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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Location: Boulder, CO, United States

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Saturday, November 10, 2007

I'm back

I'm afraid I've been thinking about blogging like I think about polished article writing...hence the lack of entries on this blog. I'm going to make a concerted attempt to change that and just spend a little time, several times a week, writing here.

This summer, at the Boulder Farmer's Market, I was sitting on a bench, enjoying the day. The Balloon Man was there and I was watching him make balloons for the kids. A family came by: a mom, grandmother and two toddlers, obviously twins, in a double-stroller. The mom asked the Balloon Man to make an animal for each kid, it didn't matter what animal. The kids were silent, watching, no smiles, no obvious curiosity, not struggling to get out of the stroller, not looking around. As soon as the first animal was finished and delivered to one of the children, without a second's hesitation, both the mother and grandmother bent down near the stroller and said, "Say thank you." and they both said it again, at least twice, in rapid succession. Before this non-curious child, who had never asked or indicated in any way that he wanted a balloon animal had even a second to look at this toy, or to feel any sense of joy or appreciation, two adults were insisting he make the rote and automatic response we all expect, "Thank you."

I have thought a great deal about how adults stop children from feeling their anger, their sadness, and their unbridled joie d'vivre in inappropriate places and moments (in a library, a classroom, a museum, a grocery store...essentially anywhere except possibly a playground designed for children). But this is the first time I have thought about how we so quickly intervene before they have a chance to feel appreciation or gratitude.

A few minutes later a teenage boy, maybe 16, came up and said to the balloon man, with joy on his face, "I remember you! You made a balloon for me 7 or 8 years ago. I loved that balloon until it broke!!"

Feelings are an important part of being human, in fact, perhaps the most important part. Encouraging young people to feel their feelings and to express them is one way we allow their natural humanness to shine. Telling them how they should feel is adultism.

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