More than ever, adults need to understand that the roles of young people need to change throughout society. The radical problems we face need radical solutions, and the only hope for actually conceiving and carrying out those radical possibilities comes in the form of the youngest among us: children and youth, for whom anything is possible at any moment.
Why haven’t we come further as a society? Why don’t we simply flip the switch from what was and what is to what can be? What holds us from seeing the potential and power of all young people right now?
Discrimination Against Youth
For over a decade I have been educating youth, parents, youth workers, teachers, and others about concepts like adultism, adultcentrism, and ephebiphobia. These different forms of discrimination against youth are surely what drives our current treatment of young people.
The belief that people who are seen as adults have distinct and intrinsic attributes that people who are not seen as adults don’t have is called adultism. It is the belief that adults are superior to young people because of their age and nothing more. Further, it is the prejudice and discrimination young people experience because of their age, as well as the addiction society has for all things adult. Adultism is a cultural phenomenon that enables adultcentrism.
Adultcentrism is the view that only adults have something to contribute to society. The outcome of adultcentrism is the routine and anti-democratic exclusion of children and youth from society. Most institutions in our society operate under the premise that young people do not have anything of value to contribute until they are adults. This includes schools, government agencies, elected bodies, and (even) youth-serving organizations. Adultcentrism encourages the “youth-as-deficit” model, even to the point of George Bernard Shaw’s idiom, “Youth is wasted on the young”, becoming the standard operating procedure across the board. Adultcentrism encourages ephebiphobia.
Crossing the street when you see a group of kids on the other side, or hanging a sign declaring, “No more than 2 teens allowed in the store at a time”, or banning cruising in your town are all expressions of ephebiphobia, which is the fear of youth. Ephebiphobia is encouraged by the mainstream media that hypes violence among teens; popular culture that elevates the difference of youth; and police and social services that benefit from exploiting the problems young people face. Many parents face their own fear of youth as their children grow into their teen years and seem far away from themselves; many kids perpetuate the fear unconsciously by enforcing the alienation that’s been thrust on them by segregationist adults.
All these forms of discrimination impact the very course of our society, and each should be addressed deliberately and with intention. Learn more about the language of youth discrimination at The Freechild Project website. You can get ongoing news and resources about adultism and contribute to the “I Fight Adultism” page on Facebook. If you are interested in training or technical assistance for your organization, contact me, Adam Fletcher, by calling 360-489-9680 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.