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, March 30, 2009

The Underbelly of Adultism

Though my topic is adultism, I have always written about the more subtle ways adults disrespect children, never about the dark underbelly of behaviors. I live in a mostly white, middle class world and have since I left farm country in NE Ohio when I was 18. Watching Slumdog Millionaire yesterday with my daughter, however, reminded me that the extremes of adultism include the many ways adults exploit children. In the movie, a man we hope is going to rescue the protagonist and his brother from their horrible existence picking through garbage to stay alive, turns out to use the children as beggars, and maims them to make their begging more effective. He also prostitutes the girls. This sort of exploitation goes on everywhere, but in our country, it is often hidden more carefully: think Catholic priests, pedophiles, an incestuous parent. Many of us cannot imagine being as brutal to another human being as was portrayed in this movie, let alone to children.

But, the children were amazingly smart and resilient, as children often are, especially when left to their own devices to figure things out. When their mother was brutally murdered by marauding Hindus, they got the heck out of Dodge as fast as they could, finding shelter, surviving the hoards. They stuck together, and eventually used their meager resources to hawk some wares. They stole shoes at the Taj Mahal and became entrepreneurs there, taking clever photos of tourists. In a world that treated them like expendables, they fought for their survival without the help, and despite of, the adults around them.

My point is just that: children are amazingly smart and resilient. We can learn from them. Slumdog offers extreme examples, but many exist, if we’ll shut up and pay attention. And we need to keep working to create safety and care for all the world's children.

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