Gabrielle Douglas is 16 years old. This week she won 2 gold medals at the London Olympic games. She will be a junior in high school this year.
Missy Franklin is 17 years old. She also won 2 gold medals in London and owns 2 world records. She’s entering her senior year in high school.
If you want to see a few more stories about teenagers in the Olympics, The New York Times has a page dedicated to the endeavor.
The Capability vs. Expectations Gap
As a lover of teenagers universal and an often observer of their amazing capabilities— I enjoy the irony that America will celebrate Gabby and Missy’s victories as if they were their own daughters…
- We acknowledge their physical prowess.
- We acknowledge their dedication.
- We admire the grace at which they handle their athletic events and the pressure of the world stage.
- We admire the maturity in their handling sudden fame.
We each easily attribute downright adult descriptions on teenage Olympiads.
This is ironic because from a societal perspective we don’t expect teenagers to be capable of such adult-like qualities. I mean… they can’t possibly be adults at 15-16-17, can they?
3 examples of this irony…
- Gabrielle Douglas can win Olympic Gold but she won’t be able to sign the contract that puts her face on the Wheaties box.
- Missy Franklin can hold World Records in swimming but she wouldn’t be able to get her ears pierced without her parents permission in her home state.
- Both women will easily make more money than their parents in 2012. But because they are minors they won’t be able to control where that money goes or how it is spent until they turn 18.
Raise expectations, friends. Most teenagers can do just about everything you can do… maybe better than you can. Let’s not just celebrate teenagers who hoist gold medals, let’s celebrate the capabilities of the teenagers in our lives.
And let’s kill agism, OK? Let’s judge people by what they can do instead.
Discover what their coaches know: When you expect someone’s very best, you’ll get it. When you expect nothing, you’ll get it.