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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Thursday, January 17, 2008

New Connections On Adultism

Well, so much for making my blog writing a regular part of every week! It’s not like I haven’t been busy thinking about adultism, however. And I’ve made some really important connections.

First, I encountered Adam Fletcher, who “observes, critiques and shares information about the role of young people in society and students in schools.” Actually, Adam encountered my blog and wrote a comment about a month ago. In a follow-up email, he said about his work empowering young people: “Additionally, I am the coordinator of The Freechild Project and SoundOut, both of which explore the roles of young people throughout society, particularly in relationship to adults. I have written more than 100 articles about youth on Wikipedia, including the entry on adultism. I have written a lot about adultism on my blog. My research on adultism has identified its earliest usage in research (1933), its earliest usage in our parlance (1978), and has helped grow the increasing popularity of the term today.” I can’t tell you how exciting it is to connect with Adam and read his blog entries on adultism and youth empowerment! And to know he’s done so much work in this area.

Another name that’s crossed my path recently is David Kaplan, past president of the International Association of Marriage and Family Counselors. While doing internet research, a writing colleague, Andrea Meyer ( came across his name and this quote from an interview in from 1999 in which Kaplan is explaining how he works with families on conflict resolution:

Interviewer: Do you find this process especially challenging when parents feel they have seniority and, therefore, should not have to compromise?

Kaplan: Sure, that can certainly happen. Some people say, "I'm the parent; I should get my way simply because I'm the parent." At that point, we have a discussion of mutual respect. In my experience, the biggest single problem that causes youths today to act out is a lack of respect for adolescents and children by their elders, parents, and schools.

It's understandable in many cases, but most teachers do not feel a need to respect their students as much as they themselves want to be respected by their students. So the students in turn say, "Why should I respect this teacher when they don't respect me?" One way that we can show respect in the family is to value all people's needs, and to realize that children's needs count too. I tell parents one of the ways they can show respect for their children is to compromise. I also tell them not to give up so much that they feel they are not being a good parent or are compromising their parenting. I ask them, "What are you willing to give up that would still maintain the integrity of your parenting?" Once kids begin to see that, "Gee, Mom and Dad are willing to give up something," then the kids start to show some flexibility, too.


Finally, a young person made a submission on my website page about adultism, letting me know that she considered my article for young people adultist. She felt that I was talking down to young people and that my article intended for adults was more respecting of everyone’s intelligence. I had gotten that comment previously from someone and agreed. I’ve finally rewritten the article for a general audience and it will be up again soon on my website. I urge anyone who’s interested in youth oppression to submit a story of 500 words or less on my website as a contribution to my hoped-for book on adultism.

I am recommitting myself (again) to more blog entries for 2008!

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