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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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

My Story

Part of my passion about adultism comes from my own childhood. I was raised in rural NE Ohio, granddaughter of Slovenian immigrants. We lived on five acres, at least three of which were wooded and adjoining other undeveloped lands. My two older brothers and I (and other neighborhood kids) had tremendous freedom to roam and explore the natural world. I remember having my first picnic in the woods, sitting atop a huge rock with my best friend Tommy, sharing Kool Aid and sandwiches, when I was 5 years old. I’m sure our respective grandmothers were keeping an eye on us, but as far as I was concerned, we were alone. There was a silent message from those two grandmothers: we think you’re capable, we trust you.

My mom and I were always close, but sadly, by the time I reached junior high, I had already decided I couldn’t talk to her about the stressful things that were going on in my life: my developing body and budding sexuality, being overweight, hating to be naked for gym showers, the overwhelming changes of going from my small elementary school to the bigger junior high in town. I wanted to wear nylons and tennis shoes year round; she wanted me in sensible shoes and socks. I thought I needed a bra; she didn’t notice. I was in love with the sexy boy from the next township over. She thought he was a hoodlum (she was right).

Now I know my brain was taking it’s second growth spurt and that my thinking had become more complex. I could tell that my mom didn’t have the answers I needed. I knew her opinions were static, unyielding. Furthermore, no one talked to their parents in those days (the 60’s). The culture did not support closeness of the sort I had in my younger years with my mom. She and I lived in two separate worlds. Hers was the world of adults, the “know it all” beings who were in control and had all the answers. Mine was the world of young people, who didn’t. She was pretty much oblivious to what was happening in my life, and I liked it that way. Our patterns of non-relating lasted well into my adulthood.

Young people have a lot to teach adults, and adults have lots of experience to share with young people. But adults can’t know the truth of the younger generation, because it is always changing. The saddest result of adultism in my life, and the lives of many other teenagers, is that I didn’t have my mom as an ally when I needed her the most. I simply couldn’t trust her to respect me as an individual.

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Blogger M.B. said...

Thank you for your post I enjoyed reading it.

March 29, 2009 at 2:08 PM  

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