“Aww so adorable!! How old are you?” said the lady, casually and yet with intrigue to the pre-schooler.
” I am 4 ” he announced and then with face full of pride he added “I was 3 but now I am 4 “
The lady smiled warmly and said “That is amazing, such a big boy you are and growing so fast”
I watched over this interaction and had a moment of pride for my 4 year old. It also triggered a memory of my childhood/teenager years where an age conversation often turn a bit longer than 3 sentences.
As a child/teenager often my age was assumed higher and a conversation about it would go something like this:
“How old are you? (No Pause for response) Looks like are you 22.”
“I just turned 19”
Seemingly embarrassed or flustered “oh really. You seem so mature and grown. I mean you face is young but your attitude is so grown” (No Pause but insert a nervous forced laughter) “you can talk so well and are so understanding. I really thought you are 22 “
The most OK part of this interaction was that I was, matter of fact, very thrilled to be viewed as older. Mostly because that gave me validation and a sense of belonging with the group I anyway related the best – the grow ups. I was/am a curly haired, short stature Faby* who was loved for her ‘personality’ – Sure there were fans of my beauty but they all had the same last name as me or were in some way related to me.
Faby = A somewhat heavy person who is called Chubby by well-meaning family and relatives.
Word Creation Credit = Me!
Fast forward decades and somewhere along the way the adults hesitated to comment on my age. Well, not just to me, in general it is a social taboo to ask an adult their age and worse if you ask a female.
The question ‘How old are you?’
- to a child it is asked often with enthusiasm and the higher count is celebrated.
- to a teenager it is asked often with enthusiasm, is celebrated as a move towards adulthood.
- to an adult it is just not asked, or worse a higher count of that number is used to judge and box that person in some society created standards-by-age.
What nonsense is that?
My teenage years age conversation, unconsciously, conditioned me to think that:
- To the society, it is only exciting if you age until a certain age. Beyond that you best not reveal your age.
- To the society, age has a direct correlation to ones outwardly appearance. Best keep appearance youthful and since 20ish seems to the cut off where it is acceptable to ask someone their age – then the appearance standard but me 20ish too.
- To the society, age has a direct correlation with maturity. In case you are mature/self confident beyond your age then keep that to your self! Or best act young’ish!
I could go on but this is a well understood concept and I hope you sense the sarcasm!
There is a certainly a value to society created milestones for various phases of life. From toddler to senior citizen, as they are either tied to cognitive development and/or needed to define operational rules/benefits that are fit for a particular phase of life. For Ex: Legal adult age or discounts for senior citizens. But this is not about that.
What if there was no social taboo on asking “How old are you?” to anyone regardless of their age and it would prompt an enthusiastic response which would be celebrated back. Just like pre-school days ..
And then maybe there would not be any age-trait assumption conditioning.
Maybe when one tells their age:
We won’t categorize them
We won’t determine their coolness – whatever this means!
We won’t judge their social status
We won’t be sad for them
We won’t assume their disinterest in anything youthful
We won’t think they are immature
We will take them for what they are
Think about it!
I love the privilege of being mature, being youthful, being adventurous, being me regardless of my age. So, don’t hesitate to ask me “How old are you?” and when you are asked respond with an enthusiasm of a pre-schooler!
I am 39, by the way.