Two Types of Adultism

Let’s begin the year off by exploring two types of adultism that are prevalent throughout society.

  • Justified Adultism: “Justified adultism” (aka “righteous adultism” or “pious adultism”) would be anytime adults think they are implicitly and inherently right in doing something for, to, or at children and youth because they are adults, and young people are, well, young. “Your kids will hate you but will thank you later” is a crass rationalization that attempts to justify adultism. Well-meaning liberals, well-meaning conservatives, and people of all ages employ justified adultism all the time to rationalize schools, parenting decisions, technology access, etc.
  • Powertrip Adultism: That’s as opposed to “powertrip adultism” (aka “high and mighty adultism” or “adultocracy”), which doesn’t bother to justify itself. Instead, power is simply, automatically and autocratically foisted onto the shoulders of people over 18/21/25 simply because they are recognized as adults. This is used to grant driving licenses, alcohol purchasing ability, and voting rights to adults, and exclude all young people from the same. Powertrip adultism is less apparent in general behaviors throughout society though, since the old lady scolding kids for riding bike through the road median flowerbed doesn’t really happen anymore. However, where it does exist it tends to be hyperbolic, ie sending teenage youth to adult jails for teenage crimes.

 

The line between these two appears arbitrary – AND MIGHT BE COMPLETELY SO – to young people themselves. Ask a youth!

Thanks to Lisa Cooley for prompting me to write about these!

Bastardizing Youth Voice

When considering youth as allies to educators, adults may be tempted to act as translators for youth voice. Concerned that youth are not capable of speaking “adult-ese”, well-meaning program staff, nonprofit administrators, researchers, government staff, youth advocates and teachers reword the ideas of youth, interpret them, or otherwise differentiate between what youth actually said and what adults believe they meant. Adults do this because we do not believe that the raw data represented by youth voice has actual value in the space of government policymaking, program teaching, organizational leadership, or community improvement. We do that because we do not trust youth at face value; without extracting what we think youth are actually saying, without reframing it into concepts, ideas, or beliefs we share, we think youth voice is foreign, alien, or immature and juvenile.

 

The challenge here is not that youth do not have valuable things to add to the conversation, but that adults do not have the ability to solicit the perspectives, experiences, knowledge and wisdom of youth without filtering, analyzing, or otherwise destabilizing their expressions. We have to accept that responsibility and build our capacity to to do this important work. We have to stop bastardizing youth voice.

 

I do not use that word lightly. To bastardize youth voice, adults corrupt how youth share their voices, however it is expressed. Sometimes inadvertently, sometimes intentionally, adults debase youth by adding new elements, their own ideas, moving their own agendas and forcing their own beliefs through the actions, ideas, experiences, and wisdom of students. Bastardizing youth voice this way is not necessary, appropriate, or relevant to creating youth/adult partnerships.

 

All adults throughout the education system need to learn that all young people of all ages have the capacity and the ability to speak for themselves, albeit to different extents. Often this capacity may be undermined by the disbelief of otherwise good-hearted adults who honestly believe they know what youth think. Youth/adult partnerships creates appropriate platforms for youth experience, ideas and knowledge of the world without filtering those words through adult lenses. Youth can learn about the world they live in, the topics they should learn, the methods being tested on them, the roles of adults and students, and much more.

 

Questions to Ask

  • How do you interpret youth voice right now?
  • Does the idea of adults bastardizing youth voice offend you? Why or why not?
  • Where can you practice simply listening to youth voice today, without interpreting or bastardizing it?

 

We Love Sameness

As adults, we’re interesting creatures.

In schools, at work and through community programs, we spend a lot of time talking about creativity. We try to innovate, to respond, to grow and build and spread whenever, wherever and however possible. Many of us want our technology to be expansive, our governments to be progressive and our society to advance and progress.

However, I think we’re interesting creatures because when it comes to many things, adults are reductive and very conservative, no matter what our party politics are. We strive to maintain order in our families, at home and in our personal finances. We buy the same things whenever we go to the grocery store. We read the same websites, hang out with the same people and do the same things to entertain ourselves. Some people lean on their religious faith regularly, while others stand firm in humanistic convictions.

This is why we create and uphold common curriculum and standardized tests throughout schools, and why shopping mall stores for young people do so well.

We love sameness.

This is true in almost every activity we do with young people, either as parents, educators, social workers or concerned neighbors. We crave for familiarity with these children and youth, so we impose our values, perspectives, ideals and considerations onto them. Being young, many young people receive these products of adulthood willingly, ingesting them into their being more and more as they grow older and older. Contemporary conceptions of adolescence might just be the gradual infusion of adultism throughout our psyches.

Adults do this in other ways too, routinely calling for pants to be pulled up and music to be turned down. We design buildings and businesses for adult needs because we recognize those needs, can appreciate them and are willing to uplift them as the ideal. We don’t do this with young peoples’ values and ideals though, instead waiting until we deem young people ready to bestow them with the rights and responsibilities we believe should be accorded with age.

Adults love sameness. How about you?

We Are The Problem

EDAYPthumbIt can be challenging to see the practical implications of ending discrimination against young people. This morning I received a note from a reader asking for practical applications, ways that we can actually do this work. I think the reason its challenging to envision how to end adultism is because what I’m calling for initially is a shift in consciousness and awareness, rather than an immediate and direct change in action.

Challenging adultism requires raising the critical consciousness of the people who perpetuate adultism that they perpetuate adultism in the first place. That means that all adults, everywhere, almost all of the time should become aware of the fact that we perpetuate adultism.

As our critical consciousness is raised and we accept out roles in perpetuating adultism, we can begin to overcome adultism be strategically addressing our own actions and attitudes. Then we can address the culture we live in and share with everyone else. And the structures that we’ve created to impose and propel adultism can be addressed as well.

But that first step—conscientization—is what will allow anyone to take meaningful action to overcome adultism. Without accepting that we’re the problem, we’ll only continue to be the problem.

 

You can learn more in my book, Ending Discrimination Against Young People.

Adult Power

Adults have power. A left over vestige of some time gone by marked by limited mortality, adults are rewarded this power simply because we reach adulthood. In this post, I explore what that power is, how it happens and what it means. Special thanks to Lisa Cooley who has been pushing my brain on this lately.

There are distinct differences in the treatment of young people and adults. That treatment is handed out by every adult, all of the time, and is often re-affirmed by young people as part of their social conditioning. That treatment is meant to ensure the power of adults. The differences in how young people are treated are made worse if you, in addition to not being seen as adults, youth are not identified by adults as white, hetrosexual and middle class.

 

Getting On Adults’ Good Side

One of the distinct ways that young people manage to secure preferential treatment by adults is by acting LIKE adults; that is, by assuming gestures, vocabulary, clothes, attitudes, and postures seen by adults as being adult-like. In many circumstances, this is actually labelled “acceptable behavior.”

Acting too much like an adult is frowned upon though. Among some people who advocate for youth rights, there is a belief that any age-determined boundary is arbitrary and should not exist, including drinking, driving and voting rights. 

When I was doing research on the etymology of the word “adultism” back in 2007, the oldest usage I discovered was related to the behavior of young people. Adultism was explained as as, “A boy of 12 and a girl of 13 who had the spirit and personality of adults… They were placed in institutions because of stealing and prostitution. These forms of precocity lead the individual into difficulties and should be recognized early in the development of the individual.”

Young people lose favor with adults when they stop acting like adults or in ways that adults approve of.

 

Legal Boundaries & Social Consequences

Courts have determined that there is a boundary to cross for youth when they go from acting as adolescents to acting as adults; however, that line, also, is blurry, since courts across the country try young offenders as adults starting at the age of 10 and going up from there. In the US, the military will accept 16 year old recruits in some circumstances. Driving, voting and drinking are among other shifting age boundaries to adulthood when adults have determined it is not okay for someone younger to “act like an adult”.

Since adults determine how adults are expected to behave, they also enforce those expectations. Some enforcement is social; other punishment is economic; some is cultural; and other enforcement and punishment is legal. Anything that deviates from the acceptable behavior is in err, or malicious, or unacceptable, and there is always a punishment is doled out duly, legally or illegally, obvious or subtle.

The social consequences of deviating from adult expectations range from subtle discrimination to distinct alienation to overt ostracization. Youth can be shunned in a variety of ways, and excluded in a number of others. This includes taxation without representation, scientific stigmatization, and compulsory schooling that relies on age segregated environments. The over ostracization of youth leads to youth homelessness and overall street dependency.

 

Force & Coercion

How do adults ensure their power? There are no ends to the force we use, which is true for parenting and teaching and neighboring and governing and policing and counseling and selling and buying and any other activity adults do with young people. Force is another word for coercion, and to some extent every adult is coercive over young people, not matter how well-intended they are.

As parents, we dole out and withhold love, affection and attention according to how well our child adheres to our desires and expectations. This is forcefulness, under the guise of loving care. Even enlightened parents do this habitually, as if its hardwired into our intuition. We live in a society reliant on very subtle and very overt gestures of coercion. Schools are masters of this to some degree, as they use both mechanisms of subtle and overt control to force students into compliance.

The question isn’t whether or not we force anyone to learn anything, because we all do. Instead, there is a question of the degree to which we’re forcing the Other to do what we want them to. There is a question of the desired and actual outcomes of the force, or why we coerced them. All of this adds up to the rightness or wrongness of using force, rather than simply saying “You forced someone to do what you wanted them to.” We all do that; why and how is what counts.

 

What You Can Do

By not saying anything about this ingrained discrimination against young people, all adults actually condone the behavior of other adults. More so, we are complicit because we send unspoken messages, like that we think youth, too, should have the attitude of adults as well, and that those youth who don’t should expect to be treated accordingly.

These oppressive clarion calls are constantly given throughout our society. We make them through convenient lists of guidelines and rules posted on walls; dress codes and curfews; and many other overt exhibitions of preference. All of these tools are geared towards acceptability, conformity and the maintenance of adultocracy.

Ask yourself why we still award people for reaching age 18 by foisting tons of power on them over another segment of the population. Oh, and identifying the role of adultocracy throughout our society? I wrote a book about it called Ending Discrimination Against Young People, and you can order it here.

Youth-Adult Relationship Spectrum

Youth-Adult Relationship Spectrum

 

I have seen three primary ways adults relate to youth, no matter whether the relationship is parenting, teaching, or policing. The first way is over-permissiveness; the second is responsible; and over-restrictive. Before I explain these, its important to remind you that I’m an adult and these are my opinions; a young person and other adults surely will see things differently.

Over-permissive relationships between children, youth and adults allow young people to do whatever they want, whenever they want, wherever and however they want. Disregarding the longer term effects of how young people relate to adults, over-permissiveness can incapacitate young peoples’ ability to successfully relate to the broader society around them. By allowing too much freedom, these relationships give children and youth “just enough rope to hang themselves” by extinguishing their inherent away their sense of purpose and belonging throughout the larger society in which we all belong. Based in a well-meaning notion of equality between young people and adults, these relationships conveniently relieve adults of the burden of responsibility in parts or all throughout the lives of young people. They often happen to encourage freedom.

Over-restrictive relationships between young people and adults override the decision-making capabilities of children and youth and disable their inherent creativity in order to assure adults’ sense of authority, protection, and ultimately, ownership over young people. By discouraging young people from experiencing the freedom and ability they need in their natural learning process as well as throughout their social and familial worlds, these relationships can take away enthusiasm and unfettered joy, only to replace it with rigidity and structure. Over-restrictive relationships enforce inequality between children and youth, and occur by adults enforcing their power with heavy-handed education, tight schedules and severe rules, and harsh punishment. They often happen to encourage safety.

Responsible relationships between children, youth and adults are based on trust, mutual respect, communication, and meaningful interactions. Positioning each person as an evolving member of a broader society, they identify roles, opportunities and outcomes that benefit every person in uniquely appropriate ways while holding the greater good ahead of individualism. These relationships occur when adults consciously decide to foster equity throughout the lives of young people by intentionally acknowledging each others’ according abilities, fostering deliberate opportunities and continually embracing the evolving capacities of children and youth throughout their lives, starting when they are infants. Responsible relationships nurture appropriate attachment and encourage interdependence between young people and adults. They often happen to foster democratic sensibilities.

I have not met one adult who is constantly and consistently one of these ways with all young people all of the time. This isn’t meant to provide a puzzle for people to fit together the individual pieces, either. Instead, by showing a spectrum I meant to show that each of us can be any of these at many points throughout our lives.

Share your thoughts in the comments section!

Infantalizing Kids

A respondent today on a Facebook post asked me to explain this to them:

I ran into an 18 year old on campus who said that his parents pay fully for college, he lives at home with no bills. He asked me how crazy old his mom was because she asks for him to clean his room once a week in return for all the support they give him. How do you explain that, Adam.

I wrote back the following:

That form of dependence is a manipulation fostered by that person’s parents in order to ensure their child remains as childlike as possible. If you’re reporting that person’s response accurately, then they are reflecting the conditioning their parents perpetuated and that adults throughout their life failed to disrupt.

 

This phenomenon is called infantalization, and its is increasingly common throughout American middle class society. It is meant to incapacitate the ability of children to become self-sufficient adults by providing them with decreasing amounts of autonomy throughout their childhood and their experience of youth.

 

Parents have an obligation to raise their children with increasing amounts of independence, autonomy and empowerment. Young people should learn independent living skills from the time they are children and be encouraged to employ those skills throughout their home, school and community lives. Not doing that is the failure of parents. It negates the ability of youth to become responsible adults, and in the most dramatic circumstances, wholly incapacitates young adults from becoming successful adults.

 

Unfortunately, media portrays this outcome as “entitlement” and wholly foists the burden of dependence on the shoulders of young people. Dismissing the responsibility of parents for raising successful children robs mothers and fathers of their duties to society. Worse still, it actually encourages parents to shirk their responsibilities by taking away the blame.

 

What should be done instead is deliberate parent education that focuses on raising strong, resilient and independent children who can and will become strong, resilient and independent adults who value the interdependence of communities while thriving on their own senses of healthy self-worth and individual capacity to create the lives they want to live. That’s what we should strive for.

 

Do this explanation answer your question?

What do you think? Was that young person’s complaint a response to their circumstances, or it is better explained away as entitlement? I would love it if you responded on my blog and let me know what you think!

Why Does Adultism Exist?

adultismLately I’ve been thinking about why adultism exists. Unfortunately, there’s no easy reason. However, its easy to say that at the end of the day its all about power, and our relationship to power. However, there are deeply layers inside of that to examine.

Adultism exists because the cultural effects of discrimination against young people are long lasting. As I continue to learn more about adultism, I continue to discover more ways that we perpetuate adultism. As I explore in my book, discrimination against young people permeates almost all workplaces, homes, schools, and politics despite the most well-intended awareness-building campaigns, professional development, and anti-adultism projects. To say the least, unraveling hundreds of years of enshrined social norms is a slow process that will take more than a generation of work.

The reason for that is that the socialization of adults throughout Western society routinely encourages us to extinguish our memories of our own youth. So many people have traumatic experiences when they are young simply because they are young. Never dealing with those experiences, the bias, exclusion, disbelief, alienation, demonization, and otherwise feeling discriminated against in so many ways becomes normalized and feels rational.

In the absence of critical conscious awareness that allows them to deal with those feelings, all adults end up unconsciously perpetuating and propagating adultism.

In order to truly END discrimination against young people, we have to have a 3-prong program that addresses adultism in all of its forms:

  • Attitudinal Adultism: Personal feelings, assumptions, and beliefs that form a person’s attitudes about young people.
  • Cultural Adultism: The shared attitudes, including beliefs and customs, promoting the assumption that adults are superior to anyone who isn’t identified as an adult, simply because of their age. This is also called social adultism.
  • Structural Adultism: The normalization and legitimization of historical, cultural, institutional and interpersonal dynamics – that routinely advantage adults while producing cumulative and chronic adverse outcomes for young people. This is also referred to as institutional adultism.

When we address those systems of discrimination, we’ll begin to move all of our society forward. When we understand power and our relationship to power between youth and adults, only then can we end discrimination against young people once and for all.

Adults Abdicating Responsibility

A lot of people have shared with me their challenge with Meaningful Student Involvement. As a matter of fact, I have spent more than a decade hearing it. There are many different ways people perceive my proposal that all students everywhere can partner with all adults throughout every location in education all of the time. Today I want to address this argument:

“If adults abdicate their roles as leaders, then students may need to fix schools… but they should not be burdened with fixing the system.”

It frequently sounds as if adults support enforcing the historical rigid patriarchy of schools regarding the delivery and reception of education. As school achievement continues showing us, we cannot continue to propagate the kind of top-down learning that relies on adults as knowledge-keepers and students as empty vessels. Instead, we must transform with the times.

Students today are being raised in an era of increasing accountability and transparency. Between the Internet and changing social norms, young people are being raised to question authority, challenge ineptitude, and demand mutuality and respect. I believe schools can embrace these new norms by infusing them throughout the curriculum and culture of education. That is what Meaningful Student Involvement is intended to do by integrating students as partners throughout the education system.

Instead of “burdening” them with anything, thousands of examples from around the world show us that Meaningful Student Involvement builds the capacity of students in countless ways. Not the least of these ways is their ability to participate in the building, ownership, and critical reception of their learning.

Society needs a more empowering future, Isabel, not less. Meaningful Student Involvement is a way towards this future for all students, everywhere, all the time. Is there a more significant goal schools can have today?

Truth Changes: 7 Ways the Future Will Be Different for Youth Today


Its a strange thing having spent 25 years of my life working with, for, and among young people, especially when I’m just inching up on 40 years old myself. One of the things this career has afforded me is perspective: With the long view in mind, I can see things differently than others who’ve been in and out of the work in small increments. But at my age, I’m not an old man who cannot see things in just one way. Instead, I cross boundaries a lot, seeing myself and others in a constant state of flux, transition, and transformation.

One of the skills I’ve honed is learning to see the future—not in a psychic mumbo jumbo way, but in a practical, scientifically driven sense. Using the insight my experience and reflection affords me, I want to share with you seven ways the future will be different for youth today.

However, before I do that I want to establish why there is a new future coming. As many of us agree, the present is unacceptable. However, we haven’t named why. I think a large part of the problem is that adults are constantly lying to young people, either inadvertantly or intentionally. Let me identify five lies adults tell youth today.

5 Lies Adults Tell Youth Today

Lie #1: There are jobs available for youth. In 2010, youth unemployment in the US topped out at 19.6%. Last year, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that it had nudged down to 16.3%. When that’s compared to the historical average of 12.32% since 1955, with the low point at 7.80% in 1956, it shows that the job market still has a long ways to go to recover. The Federal Reserve has said that in the recession, adult workers took jobs youth had held for the previous decade at new rates.

Lie #2: Adults believe in youth. In large, youth today are being sent into a hostile, unwelcoming world. Adults generally neither see youth as assets, nor do they treat them as valuable citizens they could be. Once seen as The Future, young people are increasingly treated as interchangeable parts in a vast societal machine that disrespects everyone as humans, particularly young people. The reality of discrimination against young people is that the very same young people who are being prohibited from entering into stores in groups of 2 or more are being hired to staff those stores, while those store owners are taking their money. This happens in schools, at home, and throughout our communities.

Lie #3: Schools are changing to make youth better people. Politicians and parents want desperately to believe that all of the work being done to reform education today is being done to benefit students. However, at the end of the day large corporations are lining their pockets like never before. Privatized schools, standardized testing, teacher mastery programs, and many more arrows point in this direction, and none of it has to do anything with students’ hireability. Instead, school reform is largely motivated by profit and power, with thin veils of concern for students’ well-being in the future.

Lie #4: Youth just need to pull their jeans up and do what adults tell them to. I have heard many adults say, “If only a young person would come in here with a good haircut, their pants pulled up, and no tattoos showing, I’d give them a job in a minute!” The beneficent nature of this statement undermines the reality: Most adults don’t believe engaging young people will benefit them, so they don’t do it. If they do engage youth, its usually under such poor premise for such little return that it doesn’t justify the effort that youth to take to become engaged.

Lie #5: Things have always been this way, and they’ll always be this way. Lucky for the future, change is inevitable. While it can’t get here fast enough for many youth, the reality is that there’s a burgeoning movement that’s driving more young people than ever to become active agents of social change. Many people believe this is the answer to the lies youth have been told. More than ever, young people are building, devising, planning, scheming, strategizing, and mapping the future like never before. While the millennial generation was fast moving, youth today are even faster. The social transformation of today is being driven by The Masses, mobilized by ability and access like never before.

Hope for the future actually rests in the truth behind the fifth lie adults tell youth today. Creating their futures by working with truly supportive adults—including parents, educators, youth workers, and others—young people today are literally making the future they want to live in. Its not a utopia or some grandiose vision that all young people are working towards, and I’m not advocating that only youth create this future. However, I am suggesting that we all work together towards a realistic future that works for everyone.

Truth Changes: 7 Ways the Future Will Be Different for Youth Today

The ways that things are today are different from the ways they are going to be. Here are seven ways the future will be different.

  1. Engaging—The future will be engaging for anyone, anywhere they want to be engaged. This will happen at home, schools, throughout communities, in government, and the economy.
  2. Connecting—Tying together more intentionally both online and in-person, we’re going to experience a resurgence of The Commons in bold, bright new ways. These are the public spaces we all share, and more than ever, young people will be recognized as central to the health and well-being of The Commons.
  3. Empowering—Instead of isolated incidents benefiting a few people here and there, everyone will experience increasing amounts of ability and authority throughout the entirety of their lives. Starting when they’re infants, all people will become more educated, engaged, and empowered throughout their lives.
  4. Cooperating—Seeing the economic and social benefits of conscientious and mutual relationships with everyone around us, we will become more driven towards cooperative action benefiting everyone involved. The implicit and explicit ways we work together will be recognized more, and the value of all human interactions among every human will be seen with utmost importance, and everyone will learn how to cooperate more effectively.
  5. Processing—With constant emphasis on outcomes overwhelming more people more frequently, new stock will be given to processes with more services providing more people the pleasure of getting there, rather than just arriving.
  6. Diversifying—Entwined cultures will drive elevated social conditions affecting more people, effectively incentivizing integration anew.
  7. Liberating—Freed of the shackles of offices and bosses, more people will feel more capable of living easily, moving quickly, and collecting freely with others they’re genuinely interested in, rather than stuck with.

 

Our future is bound to become more embracing, more honest, and more hopeful than what young people face today. This is because children and youth right now will make the world they want to live in. We should do no less than fully empower them to make this future, if only because its our responsibility and not merely our privilege.

What are YOU doing to create the future, today?