who are younger are more prone to being immature and base their decision to oppose based solely upon this fact. This position has led to endless debates with one side crying foul and the other side pointing to an endless stream of evidence connecting age to maturity. While scientific, cultural, historical and anecdotal evidence indicates that minors generally lack the maturity of adults, this evidence only speaks to the populations as a whole. What studies about populations cannot tell us, however, are the attributes of specific individuals. In other words, while research can tell us about characteristics of teenagers as a whole, they do not speak towards the characteristics of specific teenagers.

One of the keys in winning a debate is to be the one who defines the terms of the debate. By allowing the focus to be on the age of the candidate, many people end up arguing a debate they cannot win. Rather than focus on age, the debate should center around the individual's maturity. Does the individual possess the maturity/responsibility to do the job? Are they the exception?

Why age matters[edit]

Face it, a 50-year-old Wikipedia editor with a PhD may not respond positively to a 15-year-old, who is too young to get a job at Wal-Mart, but becomes an admin on Wikipedia. Between those two options, where can this 15-year old do the most damage? At a single Wal-Mart where they might interact with 100 people on a given day or on the seventh most visited site on the web? A single mistake might impact a local Wal-Mart, but the odds of it making the local news are slim. Even if it does, people will think "Stupid teenager". On Wikipedia, a single mistake might garner national news in a heartbeat. While it is true that anybody of any age can make a mistake, there is a legitimate concern that if a person in a position of authority is revealed to be a teenager, it would look doubly bad for Wikipedia because of social norms and expectations surrounding age.

In the book, The Power of Myth, Joseph Campbell describes many of the coming of age rituals and how they are normative within cultures. These rituals delineate a transition from childhood to adulthood and are present in every culture and throughout history. While the age varies from culture to culture, Campbell argues that these rites of passage don't just happen, but are actually necessary steps to being perceived as a full member of society. In modern Western culture, particularly the United States, the age of maturity is generally deemed around the age of 18 (or 21). Prior to the age of 18 (and in some cases 21), certain rights and responsibilities are withheld. While commonality of these rituals have decreased over the past century, they still exist. Bar mitzvah, First Communion, Confirmation, Adult Baptism are common coming of age rituals among religious communities. But other milestones that delineate growing up include high school and college graduation, marriage, (in the US) getting (legally) drunk on one's 21st birthday, Quinceañera, getting a driver's license, and voter registration.

Legal status[edit]

In the United States, where Wikipedia is located, the justice system has regularly ruled that there are differences between minors and adults. Various child labor laws limit the types, conditions, and hours that people under the age of 18 may work. Various licenses cannot be obtained until certain age requirements are met, and generally, somebody under the age of 18 cannot make a legally binding contract. But it is within the judicial system itself where the connection to age and maturity have been debated the most. Because of the recognized differences between minors and adults, people under the age of 18 are generally tried as minors. Only in the most egregious cases are they charged as adults, and even then, there are limitations as to the types of punishment they may receive.

In 1998, the United States Supreme Court made a landmark ruling in Thompson v. Oklahoma. The case involved a minor sentenced to death. The Court prohibited the execution of minors under the age of 16 while affirming the necessity of having separate legal treatment for minors. In writing the Court's opinion, Justice Stephens said,

The basis of this conclusion is too obvious to require extensive explanation. Inexperience, less intelligence and less education make a teenager less able to evaluate the consequences of his or her conduct while at the same time he or she is more apt to be motivated by mere emotion or peer pressure than is an adult. The reasons why juveniles are not trusted with privileges and responsibilities of an adult also explain why their irresponsible conduct is not as morally reprehensible as that of an adult.[1]

In Roper v Simmons (2005), the Supreme Court expanded the prohibition against Capital Punishment to cover anybody under the age of 18.

First, as any parent knows and as the scientific and sociological studies respondent and his amici cite tend to confirm, "[a] lack of maturity and an underdeveloped sense of responsibility are found in youth more often than in adults and are more understandable among the young. These qualities often result in impetuous and ill-considered actions and decisions." ... ("Even the normal 16-year-old customarily lacks the maturity of an adult"). It has been noted that "adolescents are overrepresented statistically in virtually every category of reckless behavior." ... In recognition of the comparative immaturity and irresponsibility of juveniles, almost every State prohibits those under 18 years of age from voting, serving on juries, or marrying without parental consent.

The second area of difference is that juveniles are more vulnerable or susceptible to negative influences and outside pressures, including peer pressure. ... ("Youth is more than a chronological fact. It is a time and condition of life when a person may be most susceptible to influence and to psychological damage"). This is explained in part by the prevailing circumstance that juveniles have less control, or less experience with control, over their own environment. ...

The third broad difference is that the character of a juvenile is not as well formed as that of an adult. The personality traits of juveniles are more transitory, less fixed.[2][3]

Prior to Roper, the United States was one of only two countries who refused to sign a United Nations declaration banning and condemning the imprisonment of minors for life without the possibility for parole. The U.S. was also the only nation to explicitly allow those under the age of 18 to be executed.

Psychological differences[edit]

In the book, Why Youth is Not Wasted on the Young: Immaturity in Human Development, Dr. David Bjorklund argues that immaturity among youth is a natural and necessary step towards growing up. It is during the teenage years and early twenties that most people start a career, get married, and move away from home. Each of these actions takes a lot of risk. Bjorklund, and other developmental psychologists, believe that these actions are facilitated by attributes of youth. Teenagers tend to overestimate their own abilities and overestimate rewards while downplaying potential risks. These characteristics allow teens and young adults to do things that older adults might shy away from. At the same time, these attributes can lead to what many consider immature behavior.

Science shows that when comparing adults to 16- or 17-year-olds, as a population, the minors are more:

  • "impulsive"
  • "aggressive"
  • "emotionally volatile"
  • "likely to take risks"
  • "reactive to stress"
  • "vulnerable to peer pressure"
  • "prone to focus on and overestimate short-term payoffs and underplay longer-term consequences of what they do"
  • "likely to overlook alternative courses of action."[2]

Teenage drivers are four times more likely to be in an auto accident and three times as likely to die in one.[4]

Recent studies have, however, also shown many positive attributes for teenagers and young adults. Today's teenagers tend to be more optimistic about the future than previous generations, they are more ambitious, and have a greater desire to help.

Biological differences[edit]

In recent years, scientists have attempted to tie the development of the brain to observed behaviors.[2] Developmental expert Dr. Peter Ash said that "It's one thing to say teens don't control their impulses, but another to show that they can't."[2]

A study initially performed by the National Institutes of Health "suggests that the region of the brain that inhibits risky behavior is not fully formed until age 25."[4] During adolescence, there are two parts of the brain still developing, the socio-emotional and cognitive control systems. Changes to the Socio-Emotional System are triggered by puberty and would cause an increase in sensation seeking, emotional arousals, seeking rewards, and attentiveness to social information.[5] These changes generally occur during the early phases of adolescence up until around age 16. The Cognitive Control System, however, continues to develop through the mid-20s.[5] Changes to this area result in improved impulse control, emotional regulation, foresight, and reasoning.[5] Scientists who study human development believe a link may exist between brain maturation and social maturation. They do, however, caution that while early indications are that such connections exist, more evidence is required.

Criticism of arguments against "Ageism"[edit]

To counter the arguments that age matters, some have rallied around a philosophical ideal that it is not justified to judge a person based upon their age. Some consider it a prejudice on par with racism or sexism. In fact, in a previous discussion, a teenage admin wrote, I fail to see how "oppose because candidate isn't 18" is any different than "oppose because candidate is black" or "oppose because candidate is white". They're the same. Another person argued, The similarity is that people cannot help anything about their age. They can choose their maturity level, but cannot modify the year of their birth.

Criticism of racism/sexism analogies highlight existing legal treatment of minors. The legal system withholds rights and roles from minors, but differentiates the discrimination of race or sex. Minors under the age of 18 are often perceived to possess less maturity than adults. While young admin candidates cannot voluntarily change their age, age changes over time. Everybody has been young at one time; thus, everybody goes through the same issues. Not everybody has been a woman or of a racial minority, and generally one cannot change their race or sex. Furthermore, many women and many of these belonging to minorities find such comparisons insulting and demeaning to the historical prejudices held against people based upon their sex and race respectively.

Wikimedia Foundation policy prohibits age discrimination[edit]

Occasionally, people will point to the Wikimedia Foundation policy, wherein they state, The Wikimedia Foundation prohibits discrimination against current or prospective users and employees on the basis of race, color, gender, religion, national origin, age, disability, sexual orientation, or any other legally protected characteristics. The problem with appealing to this that it is largely derived from the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Age Discrimination in Employment Act. The Age Discrimination act prevents discrimination against people over the age of 40; it does not address the issue of discrimination of minors, nor does it override various state and federal regulations related to child labor laws. Additionally, in 2008, Jimbo Wales, Wikipedia's founder, said:

I have no very strong opinion about it. There are people who behave in petulant, ill-mannered, and immature ways. They should not be admins. Whether there is a strong correlation between bad behavior of that kind, and age, I don't know. I do think that, in general, most of our admins should be college students or graduates. Some gifted and profoundly gifted young people would be equally qualified.

If they didn't tell you, you would never know[edit]

Sometimes, we hear the argument that it is not fair to judge somebody based upon their age because we don't really know what their age is. The reasoning goes that if we can't verify the age of somebody, then we shouldn't use it. While it is true that we cannot assume that somebody is under the age of 18, many people do reveal their age. When a person has revealed their age in the past, some people will state that we should ignore it because it is not fair to judge one person based upon their age, when another person of the same age may not be similarly judged. The argument postulates that we often support minors who simply haven't revealed their age, and we are punishing somebody for being honest. The problem with this position is that when evaluating candidates, we are obligated to consider everything known about the candidate. Some might even argue that by revealing their age online, the candidate has shown a lack of discretion.

Personal experience[edit]

Trying to convince people to overlook scientific research and cultural expectations is difficult enough, but when combined with personal experience, it virtually becomes a non-winnable argument. The problem is that on the one hand, people who are in their teens/early twenties often think it is unfair that they are being judged based on their age. On the other hand, those over thirty remember the things they and their peers did. They remember how mature they thought they were, but realize that many of the things they (or their peers) did showed a lack of maturity. This group will often have questions/doubts about the maturity of teenagers. Their views on maturity of teenagers is different at the age of 30/40/50 than it was when they were 15/16/17. They realize that the arguments that they thought were so persuasive when they were minors are not nearly as compelling now that they've had a chance to view their own behavior in hindsight.

There are reasons why we have terms such as "college prank" and "high school prank". There are reasons why crime is higher among the younger demographic.[6][7][8][9][10] There are reasons why the highest unemployment rates are among the young. While teenagers rally around the cry of "It's not fair", the 30+ year old will simply discount the rhetoric (probably without ever vocalizing it) by thinking, "This is just a teenager; give them 20+ years and let them grow up and we'll see what they say then." Right or wrong, this is how many adults view the argument.

Trying to win the debate on a meta level is an exercise in futility, not only because you are combating personal experiences, scientific knowledge, and cultural expectations, but also because it is an argument that properly belongs in WP:PEREN. Even if you somehow convinced a pocket full of people that discriminating based upon age was wrong, there is no way to convince everybody that this is the case, and the debate will continue to rage on.[11]

Overcoming Ageism[edit]

As much as some may not like this, being under a certain age is a valid reason to oppose a person at RfA!

... But not in and of itself[edit]

While being a minor is a legitimate concern, it is generally not enough of a reason to garner traction. Unless the oppose is tied directly to examples of immaturity, it is unlikely that others will give it much credence. By itself, age has not been enough of a reason to kill RfAs. Wikipedia has a large number of successful admins under the age of 18. Several of these admins have gone on to become bureaucrats. In fact, in early 2009, we promoted a minor to the position of bureaucrat, and he was not the first minor promoted to bureaucrat. One cannot get there unless one is trusted and respected by the community.

The solution[edit]

So what is the solution? One of the key principles in winning a debate is to be the person (or group) that defines the terms of the debate. If you can frame the debate the way you would like, you then have the upper hand. RfA's are about the individual; if you can keep the debate on the individual, then it is harder for the age issue to become an issue. One thing that science and even the legal systems allow for is the exception to the rules. Scientists will tell you that while there are trends and norms that can be defined for populations, they should not be used when looking at specific individuals. Similarly, the legal system allows for minors to be treated as adults—not only in the execution of justice but also to be fully emancipated. In writing the minority opinion for Roper, Justice Scalia indicated that minors are still responsible for their actions. If the debate centers upon the notion of teenagers as a population, it does not offer the individual the chance to demonstrate that they are qualified and responsible for their actions. If the debate centers around an individual, it will force opposers to demonstrate that the individual in question is immature and provide the opportunity for the supporters to show that they are mature.

The individual[edit]

Don't worry about the people who oppose solely based on youth; you can't do anything about somebody who is set in their way. Don't fight it. By fighting it, you don't prove your maturity, but you raise questions with others who might be willing to disregard youth. Don't try to get people who are going to oppose because you are a teenager to change their minds; it will more likely force them to dig their heels in harder. And it's a battle you can't win and just might lose! It gives them a forum, and it lets them convince others that you are in fact too immature to be an admin. By fighting them, you give them the motivation to find another more accepted reason to oppose.[12]

Instead, focus on everybody else. Realize that there are a lot of Wikipedians out there who are concerned about high-schoolers having the mop, but are willing to look at individuals on a case-by-case basis. You won't be able to convince somebody who is set in their position, so focus on those people who are willing to consider the possibility that you are the exception to the rule. Be such a strong candidate so that when you do run, the people who support you will be numerous enough to overcome those who do look at age. Don't try to use words to convince people that you deserve a chance; let your actions do the talking. If your edit history shows a high level of maturity, then the oppose rationale won't weigh as much in the end.

Arts, literature and history[edit]

Think about it this way: there are scores of examples of famous people who achieved greatness at a young age. There are numerous people who have earned PhD's or completed college before being old enough to drive a car. The fact that they achieved those accomplishments speaks volumes about how individuals can achieve more than society expects, but their individual success will not change the legal age to drink or drive or the minimum age to work. In order to get to where they are, they had to prove that they were, as individuals, exceptional. Disney has built a billion-dollar industry upon the premise that children or teens can achieve greatness if given the opportunity to do so.

Summary[edit]

Age is a legitimate concern and it is a valid reason to oppose, but your actions can speak louder than words. Don't get bogged down fighting over whether age matters or not. Demonstrate why the individual in question is or is not mature enough to be an administrator.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Less Guilty by Reason of Adolescence Developmental Immaturity, Diminished Responsibility, and the Juvenile Death Penalty
  2. ^ a b c d My Brain Made Me Do It: Immature Brains Linked to Teen Risk-Taking Behavior NOTE: The unusual grammar and use of parenthesis was in the original version.
  3. ^ The State of Criminal Justice 2009-2008
  4. ^ a b Brain Immaturity Could Explain Teen Crash Rate
  5. ^ a b c "Research on Developmental Immaturity and Youth's Capabilities" Thomas Grisso, University of Massachusetts Medical School
  6. ^ "Age-specific Arrest Rate Trends: Violent Crimes". Retrieved 27 August 2011. 
  7. ^ "Age-specific Arrest Rate Trends: Murder". Retrieved 27 August 2011. 
  8. ^ "Age-specific Arrest Rate Trends: Aggrivated Assault". Retrieved 27 August 2011. 
  9. ^ "Age-specific Arrest Rate Trends: Robbery". Retrieved 27 August 2011. 
  10. ^ "Age-specific Arrest Rate Trends: Property Crimes". Retrieved 27 August 2011. 
  11. ^ The TV comedy Doogie Howser was based upon upon the premise that a teenager could excel at medical school, become a doctor, but still had to prove himself over and over again.
  12. ^ In one of the nastiest RfA's ever, a teenage candidate saw the candidates support evaporate due to an overly strong defense. While the candidate remained quiet, a few people dug their heels into what they perceived as the injustice of judging somebody due to the candidate's youth. Because of those individuals, the people who had opposed based upon age (and if history was any guide might have been ignored) started digging around and found other reasons to oppose. Many people changed their support to opposes and a number of people explicitly cited the actions of a specific voice, an admin, as part of their rationale to oppose! Due to this (and other incidents), the admin was taken to RfC and pressured into stepping down.