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, March 9, 2008

My True Confession

This is a true confession of an “adultist” moment I had Friday morning at the gym where I work out three mornings a week. A young woman with whom I sometimes share a swim lane saw me having an animated discussion with a man my age in the Jacuzzi. When I stopped to chat with her, she said she thought we might be an “item.” I explained that he was my brother, laughed, and made a remark about her being “young and foolish.” After giving it some thought I realized what I meant to say was that she was a “romantic,” but somehow my brain chose a remark that commented on her age, as if that had any relevance.

Another woman in her 30’s told me a similar story recently. On a listserv to which they both belong, an older woman had made a pointed comment to her with the intended message that she was “too young” to understand; and this based only on seeing the 30-something’s photograph on her website.

There is a common belief and assumption that age confers wisdom, but I know a lot of stupid adults and a lot of smart young people. And being the recipient of adultist attitudes and behaviors doesn’t end at the age of majority. Adultism is something we work at changing in ourselves, just like we have worked to change our unconscious racism and sexism. I’m still working on mine. How about you?

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Wednesday, March 5, 2008

How Adultism is Like Global Warming

I was listening to NPR today on the way to the bank. The program was about climate change and how there are many people who don’t want to admit that global warming is happening and that we humans are the cause. This reminded me of adultism. Adults just don’t want to admit that our behaviors and attitudes towards young people impact how they experience the world and how they behave as a result. And we’re always so surprised when a young person does something negative that is perfectly aligned with how they are treated in society. Mike Male’s book, The Scapegoat Generation: America’s War on Adolescents spells this out most clearly as I mentioned in an earlier blog. If a young person shoots someone it's because adults make the guns. If a young person is using pharmaceuticals, he or she probably found them in the medicine cabinet at home. If a young person gets pregnant or contracts an STD, it has a lot to do with adults refusing to allow them to have comprehensive sex education to learn how to take care of themselves. Young people don't create the problems, they just follow our lead. So, the next time you want to point a finger at a young person about their behavior, look first at your own.

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