Let me tell you something about yourself:
You drive too fast. You don’t tip well. You have an eating disorder, you download too much music, and you smoke too much pot.
And what’s more? You don’t wear a condom. You incur debt. You propagate celebrity gossip.
Oh, and you don’t vote.
True or not – and some of it is, some of it isn’t – this is what our country is saying about us. We are smack in the middle of the age group with the worst reputation in America: the endlessly stigmatized 18-to-25-year-olds. Even when the statistics don’t slam the college-aged, distrust and perception do a fine job. Hell, the nicest, most optimistic thing I could find on the World Wide Web about the 18 to 25 age group is that we’re a good predictor of what the labor pool will look like in 10 years. Thank you, ExpansionManagement.com, for that note of inspiration.
Is it true?
Well, yeah. Do we get in more car accidents? Although they make up only 6.9 percent of licensed drivers, drivers between the ages of 15 and 20 were involved in 16 percent of all accidents and 14 percent of fatal accidents, according to Central Insurance Companies. In Britain, where crashes involving drivers under age 25 killed more than 1,000 people last year, the government is considering raising its legal driving age to 18.
And how do we see this back home in darling little Evanston, Ill.?
“I definitely drive too fast,” said Joe Teno, a McCormick sophomore. “It’s fun.”
Weinberg freshman Jessica Heller agreed with Teno until she got two speeding tickets. Still, she couldn’t argue with most of the labels pinned onto her age group.
“It all seems true to me. Those are all things my friends do,” Heller said.
Besides driving, these “things” refer to: the highest rate of use of a tobacco product (SADD); the 50 percent rate of contracting an STD among the sexually active by age 25 (SADD); and a consistently dismal voter turnout, to name a few. So yes, we get a lot of crap for being the age we are. But either we’re living up to the perceptions assigned to us, or they’re simply accurate.
But is it fair?
Generally speaking, stereotypes are never fair. They assign overarching characteristics to a broad group with little regard for individuals,and don’t pay attention to the differences between these individuals.
I’m 19 years old. Last month a police officer pulled me over to let me know that I was following him too closely. The funny thing about that is we were in stand-still traffic. He also took this opportunity to critize how I had pulled over. Apparently I did it wrong; I’ve never gotten a speeding ticket, driven drunk or been pulled over for any reason, but I suppose I was to apologize for that. The thing that gets me, though, is he told me that these errors were because I was young. He told me that I obviously had not been driving for long and that I should review the materials I used to take my driver’s test. It was condescending and unnecessary. But, as far as I can tell, he saw me in his rear view mirror, decided I was just another young reckless driver, and made a day of it.
So yes, statistics do show that teens aren’t great drivers, but does that make what happened to me fair?
Take the stereotype of college-aged people as poor tippers. Not only does Weinberg freshman Katie Ebbert obey the speed limit, care about environmental issues and decline from smoking pot, but she has worked as a waitress.
“Yes, young people tend to be bad tippers, but it makes sense because they don’t have a lot of money,” Ebbert said.
Weinberg freshman Alisha Varma described the stereotype as “a vicious cycle.”
“I’ve been treated badly at restaurants, which makes it a cycle, because then you don’t want to tip the waitress who was mean to you well,” Varma said. “When you don’t tip her well, she’s not nice to young kids who come in.”
Then there’s the issue of how insurance companies handle 18-to-25-year-olds. It’s pretty simple: you get charged more for many types of insurance because you’re a “risky” customer. Insurance companies see statistics on, say, car accident rates among your age group, note that they are higher than the rates of many other groups, and thus can justify charging you more money to be insured. It makes sense, doesn’t it? But is it fair?
“It definitely helps insurance companies out to break stuff up by age, but I wouldn’t say it’s fair, because it’s my wallet,” said Jamie Ahern, a Weinberg sophomore. “At the same time, I do understand where they’re coming from.”
It isn’t easy to determine what’s fair or not. When Heller was at a restaurant and a waitress tacked on $100 in extra items to see if the 18-year-old would notice, Heller certainly didn’t think it was fair (and she most certainly noticed). When Varma, who has volunteered for Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick for the past two summers, hears another tirade about the politically apathetic youth, she doesn’t necessarily think it’s fair, either.
But the judgements people make about us and our generation aren’t going to go away if we quietly let statistics speak for themselves.
So what can we do?
I am not suggesting that overnight we can change extremely stubborn mindsets, let alone ones that are backed up by facts. We’re still going to make stupid decisions; hell, we’re 18-to-25-year-olds. But on an individual level, there’s a lot we can and should do:
-Register people to vote. Or just register yourself. You can do this through YourVoteMatters, JustVote or Rock the Vote, and I’m sure there are campus organizations that register people, too. Get your own club involved by setting up a table with a few pens and a stack of National Voter Registration forms (good for every state but Wyoming and New Hampshire). Then maybe everyone will stop whining about how we’re too busy playing flip cup to show up to the polls.
-Take charge of your sexual health. If the statistics on STDs and pregnancies didn’t get you, maybe our sex columnist’s pleadings will. Either way, get yourself to Searle and Get. Yourself. Checked. If not to the reputation of your age group, you owe a clean slate of sexual health to yourself. Use a condom – every time. There is no magical time of month when the pregnancy fairies take a vacation and you’re safe. Nor is there such a thing as pregnancy fairies. But you get my gist.
-Respect your elders. No, seriously. It’s true that we use more drugs and own more cars than our age group did 60 years ago, but the people branding us as reckless kids did used to be – are you ready for this? – reckless kids themselves. As Ahern said on older generations’ distrust of us, “Everyone just looks back and thinks about how dumb they were when they were kids.” If we’re going to make any progress, it isn’t through flipping off the drive-through attendant or cutting off an old lady.
My original goal for this article was a generic opinion feature or list of guidelines on how to avoid getting a really shitty reputation in college, but there’s so much more out there beyond flunking your chem midterm or flying off the BAC chart at a party. If you’re tired of getting treated like a criminal for no other reason than your age, then you’ve got to do something to crack the status quo. Be young, but be smart.
And if you need more hope, keep this in mind: Britney Spears is turning 26 in just two short months. If that doesn’t help our age group, what will?