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, May 5, 2008

Consider the Past

I think it's important to remember that teens, like adults, come in a wide range of competencies and that those competencies are influenced a great deal by the culture. I'm reading "The Greatest Generation" by Tom Brokaw, and realizing (again) the amazing competency of my parents' generation, many of whom went to war or stepped up to other enormous challenges as teenagers. The word "teenager" wasn't even in common usage until sometime after 1938; there were children and adults, and adulthood happened no later than 18 for most people.

I think if school was structured such that adolescents could spend most of their time doing meaningful, important community work; if they felt their opinions mattered to society and were included in all decisions; if they had the freedom and encouragement to find compelling work we would view teenagers in a completely different way.

A recent comment to a blog I read regularly said, "Adolescent bodies, social instincts, and emotions develop way faster than their ability to envision realistic consequences or incorporate abstractions (like value systems) into their decision-making processes." I know plenty of teenagers with a fine ability to envision realistic consequences. And most children have great value systems, if adults would care to inquire, and leave their superior attitude at the door.

My point is the adults control the culture and largely define what we will and will not allow adolescents to do and learn. You just have to think back to WWII to know that's true. Sexuality education is a good example. Arming young people with comprehensive information that includes not only the physiology but the psychology of sex and relationships with concrete strategies to deal with the complexities of relationship that we all, especially teenagers, encounter on a daily basis, would go a long way toward supporting them to adulthood.

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