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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Sunday, February 24, 2008

Sharing Our Stories With Young People

A new writer friend of mine, Tamara Palmer, has a terrific idea for a book called My First: A Collection of Real Life Stories From Real Life Women Who Were Once Your Age Too. She's designing it as a gift book for mom's to give to their 11-15 year old daughters, aunts to give to their nieces or gramas to give to their granddaughters. She envisions girls reading it together at slumber parties, and finding out that the things they're going through are normal and have been happening throughout the ages of women.

Tamara’s idea will stick to the safer topics like “first period,” “first bra,” “first kiss,” “first trip away from home,” but I love the concept. It’s empowering and anti-adultist when adults share their personal stories with younger people in a loving, human-to-human way, so the youth can extract the “takeaway message” on their own. The tone of personal story is so different than typical adult lectures, which often sound like the adult has done no wrong, has never succumbed to risky activities, and knows everything there is to know about living life the “right way.” It also builds a bond: “Here’s an adult I can trust because they understand what I’m going through from their own experience.”

In the research my co-author, Rhonda Richardson, conducted that led to our book, What Kids REALLY Want To Ask: Using Movies to Start Meaningful Conversations, she went right to 10-14 year olds to find out what topics were on their minds that they wished they could talk to their parents about. Her research posed the following to over 1200 middle schoolers: “If you could ask your mom or your dad one question and know you would get an honest answer, what question would you ask?” Many of their questions asked about a parent’s life experience when they were young. In the research done by the Search Institute on Developmental Assets with hundreds of thousands of young people in grades 6 through 12, only 1 in 4 said they have Asset #2: Positive Family Communication: “Kids turn to their parents for advice and support. They have frequent, in-depth conversations with each other on a variety of topics. Parents are approachable and available when kids want to talk.” I tuned out my mom when I was about 12, right when I needed her most, because I did not believe she had ever gone through what I was going through, and had nothing of value to communicate.

I’ve talked to parents who feel strongly that they shouldn’t share about their drug/alcohol use or their early sexual experiences with their teenagers, because it might come across as a license to repeat parental mistakes. I believe not sharing is adultist and a missed opportunity to demystify, normalize and illuminate a child’s path to adulthood.

Read more about Tamara’s project and find out how to share your own “firsts” by going to: and click on Call for Submissions.

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Anonymous Tamara Palmer said...

Thanks for supporting my book, Margaret!

March 8, 2008 at 2:50 PM  

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