DARE TO ASK: We're old, so you must do what we say

By PHILLIP MILANO, The Times-Union

Question

Why do older people think they can use their age to get what they want from a younger person?

Patrick, 15, St. Charles, Ill.

Replies

Because they can.

Pat H., 21, Forestdale, R.I.

They use their age as an advantage because they are cranky. When arthritis sets in, it gets pretty hard not to be.

Mark, 54, Destin

Older people make decisions based on what they think will be best - not just to get things out of kids. Adults have given you food, clothing and shelter all your life. The least you could do is help them out once in a while without totally complaining about it.

John, 20, Bakersfield, Calif.

It's because they know they are older and can pull stuff on kids. You know the saying goes, "Kids should obey their elders." That's a load of crap, and older people use it to get what they want.

Marisa, 15, Illinois

After years giving of ourselves, our time and our money to the younger generation as well as our elder generation, there is an expectancy that as we age, it is time for receiving. Unfortunately, the younger generation has no appreciation for the sacrifices made for them. They feel nothing is owed and nothing should be done unless something is in it for themselves. What a sad thing for us, them and their children, who will never learn the enjoyment of helping for the sake of helping.

Patricia, 63, Slidell, La.

Experts say

Old people want their props, just like young people, says Eric Kingson, a Syracuse University professor of social work who studies intergenerational issues.

"For most people who have moved through life, it's not unreasonable to expect some respect. But they can't try to control a child just by saying 'I'm older.' They might say 'I have some experience ...'?"

The good news is that there is, in fact, something in it for younger people when they - ahem - defer to an elder, he said: Holding a door or giving up a seat means they're learning good manners and to respect others and themselves.

Seniors don't get a free pass. They should give back to society as long as they're able, he said.

Another expert, Nicholas Cummings, e-mailed some personal observations. (We don't often get to quote an icon of the modern psychology movement who's served on presidential commissions. Plus, he's 82, so we're being very respectful.)

"We have all seen the occasional male curmudgeon, and the legendary cantankerous old lady. But most seniors hurt in silence under all situations in which they don't seem to count, and the fact is that most younger persons look right through them as if the senior is invisible . . . Time and time again I see young people sitting in [bus] seats while frail elderly are standing. There is very seldom an attempt to relinquish the seat, and I have never seen a senior complain about it."

Why? Because he said so.

Phillip Milano, author of I Can't Believe You Asked That! (Perigee), moderates cross-cultural dialogue at Y? The National Forum on People's Differences. Visit www.yforum.com to submit questions and answers, or mail to Phillip Milano, c/o The Florida Times-Union, P.O. Box 1949, Jacksonville, FL 32231. Include contact information.