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.”

My Photo
Location: Boulder, CO, United States

see my blog entries

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Envisioning Life Post-Adultism

Call me crazy, but here’s how I envision what will happen once adultism awareness reaches the tipping point and suddenly there is widespread understanding about how this hidden oppression stops humans from being our most powerful, creative, and joyous selves. Here is how I see the progression of change that will occur once the 100th monkey “gets it” and our behaviors and attitudes towards young people and towards our own internalized adultism starts to shift.

All the individual threads of all the writers and thinkers and speakers about adultism for all the previous years start to weave themselves into whole cloth. The biggest jump forward to date occurs when the first book, “Adultism: A Well-Kept Secret” gets widespread media attention because it offers a new perspective on: “What’s wrong with the kids?” The book features hundreds of stories by young people describing adultist behavior they’ve encountered and how adultist attitudes hold them back from being their full, whole selves. It gets a lot of media attention. Oprah loves it and devotes several shows to discuss the issues. Adultism gains national prominence as an important piece in the human development puzzle. Those of us who are working at educating people about adultism become speakers at many professional groups like the National Teachers Association, National Council on Family Relations, National Association of Middle School Principals. Young people are always part of these presentations, where they are encouraged to speak for themselves. A national speaker’s bureau is developed for this purpose.

From there more books are written to fully define and articulate the issue of adultism and articles appear in all the big magazines. Youth organizations and youth serving organizations start collaborating on a large scale to bring this information to the attention of our government and lawmakers; greater and greater awareness develops around youth rights. An academic researcher develops a reliable instrument to measure adultist behaviors and attitudes in different venues: schools, home, youth serving organizations, the criminal justice system, mental health organizations, etc. This instrument is really useful to quantify adultist behaviors and inspires much research in the fields of sociology, family studies, psychology, counseling, and even anthropology! Everyone’s talking about the new “ism.” “Why haven’t we noticed this before?” they cry! The media jumps on every new discovery! Suddenly, raising empowered children becomes our true priority as a society.

Curriculums for elementary, middle and high school teachers are developed and widely taught on in-service days to help them change their behaviors and attitudes towards children and adolescents. Hundreds of Family Life Educators develop and deliver training for parents as well. Within two years the negative attitudes by adults toward young people and especially teenagers, shows significant change. Society at large begins to recognize and appreciate the gifts young people bring to all of us: questioning the status quo, idealism, energy, fun, curiosity, “out of the box thinking,” physical strength and prowess, delight in relationships, the knowledge that sitting and listening to a boring teacher is not a good way to spend ones’ precious life, etc. The internalized oppression of young people begins to shift on a wider scale. Young people start feeling respected and that empowers them to speak out and organize around matters that concern them. More and more young people start to form groups. Slowly, the internalized oppression that adults still carry around with them since their youth begins to shift as well. As more adults get back in touch with their natural exuberance and excitement about life and learning and personal growth, schools start to change in significant and profound ways. We begin to offer classes on healthy relationships, communication skills, conflict management and coaching in schools. Art and music begin to appear in curriculums again. Recess is re-instituted so kids and adults get lots of outdoor time to move their bodies. Adults start helping young people envision big futures based on the passion of their true interests. It becomes “normal” for each individual to pursue his or her own subjects of discovery. No one ever assumes what someone else knows based on his or her age. People start learning how to ask powerful questions to get to know each other. Chitchat and phony social politeness is replaced by deep, meaningful interactions between individuals wherever a group is gathered.

Eventually, no one is ever forced to go to school anymore. The old school buildings are converted to community centers available for everyone to come and work on their projects, connect with others and design and develop their ideas. Adults and children alike get so much support and have so much fun that everyone wants to be there as much as possible. Teachers are now called “mentors” or “coaches” or “assistants.” There are many of these “alive” adults available to young people to offer guidance or help.

A high salary and prestige based on salary is no longer considered the “end all, be all” to a good life. Instead, the focus becomes living a life of passion and finding a path that makes sense for each individual. While parents continue to provide material support, structure and nurture for their children, they also become more adept at responding to the true nature of the child. They start looking at their own lives to find where their passion lies. There is a widespread shift from parents believing they must be the “molders” of their children to being great “modelers” of fulfilled lives. More and more families find ways to live “off the grid” and cheaply by collaborating with others, so more time can be spent together inventing, creating, doing art, music, dance, etc. It is considered “cool” to live on as little money as possible, to live as lightly on the land as possible, to care more about sustaining the environment than exploiting it. Young peoples’ natural tendency for connection and relationship changes the way Americans interact and think about other countries, especially the third world.

People become less inclined to equate success with money, but rather with whether they are living out their self-defined life purpose. Owning material objects goes completely out of fashion. People start wanting to reuse and recycle. Young people are so jazzed about recycling materials that there are national contests for the best use of trash and garbage every year. Out of this tremendous new paradigm shift, new inventions arise spontaneously. Cheap new energy sources are discovered and widely used. Food production and distribution issues are solved and all the peoples of the world are being fed adequately. And…we all start having A LOT MORE FUN!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Supporting Powerful Young People

I believe one of the most damaging aspects of adultism is the tendency for adults to discourage the enthusiasm of young people and change an attitude of “I’m powerful, I can make a difference” to “Things are not going to change, so I won’t even try.” Young people who somehow retain their personal sense of power are especially inspiring, given how little general respect and encouragement they get from adult society at large.

Recently the Boulder Weekly ran a story called “Peace Rally of Two” [Colleen Mastony; July 19, 2007]. Ashley Casale (19) organized a peace march from SF to DC this summer but has been joined by only one fellow traveler: Michael Israel (18). As of today the two have made it through half the state of Iowa (see In the article, Lawrence Wittner, a history professor at the State University of New York at Albany and author of the book Peace Action was quoted as saying: “College-age youth are very cynical these days, which is not to say they like the status quo—they may mock it and tell cynical jokes. But they have very little sense that the world can be dramatically transformed.” This is not a failing of the kids; it is a failing of the adults around them.

The two walkers were stopped from entering Rocky Mountain National Park by a ranger who said that wearing their peace signs attached to their shirts constituted a demonstration. The two were not allowed to enter the park until they had removed the signs and wrote their message of peace directly on their shirts. In a society in which youth are generally supported and encouraged to be bold and to effect change, such nit picking would not occur.

Adults are often quick to point out why young people shouldn’t do something bold; and slow to support their grand ideas. Were there adults in Ashley and Michael’s lives who encouraged their boldness? Stay tuned. I’m going to try to find out.

Labels: , , , ,

Monday, July 23, 2007

Let Me Introduce Myself

Hello. Welcome to my blog.

My name is Margaret Pevec. I'm 56 years old and live in Boulder, CO. For over 10 years now I've been interested in educating people about adultism, the oppression of young people by adults. I first encountered the concept of adultism as a practitioner of Re-Evaluation Counseling (also known as "RC" or Co-Counseling). RC may have coined the term. In any event, RC has been instrumental in defining adultism and in helping people recover from the emotional and psychological fall-out from the oppression. Another early writer on adultism was Jack Flasher, who published an article by that name in the journal Adolescence in 1978. Flasher discussed in great detail the abuses of adult power over children and identified several commonly held beliefs, for example that “all adults are superior in all skills and virtues to all children (p. 517). Flasher also identified at least 36 distinct adultist behaviors.

Two years ago I used an adultist lens to discuss research I did for my thesis on parent/adolescent communication. At that time a Google™ search on the word got about 3000 hits. Today it gets 28,200. It is my belief that adultism is soon going to break through into the general consciousness. I hope this blog will be instrumental in leading the way.

I have posted two articles, one for adults and one for young people on my website. Go to:, click on "Adultism" and see the PDF links near the top of the page.

I want to connect with others who believe it is time for adultism to be acknowledged as the damaging oppression it is. I welcome your comments.