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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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!


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