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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Friday, August 3, 2007

The Foundational Oppression

If adults consistently disrespect a child, that child sees disrespect as a natural part of life. It doesn’t take long for her to start believing, without consciously thinking about it, that her ideas are not worthy of attention by adults and are therefore useless to society. There is a pervasive belief that only the ideas of adults are valid and that children have absolutely no credibility until they have attained the exalted state of adulthood (even though it is never clear what constitutes an adult!)

Once a person has been indoctrinated to consistent disrespect in the form of being overlooked, ignored, controlled, poked and prodded against his will…and another oppression comes along, like racism, classism or sexism, there is no fight left. The fight fled before the person even got conscious enough to realize “this is not right.”

Maybe it’s easier to see when the reverse is true. When a young person is respected from the beginning, when she is given a say in the things impacting her own life, when she feels a sense of power and control over her life, when her opinions and feelings are validated by the adults around her…and sexism (or sexual exploitation) or classism or racism comes along, it’s like, “What? Are you kidding me? I don’t deserve to be treated like this!”

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