Personally Challenging Adultism

What can YOU do to challenge adultism, right now? Here are five ways to start:

  1. Talk directly with all children and youth you meet. Listen to what they say, tell them what you think and feel, and focus on respect and trust-building every time you talk with them. Focus on the conversation and don’t be distracted. Respond accordingly when it’s appropriate.
  2. Integrate young people throughout your world. Actively involve children and youth throughout your life and throughout your community. In your home create active, meaningful and deliberate opportunities for your children. Throughout your neighborhood treat your young neighbors as you’d treat any adult neighbors- or better. At least don’t ignore them. At work lobby for and lead efforts to actively involve young people in decision-making, no matter what you do. Across your whole community advocate with young people to actively integrate children and youth in everything, everywhere, all the time.
  3. Change yourself then change the world. How do you behave in adultist ways? Do you talk down to young people? Making decisions with young people people requires having young people at the table – are they there? When was the last time you had a meaningful conversation with children and youth? Change yourself first. Change the world second. We shouldn’t expect others to do something we aren’t doing ourselves.
  4. Don’t humiliate young people. If you wouldn’t say it to an adult in front of adults, don’t say it to children and youth in front of children and youth. There’s an assumption that we should call out young people in front of their peers in order to “teach them a lesson.” While we may think we’re teaching them to behave, we’re actually teaching them that humiliating other people is okay. That’s not okay, and as responsible adults we should not humiliate young people. Ever.
  5. Teach young people that their community belongs to them. Our society is actually yearning for people to actually dig in their hands and do the work of social change in all kinds of areas. We have to teach young people that along with adults they’re directly responsible for the outcomes of their communities, both by role modeling and by taking action.
These are some early steps. What would you do next? Learn more at and search this blog for the topic “adultism”. 

CommonAction is available to train, speak, and share about this topic and many others. Contact me to talk about the possibilities by emailing or calling (360)489-9680.

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

One thought on “Personally Challenging Adultism

  1. I work with children and youth. Notice I did not say that I just work for them. When I meet a young person for the first time and begin to interact and work with them I begin to forge a relationship and connection with them. I start by earning their respect and trust. I listen to them and often show interest in them.I talk and listen directly to them. I focus on building trust. I often give them my full attention when they are talking to me and frequently I give them positive attention. I never talk down to them, put them down and humiliate them. It is so upsetting to me when I see so often young people being mistreated, disrespected, talked down to, humiliated, put down, verbally and emotionally abused, often criticized, treated as a token, and not taken seriously enough by a lot of adults, including parents and those who work with young people. It is something else when fellow adult co workers have become jealous of me and have become threatened by me because of my ability to connect with young people and have their respect and trust and behave in a different way than they do. It is also something when I address and give my attention to young people as you had stated that at times I will be given dirty or suspect looks by adults or parents because of the positive attention I give them more than they do. I also happen to be male so I am all ready looked upon with suspension. I also have received much better responses by parents and other adults as well. It is amazing to me how so many adults in my community have such negative attitudes to begin with including towards our young people. Where I live and work young people are often treated as tokens and often not valued as contributing members to our community and organizations.


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