Talking About Young People
Many terms exist to describe children of various ages, all of them having different connotations.
The messages of journalists, politicians, merchants, professional educators, and social commentators are often slanted by the terms they choose to describe children. For example, politicians who may usually refer to children as kids are careful to use the words child and children in their important speeches. Apparently, child evokes a more tender response in the listener than kid.
Professional educators, who once distinguished between the words pupil and student, now refer to all school children as students.
Any word that describes a child is going to carry some emotional charge, but some are more heavily weighted than others.
Here are some fairly neutral words to describe young people under the age of 21:
The following words convey more specific images and appeal to different emotions:
In the past, the word youth was a useful term often seen in news stories with the meaning of “a young man between boyhood and mature age.” For example, “Youth Robs Liquor Store.” Recently, I’ve seen the word used to describe a three-year-old who drowned.
Finally, there’s the word kid. As a word for the young of a goat, kid has been in the language at least since 1562; possibly since 1200. The OED documents kid, “a child, especially a young child,” from the 17th century, noting that it originated as “low slang,” but by the 19th century had become common in familiar speech.
Nowadays, kid is used in the most formal contexts, from the speech and writing of professional educators to the naming of children’s clinics. The word’s elevation to the status of an acceptable synonym for child may have something to do with its similarity to German Kind (child); after all, English is a Germanic language. However, despite its ubiquity as a generic term for child, the word kid can carry negative connotations that prevent it from being acceptable in every context.
Related post: “I Hate ‘Kids”