Adultism: A Well-Kept Secret

Adultism is the term used to describe the oppression of young people by adults. An article by John Bell included this definition: “…adultism refers to behaviors and attitudes based on the assumption that adults are better than young people, and entitled to act upon young people without their agreement. This mistreatment is reinforced by social institutions, laws, customs, and attitudes.”

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Thursday, September 15, 2011

18 is Artitrary

On the Internet I go by Renaissance Kid or Josiah Power.

I taught myself to draw, use computers, film and more at an early age. I was learning languages but our family had some hard times, so I had to stop and there was no other school I could attend.  At age 11, one of my videos beat out the adults and was featured at an International Women’s Rights Forum. My videos have also been featured on YouTube. 

Places like Orlando Tech and Full Sail still kept telling me I was too young.  They said I had to wait ‘til I am 18 to be part of their program, even though my parents told them they would chaperone me to the classes. 

Yet every day I hear how young people in America are behind in education; how other kids in other nations are ahead of us. These kids do not have to wait ‘til they are 18. There are many young people in America who are talented, but if they are not playing basketball, football, singing, acting, or dancing, they are not recognized for their talents. There is nothing wrong with those talents, but those are not my talents. 

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Monday, August 22, 2011

Why Don't Adults Listen?

The following was submitted to my website by Jessica M. from Ireland. I have a space there for people to share their stories of adultism. (please visit it at:

Recently I was at an event and ran into the teacher of an art course I took when I was 16. She is much older than me and has children my own age.

We had a conversation and she asked me when I was going to learn to drive. I explained that I probably won't for the foreseeable future because I have a neurological problem. Her response?

“Well, you'll have to learn sometime.”

I explained that no, that is a very irresponsible view to take because I could have an attack and cause a crash. I also explained what my neurological issue was and exactly why it makes driving dangerous. She laughed and said 'but you'll have to learn sometime, it'll put you at such a disadvantage.

What got me was the difference in social status between us as “adult” and “young person” and the fact that older people are seen as wiser and more worthy of being listened to, whereas younger people are often seen as not having anything valid to say due to lack of life experience. And here was this “older person who knows best.” actually advising me to endanger my life and those of other people.

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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Youth Rights Day

In honor of the second annual Youth Rights Day today (chosen because it was John Holt's birthday, a man well worth knowing about in regards to youth empowerment), I reread a couple articles about lowering the drinking age at the National Youth Rights Association (NYRA) website. Their strongest argument is based on the phenomenon of "forbidden fruit;" that is, anything that's prohibited only makes it more attractive. Their next argument goes like this: with the emphasis on alcohol prohibition for people under 21, dialoguing about it in any rational way is not emphasized.

Funny the NYRA folks should bring that up! We (adults) don't want to engage in rational dialogue with youth, probably because they would make us confront our own irrational behavior, not only about alcohol, but with drugs, sex, and other "bad" stuff that humans so love to do.

I would get really upset about the craziness of our alcohol policy, except that all our major social policies are just as screwy, irrational, illogical, and need I say, counterproductive? Take your pick: policies about drugs, abortion, taxes, the death penalty, the right to die; compulsory education, all are based on fear, tradition, and one group (highly conservative, mostly fundamentalist Christian people) lording it over those of us that are ready for some major paradigm shifting.

Can't we get real and acknowledge our seemingly inbuilt tendency to want to alter our consciousness from time to time, probably so we can feel less afraid? Can't we acknowledge that simultaneous with wanting to alter our consciousness, we are ashamed of that impulse, so we pretend we don't want to, and officially prohibit young people from doing it as well? After all, we're not kidding anyone, especially youth.

In contrast, consider what the NYRA says in their article, titled "Solutions," about lowering the alcohol age: "It is time we as a nation implement a smarter alcohol policy; an alcohol policy based on education, toleration, and a message of responsible, moderate use." a cool breeze billowing the curtains on a perfect spring day, eh?

Please check out the NYRA and their highly rational policy statements on drinking, voting, and curfew. And, next year, think about organizing for National Youth Rights Day (April 14), to stir up some dialogue about our crazy laws based on age.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Double Standards

The following was submitted to my website by Jessica M. from Ireland. I have a space there for people to share their stories of adultism. (please visit it at:

I was doing my shopping in the supermarket, and needed to carry my family's groceries out in a box. Standing at the checkout, I whipped the box up in a clean and jerk type movement and set it on my head, the way women do in some African countries. The old woman working the till was very alarmed and said a light girl like me shouldn't be lifting heavy things. I said it was fine; it wasn't even heavy. She wouldn't let the issue alone. I told her again it was fine and I regularly lifted heavier things than that at home and in the gym. She just talked over me saying I'd have spinal problems by the time I was her age.

I'd like to know how it would have been if the ages had been reversed. If a young person were to override an old person they didn't know like that it would be seen as gross rudeness.

When I related the incident to a friend, he didn't see what I had to complain about. He said "I hope you weren't rude to her. If someone talked crap to my elderly mother I'd smack them around the head."

In other words, he felt, that not only should elderly people have a free pass to be disrespectful, but that objecting to disrespectful or invasive behaviour on an older person's part is "rudeness," and so inappropriate that it deserves physical violence.

This left a very acid taste in my mouth. Is it really that hard to treat a young person as a human being with boundaries?

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Friday, December 3, 2010

Invading the Personal Space of Young People

The following was submitted to my website by Jessica M. from Ireland. I have a space there for people to share their stories of adultism. (please visit it at:

An example of adultism I experienced and still feel strongly about is physical touch. As a child I remember adults seemed to think it was okay to openly touch me, hug me, or play with my hair, even if I didn't know them. I think the assumption was that if you're young, you don't understand boundaries, so they don't have to worry about overstepping boundaries with a young person. I have mild Asperger's symptoms and one of them is a strong aversion to touch. Being a child at the time, I didn't really know how to handle the behaviour except by recoiling or saying loudly and defiantly "I don't like being touched!" I was called "rude" and told they were just being friendly; that the appropriate response was to smile politely. I find that ironic, since if anyone behaved like that to an adult, it would be the person doing the touching who would be called rude and the adult would be quite within their rights to refuse the unwanted touch. Yet because I was a child I was expected to tolerate the behaviour and smile about it. My mother, to her credit, explained that it was okay to refuse physical touch but that I should do it in a calm and polite way, such as "Excuse me but I don't like being touched unless it's by someone I know well."

I also had teachers at school behave in this overly familiar way. They would casually take hold of my arm or even mess with my hair, and would act very shocked and concerned when I refused their touching. At one school there was actually a list of students' rights, one of them being "to refuse unwanted touches." Yet they didn't like it if I said I didn't like being touched and acted as if I were being rude just for asserting basic boundaries.

I still feel angry when recalling these incidents. They were the adults, I was the child, yet I was the one expected to tolerate their inappropriate behaviour, because they were adults therefore it was okay.

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Thursday, July 22, 2010

Adultism on a School Council

This personal story of adultism was sent to me by Anthony from Melbourne, Australia, and was an experience he had a couple years ago.  If you’d like to share one of your own, please go to my website ( and post one. It can be anonymous.

It was my first time to attend the School Council as a representative of the Student Representative Council (SRC), and I was excited! My friend David and I went to the meeting together. We entered the room filled with parents, with the principle at the head of the table. I shook hands with each of the adults. We sat down, and a copy of the school's budget was passed around.  

As I read it, the principle leaned over to me and said, "Do you understand it?" I wanted to maintain my dignity, so I said "Yeah, I get the gist of it." David hadn't even bothered touching his copy of the budget.

The meeting started. The adults were all very familiar with one another, creating an awkward atmosphere that made me fearful to speak up. Eventually, the topic of "students coming late" was raised. As the adults spoke about how "dreadful" the amount of people coming late was, I raised my hand. I refused to be an idle spectator. I wanted to have my say as a student at the school.

"Oh look! Anthony has something to say," announced my principle in a patronizing tone. I ignored her tone of voice and spoke.

"In my experience as a student who often comes late, I've noticed that no one really ever chases me up. I know there are consequences, but they aren't ever enforced," I didn't wish to put forward a position, but I figured that as a student, I could offer a perspective on the problem that the adults weren't aware of.

The other adults began to giggle. My principle leaned over to me: "Well Anthony, if you come late so often, then you get a detention!" she said, jokingly. The other adults began to laugh uproariously. The principle then told me in an aside, "I'm told that students ARE chased up, but thank-you for your contribution," she said dismissively, before going on to the next topic.

Later, my principle announced: "Now for our formal SRC update from David and his companion Anthony."

What followed was a scene that seemed incredibly scripted, as if this was something they repeated at every meeting. David talked about how the SRC was organizing another "Free Dress Day," about the punctuality of the meetings, the liveliness of the discussions. The principle thanked him, then went on to discuss the next topic.

I was shocked, THIS is all the SRC is capable of doing at the School Council?! A formal address; the ability to organize a single casual dress day?

Angered, I raised my voice. "Actually, there are a couple of other things we needed to say," I announced. The other adults turned to look at me. The principle gave me permission to go on and I did.

I said that our SRC had received a letter from another student, requesting that a gate be installed for students at the back of the school. The letter explained that students were currently jumping over the fence when leaving school. The reaction was immediate laughter. I heard somebody say "how cute" in the background. A couple of jokes were made. The principle then announced the transition to the next topic.

I interrupted, "Well, are you going to look into it?" I asked.

"Don't worry, we will" she told me, dismissively, before moving on.

It was at least one year until a gate was installed into that fence. And I guess it wasn't me that prompted that action. After that night, I left the SRC. I decided that it was little more than a facade, given to the students to delude them into thinking they had a say. The education system isn't designed to benefit the students, but their parents.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

When Students Were Killed

My sister-in-law sent me the link to this article about the Kent State killings; May 4th marked the 39th anniversary. I received my BS in 2003 and my MA in 2005 at Kent State, but when the shootings occurred I was 19 and living in Columbus, OH. My life at that moment in time had just taken an unanticipated turn, so I don’t recall thinking about the tragedy that much. As I scan back in my memory, my sense is that I wasn’t surprised that the governor of my state called out the National Guard and students were shot. Now I’m appalled, but back then I wasn’t. I knew most adults didn’t like young people. We were on opposing teams. Adults were people one had to appease, tolerate, and basically stay away from as much as possible.

Killing college students for protesting the war in Viet Nam belongs on the extreme side of adultism, along with incest, child molestation, child pornography. It sent a strong, clear message to young people in the U.S. and around the globe: we don’t care what you think and we’ll shut you up with force if need be…butt out, you’re not wanted, you don’t count. The fervor and fever of protest died down after that…I don’t think we’ve seen it matched since on college campuses.

I didn’t know much about the Kent State killings until I attended school there several years ago. There is a commemorative event each year and I walked with one of the survivors to each of the sites where events occurred and heard his story. I also read a number of articles to gain a better understanding of what had happened. Yesterday, when I read the article about Mary Ann Vecchio, the young woman in the oh-so-famous photograph just after four students died, I learned for the first time that she was a 14-year-old runaway from Florida. Now I realize that her reaction to the death of Jeffrey Miller spoke the horror and anguish of many of us. An adult would have been less likely to show their full feelings…more likely to have gotten right to the business of ambulances and taking control of an out-of-control situation. Mary Ann gave us her unedited reaction…it’s written all over her face: “How could you let this happen?!”


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