Youth Rights Theory

There are murmurs out there about the lack of Youth Rights theory* *. I want to address that directly. I believe there is a misconception about what theory actually is, what it does, and who makes it. Let me begin with an explanation of what Youth Rights theory needs to be:

Youth Rights theory should identify and analyze the nature of inequality by focusing on age politics and power relations between young people and adults. The rights, interests and issues of young people should drive the analysis. Themes explored in Youth Rights theory should center on the structural and cultural barriers to youth rights, particularly as they are expressed through adultism, discrimination, stereotypes, objectification, tokenism, oppression and patriarchy. Analyses of Youth Rights theory have been conducted in the areas of literary theory, film theory, history, philosophy economics and legal theory.

There is plenty of room for further development. The main areas of analysis could include families, education, society and culture, governance, law and legal issues, economics, bureaucracy, technology and language. Specific topics include within those areas include:

  • Youth rights in families Behavior modification, child abuse, corporal punishment, bullying, circumcision, gulag schools, forced druggin, institutionalization, parenting, parents’ rights, psychological abuse, spiritual/clerical abuse, youth as parents, forced communal eating, homeless youth rights, and violations of privacy.
  • Youth rights in education Structure of education, literacy (pdf), authority in schools, compulsory school attendance, meaningful student involvement, psychology of learning , homework, sex education, alternatives to traditional schools, democratic schooling, homeschooling , unschooling, student rights, drug testing, school reform, Internet censorship, student voice, student activism, and censorship.
  • Youth rights in society and culture Discrimination, self-expression, adultism, adultcentrism, adultocracy, gerontocracy, fear of youth, fear of children, youth empowerment, youth-led activism, civic engagement, youth/adult partnerships, intergenerational equity, GLBTQ youth rights, youth abortion rights, media literacy, and religion.
  • Youth rights in governance Age of candidacy , political youth activism, youth voice, youth activism, youth politics, the age of majority, voting age, and political party involvement.
  • Youth rights in law and legal issues Child abuse, youth courts, corporal punishment, gulag schools, parents’ rights, compulsory school attendance, sex education, student rights, drug testing, Internet censorship, discrimination, abortion rights, age of candidacy, banking laws, contracts and liability, labor laws, voting age, and the driving age.
  • Youth rights in economics Banking laws, contracts and liability, labor laws, age discrimination in business, and parental economic power over minors.

(I adapted this list from the Youth Rights Network, a wiki that I have contributed to and encourage others to contribute to through Freechild and SoundOut.)

Other areas that need to be examined in theory include the ways youth behave, the way adults behave towards youth, the actions of youth and adults, and the interactions of youth and adults. The perceptions and beliefs of youth and adults must also be theorized as they relate to youth rights, as well.

For several years the Youth Rights movement has been discussing its lack of theory. However, there is no such shortage of writing; it is only the synthesis that is missing. Alex Koroknay-Palicz, Executive Director of the National Youth Rights Association, has written a bit about the theory behind Youth Rights, along with Sven Bonnichsen, a long-time youth liberation advocate in Portland, Oregon, who is among the most prolific of the Internet theorists positing new considerations for the movement. Sociologist Mike Males of the University of California at Santa Cruz, author Grace Llewellyn, author Matt Hern, educator John Taylor Gatto, cultural theorist Henry Giroux, and psychologist Robert Epstein are each modern Youth Rights theorists whose contributions are vital. Late educators John Holt, Paulo Freire, and Myles Horton each advocated for Youth Rights, in context of their individual efforts to promote freedom and liberation. Early social movements like the Students for a Democratic Society and the American Youth Congress provided essential documents that still inform Youth Rights. * * * * Myself, for a long time I have maintained Youth Rights is a theory without a movement; I think differently now.

So the writing is out there, between the past, the experts and youth themselves. It only needs synthesized…

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

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