- Get Honest With Yourself. From childhood onward adults in our society are compelled to value their dominance, power and control over children and youth. Whether we’re conscious of it or not, adults in our society are being conditioned to one-up young people in countless ways, everyday.
- Change Your Mind. Stop thinking of children and youth as incapable. Catch yourself thinking about young people as lesser-than simply because of their age, and stop thinking of adults as able to do anything just because they are old enough.
- Broaden Your Perspective. Watch a movie that you like that doesn’t have adults as all the main characters, or a token youth in adult clothes, or where a youth doesn’t have to act weak. Imagine what TV shows or movies would be like if all the young people were treated as full humans instead of as lesser-than-human. Attend programs; take courses, watch films, and read articles and books by young people and about youth voice or involvement and exploring the roots of youth action. Educate yourself and others about how larger social forces affect the conflicts between young people and adults.
- Learn To Identify And Oppose Adultism. Don’t let comments or actions slide with your friends or co-workers when they make adultist comments or think of young people solely in terms of their age or how much “trouble” they will be. Examples are myriad. You can oppose adultism by naming it and making clear your expectation that it stop: “We are discriminating against young people and I expect us to stop.” Adultism in the workplace or school violates the basic human rights of children and youth, and it is our responsibility to bring it to the attention of supervisors at work, administration in schools, and politicians in the public sphere and parents at home.
- Let Young People Speak. Don’t interrupt young people when they speak – you may miss something important. Numerically, people under 21 comprise more than half of the human population. Yet our adultist culture teaches us to believe that young peoples’ voices shouldn’t be listened to as seriously adults’. Young people and adults all have contributions to make to the world; we must listen and learn from each other in order to do that.
- Its Not Either/Or. Don’t assume that youth activists hate adults, and try not to be defensive when a young person tries to open a conversation about “youth issues.” Issues concerning adultism are not something that can be relegated to a day or an article in a newspaper – they should be addressed everyday.
- Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is. “Youth issues” don’t belong to youth alone – they belong to everyone. Don’t fund adultism. Refuse to purchase any magazine, rent any video, subscribe to any website, or buy any music that portrays young people in a adultist, degrading or abusive manner. Protest adultism in the media. As an adult, boycott companies that discriminate against young people – there are a lot! Become aware of adultism in commercials and as a selling point. Seek youth-led businesses online or in your local community.
- Communicate About Age. We have a cultural myth that “good youth work/teaching/parenting is intuitive.” The reality is that any good relationships with young people are based on communication, and that is a learned practice. Stop assuming young people are less able just because of their age. Our culture pressures young people to think, behave and treat their peers, younger people and adults certain ways simply because of their identities as young people. Listen to children and youth and engage them in powerful communitcation.
- Stop Tokenism. Try to stop objectifying or tokenizing young people throughout our society. This is hard because it’s so ingrained – but being aware is the first step we can take.
- Speak By Listening. Know that language is powerful. Words that dehumanize young people are common. When we describe someone as an object meant to be acted upon, then discarded, it gets easier to treat her that way. Constantly refering to young people as kids or children, despite their age or capability, objectifies them. Use humane and respectful language, and challenge the people around you to do the same. Talk with young people you and learn what it feels like to be a young person in their shoes today. Find out how young people around you like to be supported. Ask what they would like you to do to challenge adultism. Really listen. Talk with adults and find out how adultism has impacted their lives. Find out how much adults lose by being seen as potential adversaries to young people. Find out what other adults have to say about how to change that reality. Find out how to support young people. Really listen.
- Take Action. Join or work with young people to start a group that is fighting to end adultism. Choose this group wisely, and support it as much as you can. Create a adult movement against adultism: start a dialogue group to examine cultural attitudes about young people, start an adults’ anti-adultism group, bring workshops and trainings into schools and workplaces throughout your community. Check in with your local youth center for resources and support.
- Explore Youth Studies. Explore how adultism-free societies have worked (pre-Victorian Europe).
- Recognize That Adultism Affects Everyone. Adultism is culture’s insistence that people have to follow certain “rules” about how they should act, based on their age. (Children are “supposed” be ignorant about politics and youth are “supposed” to act “rebellious.”) Adultism also tells us how both young people and adults should think and feel.
- Give Your Time. Volunteer for organizations working to adultism. Get further training on how to be an effective adult ally. Know that most youth centers and community organizations are funded exclusively through grants and donations. Support their work in whatever ways you can.
- Be An Ally. Don’t be afraid to call yourself ally of youth – but let them call you that first. We are all adultist (and sexist and racist and homophobic) even if we are oppressed. If you think your colleagues or friends will ridicule you for saying that you are a youth ally then maybe you should educate them next.
- Stop Your Discrimination. Don’t listen to adultist music or read adultist literature anymore – its just not okay. If you’re not sure if the words are adultist or think that maybe it is “just a joke” try imagining that all the references to age are references to race or gender, and see if the song would be racist or sexist, or try imagining the age roles reversed in the lyrics.
- Look In The Mirror. Realize that if you are an adult you have privilege in this society. All of your opinions are based on the life you have lived as an adult. Young people do not have the privileges we do. Approach adultism as an adult issue involving adults of all ages and socioeconomic, racial and ethnic backgrounds. View adults as empowered bystanders who can confront adultist peers. Have the courage to look inward. Question your own attitudes. Don’t be defensive when something you do or say ends up hurting a young person. Try hard to understand how your own attitudes and actions might inadvertently perpetuate adultism and work toward changing them.
- Acknowledge Your Role. Say you’re sorry when you realize that you’ve been acting adultist. Be sensitive to young people when they tell you that they is afraid or hurt or enraged because of all the adultism in the world. Don’t tell them that they are acting like victims or just “looking for it.” Young people know when they are the object of hate or ridicule because of their age – they aren’t stupid. Assume the best of young people.
- Speak out. You may or may not ever have noticed adultism in progress before, but now you will. There are many, many opportunities to challenge the attitudes and behaviors that are part of the larger adultist culture. When you see discrimination, intervene. When you hear jokes about adultism don’t laugh, and explain why it’s not funny. Write letters to magazines that promote images of young people as incapable or less-than-human objects. Support laws that protect young people from discrimination and help them successfully address adultism. If a co-worker, friend, classmate, or teammate is adultist don’t look the other way. If you feel comfortable doing so, try to talk to her about it. Or if you don’t know what to do, consult a friend, a parent, a professor, or a counselor. Silence = Complicity.
- Challenge and Interrupt Adultist Remarks and Jokes. Simply saying, “That’s adultist and I don’t think it’s funny,” or, “I think those words are really hurtful,” or not laughing when we’re “expected” to, are both effective confrontations. Daring to speak out takes courage and becomes easier with practice.
- Work Against All Forms of Oppression. Adultism, discrimination against women, sexism, racism, heterosexism, and homophobia – all forms of oppression are linked, and we cannot end one without challenging them all. Challenge yourself to grow every day, and know that every prejudice we hold injures others and limits our experience.
- Create A New Adulthood. Be brave enough to openly value equity between young people and adults. Use your strength and privilege in the service of justice. Live your potential without harming others. Celebrate the construction of a new adulthood that does not depend on the dehumanization of young people. Find others who share your vision. You are not alone.
- Teach Your Children Well. Mentor and teach children and youth about how adults can behave in ways that don’t involve discriminating against or degrading young people. Lead by example.
- Organize Or Join A Group Of Adults Fighting Adultism. Organize or join a group of adults dedicated to the above. One adult, alone, won’t end the adultism that permeates our society. But there is strength in numbers, and when we put our voices and energies together, we become a group truly able to make change.
A lot of people I’ve discussed adultism with are quick to dismiss it as the whining of privileged teens. However, there are many, many adults (including many regular commenters on this blog) who readily see this phenomenon in the schools, youth centers, homes, businesses and other spaces young people and adults occupy everyday.
We are concerned with the disengaging reality of adultism, and the fact that it drives away young people from the very spaces where we intend to bring them together with us. However, what can we do when we see and experience adultism in our work, in our communities or even in our homes?
17 Ways to Fight Adultism
This is what adults can do to fight adultism:
- Understand what Adultism is. Webster’s doesn’t define adultism. In my 2006 Washington Youth Voice Handbook I defined adultism as “a predisposition towards adults, which some see as biased against children, youth, and all young people who are not addressed or viewed as adults.” You can find this echoed on Wikipedia.
- Think before you speak. Words can hurt, whether you mean them to or not. When describing a person, think if mentioning their age is important to the story. Everyone has an age, not just children and youth. Don’t call someone “special” – it is often demeaning.
- Use considerate language. Do your refer to everyone under 30 as a kid? If you don’t know someone’s age don’t assume. Some people prefer teen or young adult, while others like youth. Some prefer young person, others like child. If you’re unsure which to use, ask.
- Don’t Assume. Do you assume that young people are more ignorant or incapable than adults? That all black youth like Hip-Hop or that Asian youth are good at math? Stereotypes hurt everyone – including young people. Examine what your prejudices are.
- Support Youth Space. Just like adults like time away from young people, where we can dance and be ourselves, youth need time away from adults where they can feel free to act like themselves, without fear of hearing an inadvertently adultist comment. If you’re an adult try and understand it’s not personal. If an event is advertised for “Youth Only” only attend if your age is younger than adults.
- Interrupt adultist jokes or assumptions. You can do so with out being rude. Don’t let your silence speak for you. Simply say, “I don’t find that funny,” or “I don’t appreciate jokes like that.”
- Donate time or money to youth organizations. Shannon Stewart’s spectacular All-Ages Movement Project tracks creative youth spaces that create safe spaces that challenge adultism everyday; Freechild has long been committed to doing the same for the larger youth movement.
- Join an activity to celebrate Global Youth Service Day. Join in a Youth Rights Sit-In or service activity to honor the work and wisdom of young people today.
- Make a friend. Get to know, as a real friend, a young person. Not a work colleague or a neighbor you share casual conversations with, but to push past your comfort zone and make friends enough so that you can ask and be asked those direct questions about age in an environment of trust.
- Learn about youth in history. The newsboys, Mother Jones, the American Youth Congress, Students for a Democratic Society and the 26th Amendment are all legacies of youth activism throughout American history. Do you know of others?
- Join or start an organization dealing with youth rights. Many groups are also fighting discrimination of any kind, including homophobia and sexism.
- Write a letter to the editor of a city paper. Encourage them to cover more events and stories about young people in your community or to give the paper praise if they have done a particularly good job.
- Reach out beyond your community. If you work with young people everyday think about joining forces with other human rights groups in your community around issues such as police brutality, profiling, job discrimination, unequal education or any other human rights issue.
- Volunteer With Nontraditional Youth Engagement Orgs. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans youth, homeless, young people who have dropped out of school, innercity youth and rural youth all need adult allies who step forward as allies. Find an organization in your town that works with these populations and spend some time giving back.
- Organize With Youth. Support young people as an ally as they plan a youth rally, conference, protest or other action with their peers, for their communities.
- Educate Yourself. Try to learn about a youth culture – there are many, all different from every other. If you’re an adult attend a concert, dance or film created by young people. Youth film festivals, concerts or community dialogues are powerful venues for fighting adultism.
- Grow Your Understanding. Read a website or a book about fighting adultism. Work with young people to understand connections between adultism, racism, sexism and homophobia. Free your mind, grow your thoughts and get some wisdom with youth as allies.
- Keep an open mind and you will learn something.
- Everyone is different. What I say here may not apply to every situation.
- Know that adultism is part of our culture – don’t be ashamed if you mess up. Everyone makes mistakes. That’s how we learn.
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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 in the comments.
15 Myths About Adultism
- 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!”
- 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!”
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Earlier today on the anti-adultism Facebook group I was asked, “is your goal to have children and young adults (which I believe you define as 13 to 19) treated exactly as we would treat adults?”
My answer is absolutely not.
I believe that all young people – all children and youth – are unique and powerful as young people, and because of all the different representations they carry, including their race, gender, socio-economic class, educational levels and everything. They have value because of their age and their voices and involvement of all kinds.
Acknowledging the ideas, perspectives, knowledge and experiences of young people is *not* equality – its equity. Equity calls for acknowledging the uniqueness and difference between people, and then creating the spaces, relationships and cultures needed to foster positive, meaningful relationships that embrace that uniqueness and difference and allows them to be utilized for the individual and collective good of those who participate.
Fighting adultism requires nothing less than each of us taking personal responsibility for the bias and discrimination we feel against young people and towards adults. Let me restate that: I believe that we favor adults at the expense of listening/engaging/empowering young people. I believe we have to create new relationships – partnerships and allyships – that re-envision the roles young people occupy throughout society.
So long story short, my own goal is not to have children and youth treated exactly as we would treat adults. Instead, its to engage young people and adults in working together to create new roles for young people throughout society.
That’s what I’m all about – I would love to hear what anyone else thinks!
The future of mass media in the United States is a bright and positive one. Now, I know that flies in the face of all the mainstream reports about the death of newspapers (long live the P-I) and the absence of popularity for television news. But folks, I’m here to say that there is a great hope mingling among us. This morning I was reading an article in last month’s Fast Company mag called “Will NPR Save the News? ” It easily extolled the virtues of NPR’s “digital smarts, nonprofit structure, and good old-fashioned shoe leather” and their hyper-successful podcast, blog, an open platform that allows listeners to mix their own podcasts, and an iPhone app. All this had led NPR to become the leading media outlet in the US, and they’re growing rapidly. Goody – because I’m a fan.
I’m sitting in Dulles Airport in DC after an awesome week. Now I’ve got my moleskin out, and I’m etching ideas down like I was carving in stone:
*Four books on this work: adultism, the future of youth and my own life’s story.
*Two children’s books: one on listening to your own voice and one on finding your place in changing the world.
*One motivational book about my Cycle of Engagement and how to use it personally and systematically.
*A new website that acts as a sophisticated wiki focused on youth power, coupled with a youth power library, coupled with an organizational and individual directory.
*A million dollar budget built almost exclusively on fee-for-service training with some foundation funding.
*A permanent training academy located in the DC area that will operate year-around and employ yth and adult educators from around world to train yng ppl and adults from around the world.
*An inexpensive, easy-to-buy and own youth-driven t-shirt company franchise with a franchise-in-a-box opportunity complete with some type of training that focuses on social messaging.
There are a dozen more in this moleskin, and now I’ve got to marinate on them. Let me know what you think!
I do not believe that a student of human reality may be ethically neutral. The
sole choice we face is one between loyalty to the humiliated and to beauty, and
indifference to both. It is like any other choice a moral being confronts:
between taking and refusing to take responsibility for one’s responsibility. –
Young people, working with adults as partners, have the ability and capacity to cure the world of all of its ills. Sickness, famine, poverty, war, environmental catastrophe and economic meltdown can all be answered by the energy, idealism, knowledge, power, and wisdom of children and youth. Nothing is over the heads, hearts or hands of young people today, and they demonstrate that everyday in the ways they are living their lives.
Youth Voice is the active, distinct, and concentrated ways young people represent themselves throughout society. It is this voice taken through the Cycle of Youth Engagement that answers the challenges of society every single day. So my question is whether Youth Voice is a right or a responsibility. In a time when every single issue feels glaring and the planet is apparently at a tipping point do the adult allies of young people have any alternative than to engage young people in working towards transforming this grand clustermess? By not engaging them are we being more than unresponsive– are we actually being irresponsible?
The following is reposted from my ally and friend Dana Bennis’s blog on Democratic Education. The student takeover of The New School in Manhattan is an important development that we all need to give our attention to. I will write an analysis soon.
Students at The New School are taking action as I write this (Thursday evening, December 18, 2008) to raise the profile of their objections to The New School President Bob Kerrey and other university leaders, and to call for greater student voice in decision-making. The students have taken residence in the school cafeteria and have quickly put together a website called New School in Exile,” a New School in Exile blog (which is being updated several times an hour), a Facebook group, and a document (PDF) outlining their position and what they are seeking. Students are apparently coming and joining from other institutions as well.I’m still trying to learn the background to this situation and what the issues are. I’ve generally thought highly of Bob Kerrey, the little I knew of him as a politician and President of The New School. And while I can’t say I support all the various wishes of the students without learning more, those advocating for democratic education can strongly identify with those that call for greater student voice and socially responsible actions, specifically:
- Students, faculty, and staff elect the president, EVP, and Provost.
- Students are part of the interim committee to hire a provost.
- Intelligible transparency and disclosure of the university budget and investments.
- The creation of a committee on socially responsible investments.
- Money towards the creation of an autonomous student space.
- Money towards scholarships and reducing tuition.
- Money for the library and student life generally.Rich Gibson of The Rouge Forum provides some interesting perspective in an email message sent out this evening as an “extra edition” to the regular Rouge Forum Update:Students at the New School in New York City seized their buildings and are holding out for the demands listed below.This direct action follows student uprisings in Greece and France in the last ten days and parallels the sit-down action by workers at Chicago’s Republic Works.The building seizure is precisely along the lines that the Rouge Forum urged for a decade and shows, once again, that student action can spark social resistance–and reasoned analysis– involving poor and working people who hold the power to bring real transformation.You can find links to coverage and videos of The New School in Exile group at their site and blog, and I’ll look to add updates here as they come.
Announcing a new resource for Youth Voice activists and practitioners around the world: The Freechild Project Youth Voice Toolkit! The Toolkit includes:
- Youth Voice Glossary
- Assumptions about Youth Voice
- Principles of Youth Voice
- Keys to Youth Voice
- Cycle of Youth Voice
- Guidelines for Youth Voice
- Honoring Youth Voice
- Youth-Adult Relationships Sprectrum
- Cycle of Youth Voice
- Discrimination Against Youth Voice
- Myths About Youth Voice
- Youth Voice Assessments
There is also an extensive collection of resources and other tools. Explore it at http://www.freechild.org/Y