A lot of organizations and programs tout their credibility with youth involvement, youth engagement, and youth organizing by highlighting all the wonderful things they position youth to lead. By doing this, these organizations are actually doing youth disservice. The many challenges include:
Positioning adults as beneficent rulers who allow youth to do things
Incapacitating young peoples’ innate responsibility for themselves and others
Negating the abilities of communities to work together for the common good
Instead of helping, these activities actually and often harm the people they intend to help.
We need to see things differently. In recent months, I’ve begun to envision a new way of being, knowing, and doing. This way is currently emerging between young people and adults, and it is happening throughout society. This way re-positions children, youth and adults from assuming power relationships dependent on subservience and authority, towards seeing each other in a more holistic light.
The old way of Youth Voice…
Relied on adults having power over youth
Positioned young people as “adults-in-the-making” not to be seen as whole people right now
Depended on youth being subservient and compliant to adults
Required systems of oppression that enforced adults’ power
Demanded youth be compliant with adult desires out of fear of violence
Necessitated systems of authority enforced by structures of abuse
Made programs that put “youth in charge” necessary in order to rebalance power inequalities between youth and adults
Routinely positioned youth against each other and against adults in order to ensure compliance and conformity
Saw children and youth progressing along a predictable, staircase development cycle towards adulthood
The emerging, new relationships between youth and adults look different. The new Youth Voice…
Sees young people as whole people no matter what their ages
Utilizes holistic youth development as the organizing framework for young peoples’ growth, education, and ongoing formation as humans
Treats all young peoples’ growth as non-linear, non-sequential and non-uniform, instead treating every child and youth as an evolving human
Allows equal room for adults and young people to have, express, and critique power and authority
Positions children, youth, and adults in equitable partnerships designed to foster engagement, belonging, and ownership
Grants adults and young people equitable, responsible space for learning, teaching, and leadership in all roles, all of the time
Replaces command-and-control authoritarianism by honoring the collective, democratic perspectives of all people, regardless of age
Acknowledges programs that put “youth in charge” to be ineffectual and unnecessary
Dismantles youth-against-youth and youth-against-adult power struggles through common action and mutual support
Paulo Freire wrote, “Education does not transform the world. Education changes people. People change the world,” and the same can be said of Youth Voice. Youth Voice does not transform the world. Youth Voice transform people. People change the world.
If we are going to change the world, we must change ourselves first. Changing ourselves comes from active, deliberate work. That’s what my proposition for new Youth Voice is – an attempt to engage each of us differently.
Through these active, distinguishable ways of being, knowing, and doing, young people are adults are working together to transform the world we share. Everyone can and should aspire to nothing less.
Many adults could engage youth effectively, but they can’t. Youth workers, teachers, parents, and others could because they see the problem, the cause, and directly observe youth disengagement when it happens. These same people can’t though, because they don’t think they can.
Youth workers often believe they don’t have the authority, because their supervisors didn’t tell them they could. Teachers don’t think they can because of Common Core State Standards or district regulations or school rules. Parents don’t think they can because their kid is different, their kid is out of control, or their kid just doesn’t listen. The thing is though, all of these people could engage youth effectively.
The biggest roadblock to youth engagement isn’t youth themselves, or oppressive systems of social control that keep them disengaged. YOUR THINKING IS THE BIGGEST BARRIER TO YOUTH ENGAGEMENT.
The model above shows that in order to address how we engage youth, we have to think about why we engage youth; what happens when youth engagement happens, and what difference the outcomes from youth engagement make on our thinking.
Your thoughts about youth inform your actions with youth, and your actions affect the results which inform your beliefs about youth, which in turn affect your thoughts about youth. This is called your Mindset. It directly affects youth disengagement and youth engagement, and there is only one person responsible for it: You.
You can change your mindset, and if you want to become a person who can successfully engage young people, that’s what you must do. Here are some stories of people who changed their mindset about youth:
Sue, a case manager for homeless youth in Rochester, New York, addressed her mindset about youth in a workshop I led in 2011. Soon afterwards, she began engaging her youth as partners in their cases. In the following two years, her case efficacy increased by 35%.
Tom found that his classroom was consistently unfocused and disconnected from the social studies topics he was teaching. In my workshop on meaningful student involvement, he learned several practical ways to re-envision the roles of students in schools. According to his account, his students were 100% more engaged afterwards.
I offer quick, powerful processes for identifying old belief structures, creating a mindset focused on youth engagement, and identifying what needs to be done to maintain engagement. My solid follow-up structure supports your team in constantly focusing on the right mindset and actions that produce the results you want.
Quotes about Ending Discrimination Against Young People:
“I’ve been re-reading this lately to help form a proposal essay for a class and it is the ONLY well-rounded and researched source I have found. Adam did a great job of making me see how youth discrimination is affecting our society negatively and provided plenty of ideas to get us on the right path of increased equality among adults/young adults/adolescents.” – Emily Richardson, Omaha, Nebraska
“I have been a youth worker for over 45 years and seen many changes, but it has not stopped my enthusiasm for learning, This book has challenged me to think in the way I work with young people, to understand the challenges and pressure on young people to succeed, with no time and space to be a human being & a young person. This book makes you reflect on your practice and experience of working with children and young people in reality. I would recommend the book for youth workers, teachers, social workers and anyone who works with children and young people, good reading for anyone training has a youth, school or community worker.” – Terry Mattinson, Preston, UK
“Fletcher provides an expert look at the revolutionary idea that youth endure, and are harmed by, pervasive age discrimination and supplies supportive advice on how young people and adults can work against it in their daily lives.” – Alex Koroknay-Palicz
That is the reason why sink heights in schools and parks are adultist. And adultism is the reason why sink heights have anything in common with the phrase “It’s better for kids to be seen and not heard.” And adultism is what sink heights and old adages have in common with curfews and compulsory schooling and so many other parts of our adult-biased society.
Is there anyone who doesn’t show bias towards adults? In my way of thinking these days, the answer is “Sure.” There are plenty of young people who aren’t biased towards adults. Some are though. As for adults, I’ve come to accept that we ALL are, even the best-intentioned among us. We have a disposition towards other adults, and that is what makes us adultist. I’m not interested in whether that’s “nature or nurture”, only in helping people acknowledge that it simply is what it is…
When we’re talking about relationships between adults and youth, I think we have to stop using terms like “oppression” so easily. That doesn’t mean it’s not real; but rather, it’s acknowledging the term isn’t accessible. It simply shuts people down. Oh goodness do I know how that term shuts people down.
In trying to popularize this conversation, I want an accessible language that people can discuss without it being loaded with insinuation and implications.
When we discuss adultism as meaning bias towards adults, then more adults can understand the nature of their own behavior. It can also help people understand that adultism is a simple fact, not a judgment against their very core moral fiber.
All adults are biased towards other adults. Does it have to be that way? Probably – nature is beastly in some ways. Can we acknowledge this bias and work for justice in this situation? Absolutely.
All Adults Are Adultist. If we just THINK about youth, we are being adultist. Without seeing our own adultism, we are being adultist. We stop challenging adultism when we don’t take action to address our OWN adultism. Learn more at http://freechild.org/
When adults are talking rude to young people, they show patronizing superiority. Many parents, youth workers, teachers, and others are not aware of how rude they are towards children and youth.
Most adults would be shocked if young people were as rude towards them as they are towards young people. When we’re confronted by a brave youth, we usually deny it (“that’s not what I meant”, or “you’re being too sensitive”).
However, even well-meaning adults can say things to youth with good intentions that come across as rude. Because of their past experiences, social conditioning, peer influence, and other reasons, most youth are really hesitant to share their real feelings with adults. Because of that, most parents, teachers, youth workers, and other adults who work with youth may never know how they talk towards youth.
Here are eight rude things adults often say to youth. Whenever you say them, its going to sound rude.
8 Rude Things Adults Say to Young People
The risk of writing a list like this is that there are almost always exceptions depending on the context. With young people, as with all people, it’s often not what is said, but how you say it–the tone of the message. A simple phase like, “What’s up” can come across as rude if truly someone feels that they are superior to the other person.
Whatever the case, just beware that if you’re working with young people, you probably sound rude today.
1. “I’m not a creative youth like Lavonia here is, so she should do that!”
I really doubt that Lavonia loves slogging through mundane details any more than you do, but she has to – as a youth council member or youth staff, it’s her job and not yours, so she does it. She takes pride in what she does too, and does it well. So don’t call her out in front of other adults and youth as a “detail” youth, as if that’s her job as a youth, and then congratulate yourself for being an adult who knows the “big picture”. A similar condensing bit of “praise” for youth is something like, “Hey, let me introduce you to Juan – he’s the one who really runs things around here, not me (snicker, wink).” No, he doesn’t really. You’re an adult, and you run things. Juan is just doing his job as a youth council member, stuff he’s supposed to do. Don’t pretend otherwise. It may not be a big deal to you, but it must be a big deal to the youth in your program or they would not have brought it up. Adults need to take the time to listen to youth and find out why they are concerned. Then, adults can take the opportunity to coach young people to help them find a solution.
2. “Don’t worry about it,” or “It’s no big deal.”
It may not be a big deal to you, but it must be a big deal to the youth in your program or they would not have brought it up. Adults need to take the time to listen to youth and find out why they are concerned. Then, adults can take the opportunity to coach young people to help them find a solution.
3. “It’s for your own good.”
That makes adults the only people who can decide what is good for young people? Children and youth should be expected to have a serious, meaningful role in determining their “own good”.
4. “Well, that sounds good in theory, but in the real world….”
So what world are you saying the young people your are talking to are from? You might want to take some time to hear young peoples’ “theory” out and check your assumptions at the door – the children and youth around you might be more real than you.
5. “We’ll look into that,” “I’ll think about that,” or “You’ll have to work that out on your own.”
Noncommittal answers dismiss youth and imply they aren’t worth the time, honesty, and effort of adults. Also, again, you’re missing a great opportunity to coach. Ultimately, that’s your job – to coach and guide the young people around you.
6. “I know you’re feeling ______ right now, but you really shouldn’t because…”
Never assume you know what young people are feeling or tell them how they should be feeling. Ask them how they feel, and acknowledge it by responding with empathy.
7. “You’ll understand when you’re older,” or “When I was your age…”
Well, maybe young people do understand you right now, and just don’t agree with you. Try finding out why and you might learn something. Taking this approach creates a line of separation between young people and adults and invalidates what children and youth are experiencing right now.
8. “Kid” or “Homie” or “Sweetie” or “Dude”
Many young people prefer to be called by their first names – but its always a good practice to ask individual people what they’d like to be called.
“I brought you into this world, and I can also take you out!”
”You’re so smart for fifteen!”
“When are you going to grow up?”
“Don’t touch that, you’ll break it!”
“As long as you are in my house, you’ll do it!”
“You’re being childish.”
“You’re so stupid (or clumsy, inconsiderate, etc.)!”
“Go to your room!”
“Don’t ever yell at your mother like that!” (yelling)
“She doesn’t understand anything.” (about a baby)
“You are too old for that!”
“You’re not old enough!”
“Oh, it’s only puppy love.”
“If you don’t stop crying I’ll give you something to cry about.”
“What do you know? You haven’t experienced anything!”
“It’s just a stage. You’ll outgrow it.”
“Go to your room!”
“Act your age.”
“Children should be seen and not heard.”
“What do you know, you’re just a kid!”
“Do as I say, not as I do.”
“You’ll understand it someday, just you wait.”
“It’s my house and you’ll follow my rules!”
“You’re just a kid,”
“These kids are a form of birth control!”
“You’re cruisin’ for a bruisin!’”
“Did you just do what I saw you do?”
“Because I said so.”
“Someday I hope you have a kid and she’s just like you.”
“Don’t get smart with me.”
“You’ll do it and you’ll like it.”
Ground Rules to Stop Rude Adult Talk
One way to set the stage for clear and comfortable communication between young people and adults is to set ground rules when working together. Here is an example of some commonly used ground rules:
Speak for yourself—No put-downs Take responsibility for your words, your action, and your learning
Expect unfinished business—Listen to others and to what you are saying, too
Have fun—You have the right to pass at any time in group discussions or activities
Create Space—Its important to create environments where young people and adults feel comfortable asking questions and being themselves.
Stop Hesitating—Make sure everyone knows they can stop conversation and ask questions at any point. Make it a norm to inject in the conversation when its appropriate.
Be Diverse—Celebrate the variety between youth and adults, and among youth, and among adults. AND try to always talk in ways that are understood by everyone in the group.
Body Language—Be aware of body language and facial expressions. If you are speaking, pay attention to how other people are reacting and ask questions, if you need to.
Be Comfortable—Use language you are comfortable with. Don’t use jargon or slang just to fit in. Just be sure you’re sensitive to others in the group, no matter what their age.
Questions to Ask Yourself—How about you? What does rude speech sound like to you? Do you speak in a way that everyone can understand what you’re saying – young people? adults? people who speak English as a second language? others? Are you aware of the views and perspectives of the young people and adults in the room? Do you talk with others respectfully? Do you listen carefully to what they have to say? If somebody is speaking with words or in a way that is confusing to me, what should I do? When is it okay to use slang or jargon?
Olympia, WA—Every parent, teacher, and youth worker knows they aren’t as effective as they could be, but often aren’t sure why. Using willpower to force children and youth to comply, even the most well-meaning adult uses curfews, takes away toys, and bribes with rewards.
There’s hope. ENDING DISCRIMINATION AGAINST YOUNG PEOPLE, by internationally-recognized youth expert Adam Fletcher ($19.95, Createspace Publishing), uses powerful analysis and introduces language related youth discrimination to show readers where, how, and why this problem affects them every single day.
ENDING DISCRIMINATION AGAINST YOUNG PEOPLE details how society routinely discriminates against young people by forcing adult will, implementing rigid age-based policies, and encouraging negative attitudes towards children and youth. Diving deeply throughout communities, Fletcher exposes cultural assumptions and details structural systems that keep young voices from being heard. He also shows how social injustices such as racism, classism, and sexism are related to discriminating against the young.
“We don’t like to hear it, but every adult discriminates against young people,” Fletcher explains. “Understanding and accepting that reality is the really the first step to creating a more just and equitable society for all people.”
Like many parents and youth workers, Fletcher wondered for a long time why more young people weren’t powerfully, purposefully engaged throughout their own lives. After a decade training youth, Fletcher began to piece together the massive, society-wide patterns of discrimination against young people. When he began finding language throughout psychology, sociology, and youth work describing different parts of this discrimination, he saw a blanket literally smothering children and youth in every corner.
“All young people face these issues, and few people are actually talking about them,” Fletcher explains. “When adults begin to speak frankly about their inabilities to connect with kids, and when children and youth can speak openly, we discover this isn’t just theory; it is actually happening everywhere, all the time.”
ENDING DISCRIMINATION AGAINST YOUNG PEOPLE is the only modern book designed to explore this reality in depth. What better way to become a better parent, more effective teacher, or more positive role model than addressing your own biases?
With this book, Fletcher hopes adults will, “develop new perspectives of young people to open positive, powerful futures for all people, instead of just a few, so that instead of times getting impossibly hopeless, they show that another world is always possible.”
Others are taking note of this book. Reviewing the book, Alex Koroknay-Palicz writes, “Fletcher provides an expert look at the revolutionary idea that youth endure, and are harmed by, pervasive age discrimination and supplies supportive advice on how young people and adults can work against it in their daily lives.” Koroknay-Palicz is the former executive director of the National Youth Rights Association.
To set up an interview or to request a review copy, contact Adam Fletcher at 360.489.9680 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
ENDING DISCRIMINATION AGAINST YOUNG PEOPLE by Adam Fletcher ISBN-13 978-1492183822
8 ½” x 5″
Available on Amazon.com or ask at your local bookstore.
What is the missing element in almost all youth empowerment work today? It is an awareness of discrimination against young people.
We don’t like to hear it, but EVERY adult discriminates. While an increasing amount of people are concerned about racism, sexism, classism, or homophobia, that’s not what I’m talking about here. Today, I want you to understand that every day adults discriminate against young people – including YOU and ME.
Discrimination has many definitions, and one of them is the capability to discern difference between two or more things. It is in this way that adults constantly discriminate against young people. That’s not necessarily wrong or bad, but it is true. Adults who don’t discern the difference between them and young people generally have developmental restraints that limit their ability to discriminate. Again, discriminating against young people and being in favor of adults isn’t always bad; it simply IS. Accepting that reality is the first step to creating a more just and equitable society benefiting all people.
When adults don’t have the ability to discern the difference between young people and themselves, or when they either accidentally or intentionally blur or erase those differences, something is out-of-whack with them. Similarly, when the differences are hyper-exaggerated something is out-of-whack, too. Unfortunately, those two things are routine in our society today.
Recognizing that reality is imperative for creating authentic youth empowerment. Otherwise, adults are simply giving lip service to young people and saying they’re equal, but acting in other ways. They are being disingenuous and inauthentic by going through the motions without any real meaning behind what they’re doing.
If you choose to see yourself or other adults as being devoid of discriminating against young people though your behavior, attitude, actions, and/or ideas, that is up to you. I choose to acknowledge that I’m discriminate against young people. Sometimes that that is a-okay, and sometimes its messed up. That’s me being honest, and this blog is meant I urge you to do the same.
So many adults say they want to empower youth. When they say this to me, I’ve learned to simply hear them, because its usually those adults who most want to be empowered. So, before you strive to empower a young person, I want you to consider that you might want to be empowered yourself. Right now, take a moment and think about what that means for you. That’s not a value judgment statement or a condemnation; its just an opportunity for you to think about it.
When I write the phrase “youth empowerment”, I’m talking about young people of all ages, including very young children and very old teenagers.
A long time ago, I wrote a definition of youth empowerment: “Youth empowerment is an attitudinal, structural, and cultural process whereby young people gain the ability, authority, and agency to make decisions and implement change in their own lives and the lives of other people, including youth and adults.”
However, if you work professionally with young people, I want you to understand that there is not one single definition of youth empowerment. There’s no single power that all adults can give all youth. Its not simply ability, authority, and agency, because there’s both more and less to it than that.
The simple fact is that all children and youth are endowed with an innate power that they alone possess, and they alone can own. There are no proper words to express what this power is or how it acts. Youth power is literally larger than words.
As adults, every single one of us needs to acknowledge that we can and frequently do oppress youth power. However, none of us can restore it. We can open doorways that help young people reclaim their power, and those doorways can become gateways to lifetimes of empowerment; but adults cannot reclaim youth power for young people.
I have come to understand that decision-making opportunities are doorways to youth empowerment. So are leadership, teaching, and other activities that position young people in places of genuine and appropriate authority over their own lives, and influence in the lives of other people. However, its also a place of authentic personal understanding: one part motivation to three parts ability, youth empowerment is a personal awareness of the intrinsic nature lying within all people to change the world and change themselves.
Because of the depth of this reality, “youth empowerment” is often misunderstood, misconstrued, and ill-implemented. Many adults simply put young people into positions of authority without ever attending to that authentic personal understanding that needs to be intact. Well-meaning parents give their kids the keys to the house without locking the liquor cabinet, while well-meaning youth workers form youth councils without facilitating training about leadership or self-awareness for youth participants.
Remembering that there’s no one single way that all adults can empower all young people, its also true that all youth empowerment is subjective. That means that what works in one community won’t work in the next, and what works with one teen in a family may not work with younger children in the same family. All young people have their own oppressions that need to be overcome, and if youth empowerment is meant to help overcome those oppressions, adults need to cater to their realities.
There are many, many ways that adults can oppress all young people; oppression is an objective fact. This is true of the youngest among us, as well as the oldest youth in our lives. All young people are discriminated against because of their age, and that is an unquestionable fact. Parenting, schooling, governing, and many more functions of society serve to oppress people whom they’re designed for; whether by intention or coincidence doesn’t matter.
If young people come to believe that their oppression is fair, or that their oppression is their own fault, then they won’t think of themselves as oppressed. Adults routinely work to convince young people that their oppression is the result of biological fact, social norms, or cultural customs, rather than the fault of individual adults whose actions and choices oppress children and youth.
Finally, if you’re concerned with action, here’s a last thought for now: The only way to really, really understand the relationship between youth empowerment and oppression is to observe it directly in your own life. Begin your looking directly from where you stand right now and observe how you oppress young people, children, youth, teens, kids, tots, infants, babies, any or all of them – because we all do. Adults oppress young people as parents, teachers, youth workers, neighbors, aunts and uncles, counselors, all these roles. When you’ve acknowledged that, dig further into your own life and look at your teenage years. Acknowledge how you were oppressed as a youth, then name your oppression as a child. Name each instance and type you can think of. This is hard work, but the first step to uncovering your role as the oppressor and the oppressed.
Another day, another article slamming young people for not being activists. This one comes from the Left, effectively making its author a fremeny to youth activists today. (He joins these hallowed ranks with Todd Gitlin, among others.)
This well-meaning, but poorly informed narrative generally leaves readers with the following points:
There isn’t any/enough youth activism today.
The world is hard.
Young people are held down by the world.
There are logical reasons why they’re held down.
Things will never be as good as they were in the past.
Youth today will never be as good as they were in the past.
Its that last point that sounds so familiar. Given the long shadow cast by false generational analysis over the last 20 years (thank you Strauss and Howe), its no wonder why the Left attacks young people in equal measure to the Right. People who are progressive or liberalmust must depart from this bad ideology and find consensus in post-modern analyses focused on socio-economic realities, instead of arbitrary age markers.
Realize this: Young people are working to change America like they never have before, using effective, sustainable ways that take time, energy, and commitment. Anti-democratic and uneffective roguish rock-throwing and police harassing only ever goes so far, and that’s why there’s very little left of the 60s and 70s youth movement. Today’s youth movement is a lot more sophisticated and is creating long-lasting change. Bad analyses, like the one cited at the beginning of this entry, mislead people into believing otherwise. However, there’s plenty going on right now.
The reason why we need to see what’s really going on is that it’s mostly young people of color and low-income youth who are deeply activating and making change happen. Mainstream media and mainstream academia isn’t going to promote what’s actually happening because they’re deeply invested in sustaining the status quo. Portraying youth in a true light, including their inspired organizing and powerful outcomes, challenges that status quo.
By comparing generations, conservative news sources and neoliberal academics effectively perpetuate disingenuous support of the past by lionizing those activists, while demonizing and demoralizing young people today. The vast majority of these authors don’t see the level of efficacy, depth of action, and breadth of engagement that’s going on out there.
Calling for the rallying of masses of young people, these authors are perpetuating a disillusion myth about the past. The masses of youth were never truly activists in any social movement, particularly in the 1960s and 70s. For every young person on the front lines holding picket signs and teach ins, how many others were mere moochers on the movement who joined in so-called “love-ins” and smoked pot in order to enjoy the escapism those activities offered? True adult supporters of youth activists shouldn’t be concerned with those masses of youth. Well-positioned upper class and middle class kids get all the coverage in the media and from many of the world-changing youth programs they want. They don’t need our interest or support, because they have very little authentic motivation to change anything. They do it for reasons that I don’t personally connect with, and that I don’t think are fair to the world we live in today.
Its the young people who don’t have any choice but to change the world, who will be swallowed up by the abyss of consumeristic self-interest, those are the ones I’m most interested in. Those are the ones the Left should really keep an eye on, because while they’re the ones most in need of social change right now, luckily, they are the fighters who are most deeply engaged in the struggle right now.
In order to see these youth activists, the Left has to stop framing young people and making their disengagement the issue. Doing this the Left perpetuating the horribly minimalistic and defeatist misconception that’s been popular in mainstream media and academia over the last 15+ years. The reality that’s been waiting to be seen is that young people are changing the world right now in positive, powerful ways. They could really use the support of the Left in all its myriad forms.
Here’s what’s really happening right now:
There is a lot of youth activism happening today.
The world is changing for the better, right now.
Young people are partially responsible for the positive, powerful change happening.
Youth activists today are not recognized for the hard won successes happening.
A new world is possible, and young people are ushering that world in.
Youth today stand in solidarity with the past, while ushering in the future.
They could use adult support. All youth can.
Let’s look at the whole picture instead of hen-pecking according to popular assumptions and projections. Let’s support young people, for real.