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The Harm in Saying "When I was Your Age"

The Harm in Saying "When I was Your Age"
an article by Julianne Tenorio

Dear Asian Youth,

I’m sure that many of you are familiar with the statement:

“When I was your age…”

It is never a fun thing to hear.

Whether you’re talking about school or hanging out with friends, this eye-rolling statement always makes its way into a conversation with parents. Of course, there are moments when this phrase is used in the right context, like when parents share genuine childhood memories that aren’t harmful nor destructive. This can include discussing childhood games they would play or their favorite snacks as a kid. But, here are some examples from personal experience that definitely do not adhere to that:

“You know, when I was your age, if I didn’t know what I was doing on my homework, I would have to walk all the way to the library and READ books! You have the Internet at your fingertips; I don’t understand why you are so confused!”

“Stop being so ungrateful! When I was your age, I had to wake up very early in the morning just to walk to school; that would take me an hour! And it would take me 2 HOURS to walk back home because it was uphill! So you better appreciate me driving you to school or else you would have been late by now.”

“When I was your age, I knew when it was my time to speak and not to speak. If you talked to my parents the way you are talking to me right now, you wouldn’t be living under our house anymore. So shut it.”

Just to name a few.

These statements are harmful and invalidate children’s struggles.

Our world has been constantly evolving. From technology to social norms, there is a clear gap between generations because of the clear contrast regarding the youth of today versus the youth from decades ago. Different struggles exist due to different experiences, and it is unfair for hardships to be compared. For example if I said,

Ugh! My computer isn’t working and I can’t do my work!

An inappropriate response to this would be:

We didn’t even have computers when I was your age! We had to search through hundreds of pages in books, so stop whining.

Though talking about childhood memories can be a nice way to bond with, educate, or entertain younger people, there are times when bringing them up is unnecessary and outright rude. When has living become a competition for who’s suffered more? What benefit does it hold? The mindset of using “When I was your age” on a regular basis enforces that accepting change is wrong, because if we’re stuck in the past, how can we address the new age’s problems if things are already “so much better?” Things should constantly be getting better and better, and we can achieve that by acknowledging the difficulties of the past without guilt tripping people using the privileges we have now against us. Languishing about how times were so much harder, quite frankly, does nothing to help our current problems.

When used in the wrong context, the statement, “When I was your age,” can be very condescending and creates unneeded comparisons between parents and children. It minimizes the youth’s struggles and, quite frankly, there are many more constructive ways for parents to address scenarios where we are struggling or complaining about something, which can include trying to find ways to destress or even just listening to them. To put it simply, using this phrase can be incredibly emotionally damaging, as it establishes a sense of unachievable expectations and overwhelming pressure on children, causing us to grow up to become unconfident and ashamed when we don’t meet societal standards. There are countless resources out there about how families can have constructive conversations surrounding these topics, which you can here and here! And of course, actions must be taken after a parent is called out for doing this by their child. They must ensure that actual effort is put into ensuring that their kid feels that they can discuss their problems without fear of being reprimanded or criticized, so that this:

“We didn’t even have computers when I was your age! We had to search through hundreds of pages in books, so stop whining.”

Can grow into this! :)

“I completely understand your frustration. Is there anything I could do to help?”

- Julianne T.

Cover Photo Source: KNKX

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