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 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.

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