In Favor of Adultism?

Over at Wikipedia there’s a debate flaring over the article on adultism. Two trains of thought occur in this debate: one regarding the validity of the article and whether there are enough reliable sources in the article to make it a legitimate Wikipedia article; the second focused on the validity of adultism as a topic to be addressed on Wikipedia. Both arguments are worthy debate. However, I find a recurring pattern of discrimination present in the former argument: There are those who firmly believe that adultism should be presented with a neutral definition that does not portray an inherently negative basis. Note that this is different from the treatment racism or hetrosexism receives on Wikipedia, as both of those are presented in their biased forms.

In coming out in favor of a neutral definition of adultism editors will often expose their bias towards adults. As one editor redefined the term, “Adultism the the belief that adults should have inordinate power over children”, and “Adultism is the act of exerting inordinate control over children by adults”. I believe that these very definitions, by nature of their phrasing, demands the reader to accept this “inordinate control”.

I have defined adultism three ways in my writing:

  • “Adultism is favoring adults by dismissing young people.”
  • “Adultism is the addiction to the attitudes, ideas, beliefs, and actions of adults.”
  • “Adultism promotes the discrimination of children and youth, and bias towards adults.”

Reviving my knowledge of the current literature surrounding adultism, I searched across the research databases to find out how adultism has been defined recently. Following is a collection of definitions from throughout the neutral, scholary realm of academic journals and books.

  • “…negative construction of the meaning of youth is a form of oppression, referred to as either ageism or ‘adultism’.” – C.A. MacNeil, “Bridging generations: Applying “adult” leadership theories to youth leadership development”, in ”New Directions for Youth Development” (2006).
  • “Adultism… can be defined as the inherent belief that adults are ultimate experts on youth, their issues, dreams, anxieties, abilities, and health; adults are thus thrust into positions of ultimate decision-makers and arbiters of policies, programs, and services involving youth.” – M. Delgado and D. Zhao, ”Youth-led health promotion in urban communities: A community capacity-enhancement perspective”. Rowman & Littlefield (2008).
  • “…an antiyouth bias sometimes called ‘adultism’…” – D. Hosang., “Family and community as the cornerstone of civic engagement: Immigrant and youth organizing in the southwest” in ”National Civic Review” (2006). 
  • “If we define abuse as restricting, controlling, humiliating, or hurting another, it’s clear that abuse is a daily experience for young people. We have a new word for it: adultism.” C. Close,  “Fostering youth leadership: students train students and adults in conflict resolution” in ”Theory into Practice” (2007).

These definitions show a clear patterning of negative perspectives in the defining of adultism. However, given the apparently predominant perspective of at least one Wikipedia editor, Wikipedia will soon feature a supposedly neutral definition.

Reviewing the definitions I have previously used in the Wikipedia article, I found this an active trending towards exposing the discriminatory basis of adultism by authors from across the realms. However, many of the following sources are questionable to Wikipedia editors who find them to be from “advocacy organizations” or authors with dubious bases for their assertions about adultism. (I personally find that perspective discriminatory, as it alienates perspectives, but for the sake of process I’ll accept it.) Following are some of those definitions.

  • “[Adultism is] behaviors and attitudes based on the assumptions that adults are better than young people, and entitled to act upon young people without agreement.” J. Bell (1995) “Understanding Adultism” on the YouthBuild USA website.
  • “Oppression of Young People (from the day they are born), based on their age, by care givers (who are used as the oppression agents) and by the society and its institutions.” – Co-counseling.
  • “Adultism is an adult practice of forming certain beliefs about young people and practicing certain behaviors toward them because of societal views, usually negative, that are based on their age.” – Child Welfare League of America.
  • “Addressing adultist behavior by calling it ageism is discrimination against youth in itself.” – Youth On Board.

It is interesting to see how the tides of discrimination vary, washing back and forth over the bones of justice. We should take a close examination of our own biases before calling out others’, and afterwards revisit this conversation with a thorough acceptance of our own perspectives.

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 “In Favor of Adultism?

  1. Thanks for this post, Adam. What I experience is a tension between the notion that adults are responsible for taking care of children and the notion that children are on equal footing with adults. While I believe that all people – regardless of age – are equally valuable, I also believe that we play different roles, with different responsibilities, and bring different gifts and strengths to the table. When I honestly examine my personal biases, I see that I defer to those I consider to be “responsible”, regardless of age and that I tend to expect responsibility from adults much more than I expect it from children and youth. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of my own views and beliefs are considered ‘adultist’ in their own right. As always, thanks for the food for thought.


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