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, April 9, 2009

Infiltrating the status quo with adultism

A high school student from South Dakota is sneaking the topic of adultism into a creative writing assignment! I heartily recommend this method of infiltrating the status quo. He asked the following questions and I (briefly) answered them. I don't have a lot of time because I'm currently in Ohio helping my mom pack up to move to Colorado with me.

Is adultism a problem in today’s society and why or why not?

Adultism is the next step in consciousness raising, treating young people as valued and important members of society and welcoming their ideas and perspectives. I think many young people are underchallenged because we do not value their input. Our schools are outmoded institutions that still replicate a method of learning that was suitable for producing the factory workers of the 20th century. This has to change. Especially since the world is becoming so complex and we need all the creative ideas we can get.

Why do so many people not know about adultism?

Because it is so generally practiced, it is the air we breathe, the paradigm of our life, it has always been thus... Most adults think it their right to treat young people disrespectfully; to treat them differently than they would other adults. Also, adults control all research. What adult is going to cop to the idea that they oppress young people and find ways to do the research and publish the articles that will make it clear to others? I did it, but it was a drop in the bucket. But I hope others will follow my lead and make adultism a common theme in social science research.

Where is adultism most prominent?

It is ubiquitous, but of course, since home and schools are the primary points of adult/youth interaction, these are places where adultism is most prevalent. In the home it is a tricky situation to educate about adultism, because parents do have a responsibility to support and protect their children. It requires a highly conscious individual to make sure their parenting is responsive to the child's growing sense of self mastery, and to respect the child to make decisions for him/herself, and support those decisions. There is a growing movement of consciousness in this area, but of course, change is slow.

Are there any people who are unaffected by adultism?

It is the earliest oppression and perpetrated on all. Some parents and some schools have found ways to make children equal partners in life and again, I think this is a growing trend.

Who is most likely to be affected by adultism?

We all are. Children are not supported and respected to contribute to adult society. Adults miss out on the unique perspectives and understandings of youth. Our societies suffer from this lack. For example, young people are natural, "out of the box" thinkers. They are not so hampered by habitual ways of seeing the world. However, their sometimes fantastic ideas are often dismissed by adults.

Can anything be done to get rid of adultism?

The more people who know about it, the more they can teach about it, the more it will change. Having one word to describe youth oppression is a big step forward. Getting more and more people aware of this will also make change.

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