I believe the most significant road Youth Voice advocates can walk is the family way: the majority of any young person’s time, the depth of influence and the sustainability of instinct and behavior from the home setting cannot be matched anywhere else in society. If we can change the way parents treat children and youth, and transition the ways young people behave and believe, we can change the world. And the simple fact of the matter is that adultism informs the most basic of household decisions during holidays, from the ornaments on Christmas trees to the rules for playing the dreidel to the crafts made for Kwanzaa. Right now I want to consider that seat at the table.
Four Types of Tables
There is a quote from Malcolm X where, referring to the Civil Rights Movement, he says something to the effect of, “We don’t want just a seat at the counter – we want to own the counter.” I am a fan of this particular sentiment for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is the self-realization inherent in the idea: “we” could mean children and youth, and “the counter” could mean their lives. But I’m not calling for young people to take over the holiday dinner table. Instead, I’m asking that we reconsider and reconcieve of what form that place takes in our households.
Ultimately the question of where and how and who and why a households sit together for holidays have to be answered by each family for themselves. Culture, heritage, obligation and pride are powerful forces that each adult needs to recognize and acknowledge, as do young people. However, none of those should be used as a crutch to lean on when it comes to adultism. As other people have suggested, adultism may be a “base” form of oppression that is learned from our infanthood, internalized and perpetuated through the rest of our lives. Creating safe and supportive familial environments is elemental in challenging adultism, and any committed Youth Voice advocate may find these steps elemental to challenging adultism at the table:
Integrate young people one your collective terms. Everyone comes to the table to eat, celebrate, be observant or otherwise comingle. Young people should be taught the value of that from the youngest age, and encouraged to contribute to the tradition however they seat fit, as well as how adults see fit. If they suggest they make place settings like at school, or make a dish, or tell a few jokes, or simply participate in conversation about their favorite topics, then make it known to everyone at the table that is what and how and who your table is.
Identify why you want young people to have a seat at the dinner table. It can be enough to simply say, “Pull up a chair” and make a space for a young person at your table, if you have a small dinner and simple gathering. However, if you are seating for forty and looking at integrating every an adult among every third child then perhaps you should be more deliberate when introducing that integration to the rest of the family. Have a clear goal in mind, and before the meal starts share that reason with your dinner table. That way people cannot deride you for being tricky or dumb.
Sustain the seat. Don’t let integrated tables end at the holidays. Instead, work to make them a fixture at all large gatherings your family or community has every year. This can lead to powerful connections being made beyond holidays and throughout the rest of the lives of young people. In turn, this gets back to the necessity of having a seat at the dinner table: it reinforces the notion that young people are significant enough contributors to society to be acknowledged everyday.
These steps provide a start. Let’s go there, and please share your stories related to young people having a seat at the dinner table!