Ageism doesn't only affect the older generations of society. Read this piece by Leila Willingham, where she fights back against ageism towards teenagers and demands to be taken seriously for things other than, being on phones, parting and having messy rooms. Stereotypes are lazy at best and at work detrimental to our society. We must stop using them for all ages. We met Leila a few months back where she spoke at  #Upfront's anniversary event. Her speech was so powerful, inspiring and reminded everyone across all ages in the crowd to have the courage to speak up.

Words by Leila Willingham. 

At the end of Leila's story, you will find a video from Leila's talk at the 2017 #Upfront conference at Google Campus in London and filmed by her friend in the audience. The two live streamed it on Facebook, so we kindly snatched it from there. #upfront is a global movement dedicated to changing confidence and were the winners of our crowdsoucing challenge around confidence. You can find out more about them here. 

Anyway, back to Leila.....

"I know that revealing my date of birth or age will automatically change people's perceptions of me. Whether it be a positive or negative perception, it definitely impacts how I am viewed."

Leila being introduced by Lauren from #UPFRONT before her amazing speech.

Hi, my name is Leila and I am 17 years old. Age is just a number and and it is easy to see age as a block or wall to achieving success. I have also learnt my age can be used to my advantage and that you can never be too young. There is something perceptually ‘incredible’ about a 17 year old standing up and speaking confidently to an audience or trying to set up a business. It’s an eye catcher. So yes my age is relevant to how I perceive myself but by no means do I let it define me. There is a fine line between being 17 year old Leila Willingham and Leila Willingham (17).

I know that revealing my date of birth or age will automatically change people's perceptions of me. Whether it be a positive or negative perception, it definitely impacts how I am viewed. I overcome this by not making my age the centre of the conversation.

My mum is the MD and Founder of a PR Agency in Dorset and as a result I have often accompanied her to events etc. There is always the moment as she introduces me to various clients and acquaintances where they give my mum ‘that look’ as they laugh about having a ‘teenager’ about the house and how ‘scarily quick’ they grow up and now how I’m more independent driving myself around and going out with my friends blah blah blah. There is no mention, maybe bar exams, of what I am capable of besides having a messy bedroom. I might get asked what I want to do when i'm ‘older’ if I’m lucky. There is a perception that as a young person all I do is eat, sleep and party. 

"Maybe if we changed the questions we asked, we’d see a change in the stereotype."

Leila Willingham.

Leila Willingham

When I catch up with or bump into people who know me, at similar events for example, the questions couldn’t be more different. ‘How’s the internship hunting going?’ ‘Your speech last week I watched on Facebook, how did you get that?’ There is a common misconception that there isn’t much more to a teens life than the stereotype. Maybe if we changed the questions we asked, we’d see a change in the stereotype.

Being outdoors (especially in the sun) is what makes me the most happy. And being with my friends. I think these are things that everyone, whatever age, does to feel happy. Maybe the activities my friends and I do differ from those that my grandma might do with her friends but certainly it’s being social, having a gossip, having a laugh that makes you feel lifted. I don’t think that changes. But what is stressing me out, at this time of my life is definitely exams. Exams. More Exams. As a sixth form student exams, especially in the summer months, are extremely stressful. Especially when it’s at A Level. It’s the last few months of life as you know it, for me the last few months of education and you feel as if the rest of your life depends on the time and work you put in. I think the stress comes from this fear of failure and fear of the unknown.Being and staying positive is probably what we do share across all ages as well. Whatever we are doing in our lives, we always have up’s and down’s and however old you are it is so hard to stay positive when you feel like the world is against you. We never stop learning and there is a first for everything. We only get one shot at life and we never know what’s around the corner and how to deal with it.

Which is why I think older people can teach us how important it is to be a good person. And younger people how to be free. It is easy as we grow up to conform to unspoken adult rules. But if I want to hire out a soft play area for my 18th Birthday or go to the Zoo, I’m going to do it because there is nothing wrong with being a kid at heart and it’s so refreshing to act carefree, even if it's just for a while.

"Whatever we are doing in our lives, we always have up’s and down’s and however old you are it is so hard to stay positive when you feel like the world is against you."

Leila Willingham.

If we had a society where age doesn't define us we would put more emphasis on the things we have achieved, and that’s a confidence boost. It would make people happier, more determined, and we there would potentially be more equality.

"If we had a society where age doesn't define us we would put more emphasis on the things we have achieved, and that’s a confidence boost."

Leila Willingham.

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