Adultism is a Tool

In an article for Suite101, D.C.-area consultant Khadijah Ali-Coleman proposes that “We can begin to stop adultism by listening and actually hearing. Stop belittling. Speak respectfully.” However, that’s just not enough.

Too often practitioners in the fields of youth development, community youth organizing and service learning rely on simplistic mantras to help themselves feel better about perpetuating the very injustices they claim to be addressing. However, this kind of gross oversimplification does no justice to the intricacies in the lives of young people face, or the complexities of oppression in American society. The first step in stopping adultism may be actually acknowledging that adultism isn’t the only force at work in the lives of youth. Adultism is an insidious and pervasive weapon in the toolbelt of oppression.

However, other forces, or tools, are at work, too. Racism affects young people in ways that transcend their age: As a force of oppression throughout society racism affects youth before their lives begin, after they are born, and throughout all of their years. Gender bias is another tool that pervades the lives of young people. Whether a person identifies as a male or a female, the forces and effects of gender discrimination supersede all behaviors in all components throughout all of life. Other weapons in the toolbelt include classism, homophobia, and misogyny.

Now, adultism is bad, and it is huge. The descriptions I use above can be applied equally to adultism, too. However, we cannot simply call out adultism as the sole force affecting the lives of young people. Let’s not ignore or deny the realities that affect youth throughout their lives by overemphasizing one above all others.

When youth workers, educators, counselors and parents learn to identify the range of oppressions affecting their lives and the lives of the young people they work with, we can begin an honest dialog about the causes, effects and outcomes of adultism. Until that point I have to ask: Are we just thinking in vain?

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to Learn more at!

Published by Adam F.C. Fletcher

I'm a speaker and writer who researches, writes and shares about youth, education, and history. Learn more about me at

2 thoughts on “Adultism is a Tool

  1. Thank you so much for citing an article I had written over a year ago for However, I encourage you to read it again and other articles I’ve written on the subject of youth development. As a certified facilitator of Advancing Youth Development theory and an educator, I have never advocated the use of mantras as quick-fixes to the very serious issue of adultism. Structural racism and other isms that run rampant in our society are definitely factors for consideration when we speak of resiliency and positive development and to infer that my article sends the message to disregard this is incorrect.I encourage you and your readers to read other articles I’ve written for and other publications on the subject of youth development to get a broader and more accurate picture of what my sentiments are on the subject. Khadijah


  2. It’s interesting that you should mention the host of oppressions that challenge all humans, adultism being the first and possibly most pervasive. I was just thinking this morning about my own experience of oppression; wondering again where my sense of personal power is hiding. As a young person in the 50’s and 60’s, no adult ever pointed out that I had any power; indeed, they all seemed hell-bent on making sure I understood I didn’t. I was never encouraged to aspire to a bigger life. No one ever pointed out my creativity or my intelligence; but parents and teachers were always quick to mention any and all of my shortcomings. Some part of these issues is adultism, but they are also a result of classism (I was raised working class) and sexism. My white skin saves me from racism.It takes hard, personal work to understand one’s internalized oppressions and how they impact one’s perception of the world. Not perpetuating the oppressions on others requires a high level of human functioning. We’re getting there…slowly.


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