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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Monday, December 3, 2007

The New Parenting Paradigm

I spent Thanksgiving at my nephew's house. Lucien is married with two young daughters. His first, Aysha, is a new toddler just learning to talk. His second, Wynn, is 5 months, a smiling Buddha-Baby. While taking a walk around the neighborhood I observed Lucien with Aysha and saw the inception of human empowerment. Lucien saw Aysha as a complete human being despite her young age. He talked to her and respected her opinions about what she wanted. He reacted to her expressions of feeling, and tried to find solutions that worked. Hence, she didn't need to get his attention by acting out. His inherent message was: "You are a unique and cherished person in my life. I support you to get what you want." It was an awesome walk! I have great hope for the new ones coming up who have parents like that.


Blogger Adam Fletcher said...

Margaret, this is so astute. One of the dilemmas of growing "up" is that we learn to look down on the youngest people around us. The paradigm of child-as-inferior must change, and you sharing your observations of your niece and nephew will help it move. I still find it difficult to slow my mind enough to truly enjoy my 4-year-old daughter's play/learning time with me... Patty Wipfler wrote a great pamphlet on how to honor childrens' energy and space called "Special Time" - you might be interested.

December 10, 2007 at 9:39 AM  
Blogger Margaret Pevec. MA said...

Thanks for visiting my blog. I'm so glad you brought up Patty Wipfler's work on special time with children! I know Patty well and promote her work whenever possible. In fact, I built her pamphlet called "Supporting Adolescents" into a course I just wrote for parents of 6th graders to prepare them for the teen years! I urge anyone who is looking for some of the best information for relating to young people I've seen, to check out Patty's work at

December 10, 2007 at 9:53 AM  
Blogger H4736 said...

I wanted to share an encounter I had with one adult child of "tough love".

It was online, and the conversation was about pregnant teens. The author's view was that maybe a little shame on the idea of teen pregnancy was justified, to discourage the pregnancies from happening. Everyone started arguing with one guy who hated sex, but I started the argument no one wanted to do. One person said this:

Lala 11 7: Growing up in the "hood" where there were far too many examples of young girls getting pregnant, I can tell you how I and my two sisters escaped that fate...

Because my Mama made it known from a VERY EARLY AGE...that she would beat the cowboy living **** out of me if I ever came into her house saying that I was pregnant...and then she would put me out...

And knowing my Mama, I knew she was ON THE REAL!!!

Now that might seem harsh...and my Mama WAS HARSH...but so was the life and the neighboorhood that we lived in...

So it was never shame that kept me out of trouble...

It was SHEER FEAR!!!

And it worked!!!"

I took immediate offense to that and retaliated:

I'm sorry but your story is a justification for violence in the home. Even if it "worked" for you, your justification of a parent beating or threatening to beat their child is disgusting.

Believe it or not, Lala, parents who beat their children are criminals"

One other guy, Rhonin came to Lala's side.

I'll link you to Lala's original comment:

And the subsequent dialogue:

A few came to my side.

The issue of parents treating their kids in these harsh ways, and then justifying it with the "hardship" reason is a tough one to swallow. On the one hand, I want parents to feel normal if they get frustrated and lose their cool once in a while. That is normal. But Lala seemed to be ENDORSING it.

I once heard a parent on the bus giving advice to another parent. The conversation started well. He explained how he'd tell his kids, but then ended the talk with "do what I say, or I'll kill you". Even as a joke, even if we know he doesn't mean it, I just hate these phrases being used on kids. But commanding parents how to raise their kids is not a successful venture. So I despair.

You can only go so far, right?

Any way, I hope to hear your thoughts on the issue, and my mini-debate.

March 4, 2008 at 2:55 PM  
Anonymous Margaret Pevec, MA said...

I can empathize with the mother who threatened her daughters; scaring them into abstinence (or at least into using birth control effectively). She must have been in a constant state of panic, living in that rough neighborhood, worrying about her children and probably struggling to make ends meet. I wish all moms and dads could live in peaceful neighborhoods, have adequate incomes, learn effective parenting techniques, treat their children with kindness and humanity. So few of us have had the kind of parenting that results in kind and gentle parents.

My "take" on the discussion you reference is that adults have the power to provide comprehensive sexuality education that includes not only the physiology of sex, but the emotional, psychological, and physical impact of sexual relationships on human beings. We refuse to provide that information to our children and they suffer with STDs and unplanned pregnancies. That is adultism at its worst: withholding information that would allow more young people to keep themselves safe.

March 4, 2008 at 5:19 PM  
Blogger H4736 said...

Thanks for the response margaret. I'm glad you took such an empathetic approach to the woman's mother's financial situation. Maybe I could have. Perhaps if I'd known there were people like yourself, working to make this situation better, I would have felt less like a "lone fighter". NO one addressed that woman's comment until I brought it up. I think this type of thing is a form of abuse that simply doesn't blip on the radar of those law officials who watch for abuse.
Not that I'm advocating for criminal penalties. Or even social service to come by and take the kids. We need more solutions besides criminilization and condemnation, though we should begin our search for solutions knowing, in the privacy of our hearts, that there is unkindness involved - adultism - and it must be stopped...if only some day.

March 4, 2008 at 8:11 PM  
Anonymous Margaret Pevec, MA said...

Unkindness, yes. But mostly unconsciousness that leads to unkindness. There are so many factors that are behind someone's adultist behaviors. One of them is a lack of self-confidence that translates into lording it over younger people. It is common for those who have been oppressed (which is all of us since adultism is the earliest oppression)to turn around and oppress others. As soon as we're not children anymore (by whatever measure) there is a tendency to forget our own bad treatment by adults when we were young and to begin disrespecting young people ourselves. It takes a high level of self-awareness to change this behavior.

March 5, 2008 at 9:44 AM  
Blogger H4736 said...

Good points. Self-awareness is key.

March 5, 2008 at 10:03 AM  
Blogger H4736 said...

And I'm glad you're considering the multiple factors behind adultism

March 5, 2008 at 10:04 AM  

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