Adults Fighting Adultism Part One

Whether we choose to see it or not, young people are routinely discriminated against throughout our society. Examples of this range from the hyper-personal to the vastly social: either its the parent barking at their kid, “You are to be seen and not heard!” or its the town law banning Saturday night cruising because of its intrusiveness on the lives of adults. This discrimination is called adultism. 

Let me say that we’re all adultist, and adultism affects everyone – no matter how old we are. The lingering effects go on… Confused? Feeling like you don’t understand how to execute or evade some of these maneuvers? Feel free to ask for help in the comments.

  • The Bootstrap Myth “There is no such thing as adultism… this is a free country, and kids can do whatever they want. If they work hard and prove themselves they can be leaders and really help our communities.”
  • The Backtrack “Hey, wait a second, that’s not what I meant… I mean… you took my words out of context, don’t make it try to sound like I’m adultist!”
  • The Remove the Right To Be Angry “You’re too sensitive… if they weren’t so aggressive, vocal, hostile, angry, or upset, adults would listen to youth and they wouldn’t get in trouble!”
  • The Utopian Eye-Gouger “I’m a youth ally myself… why can’t we all just ignore race, it’s not like it’s even real… it’s not like I tangibly benefit from being white every day or anything! Can’t we all just get along?”
  • Turning the Tables “You’re just discriminating against adults, you know. You’re discriminating against me right now, you hypocrite!”
  • The Good Adults (not like those obvious adultists!) “Whoa, that guy over there is SUCH an adultist, unlike me… I know exactly the right things to say and I’m never adultist. By which I mean overtly offensive about it. Hold on, I think I’m going to go spit on that adult. I hate him.”
  • The Bending Over Backwards (makes you look flexible, but accomplishes little else) “You kids are so right! I agree with everything you say. Because you’re right, of course… not just because I’m guilty and adultist and wrong!”
  • The Personal Justification “But a youth cut in front of me in line at the grocery store last night, said something stupid, mugged me, or took my hubcaps! So as far as I’m concerned, they proved all of my prejudices!”
  • The Loophole of Escape “I can’t possibly be an adultist… I’m part of the oppressed due to the fact that I’m a woman!” (or gay, poor, young, trans, etc.)
  • The Culture Appropriator “Damn, dude! I listen to emo and rock out at the shows, and you know I’m down with the homies. Did you see the last edition of that graphic novel?”
  • The Lean On You When I’m Not Strong “Teach me, help me. I’m just an adult, so I need your wisdom as a youth to show me how not to be adultist. Wait, is what I said earlier adultist? How about this shirt I’m wearing? Can you come with me to this meeting, so they know I’m not adultist?”
  • The Pause for Applause “Unlike all those other adults out there, I’m an anti-adultist.” “I do anti-adultist work and I try to educate other adults about adultism.” “Wait, did you hear me?”
  • The Smoke and Mirrors “I totally agree. Adultism is one system of oppression among many interlocking ones that specifically awards more privilege and power to all adults whether they like it or not and serves to keep the existing power structure in place. Oh… what? You want me to volunteer in a community organization, contribute money, do security for your protest march? Uh… yeah maybe next time, I’ve got to wash my hair tonight. And walk my dog, see the latest episode of Lost, manage my stock portfolio…”
  • The Penitent Paralysis (will not truly absolve you) “Oh my god… that is so awful. I’m so sorry. Sorry. I can’t imagine what it must be like… I’m sorry. That’s so awful. I feel so bad for you. Sorry.”
  • Whipping Out Your Best Friends Adult: “Hey, I’m not a adultist, OK? Some of my best friends are youth. See?” Youth: “Yeah, I’ve known her since I was a kid, and she’s never said anything adultist to me!”

…and one bonus one for all youth out there.

  • It Doesn’t Matter What Comes Out of My Mouth, Just Look at My Skin “What? I can’t possibly be adultist – I AM a youth. How can I be adultist against myself, huh? No, I haven’t heard of internalized adultism, and I still think youth involvement is reverse discrimination!”

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!
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I'm a writer, trainer, speaker, and consultant. My work focuses on helping schools, nonprofits, and government agencies become more effective at engaging people.

comments (2)

  • Reply

    June 1, 2009

    Interesting Adam,

    You left no room for the real advocates. In this blog there is nothing anyone can say to appease the critic.

    It is true in all of the civil rights wars that there are the people who have empathy but no education and there are the people
    who have education and hide behind it without empathy or understanding.

    Please write about how people can use ignorance and biggotry for educational opportunities.

    :0) Very Cool

  • Reply

    June 25, 2009

    Hi Adam,

    Happy to discover your post. I have one blog and one post on the subject:

    my blog: “Adult Children of Toxic Parents, Fight!”: http://fightforward.blogspot.com/

    my post: “Child Abuse: Not understood at all but affecting every human rights issue”: http://rhrealitycheck.org/reader-diaries/2009/04/17/child-abuse-happens-children-all-ages-adults-included

    See this same post at Daily Kos: http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2009/4/26/0718/52446?new=true

    Pams House Blend: http://www.pamshouseblend.com/diary/10630/child-abuse-not-understood-at-all-but-affecting-every-human-rights-issue

    When posted in three places, I get more comments and thus more good stories and thoughts on this issue, which is discussed very little.

    However, more recently I have debated with myself on the use of the word “abuse”, which I use in these posts in a way that is meant to expand on society/law’s definition. But I’m coming to think that maybe that word “abuse” ought to retain that standard definition. Not because the behaviors don’t qualify as abusive or toxic, but because I think it is very important to have specific, non-vague terms when describing this phenomenon. The creation of the word “toxic” (not my invention) was a good vocab expansion. But maybe we need more words to describe these unjust behaviors AND mindsets, especially when they are more subtle. I do hope that we can devise an ethical criterion that can prescribe the point where parents can stop being blamed. Logically, we can’t blame them for everything, and we do have to allow room for imperfection. But we have to draw lines. Like my Calculus teacher said to my class after a bad test: “it’s not the fact that youe making mistakes – it’s the character of the mistakes”

    Not all flaws are the same, not by a longshot. Shrugging the shoulders to say “nobody’s perfect” is another form of moral relativism.

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