Adults Letting Go and Taking Charge

Recently, I wrote an entry on this blog called “The Gradual Release of Authority” in response to a series of conversations I’ve been having across the country. This issue continually comes up with adults who are grappling with moving young people from being passive recipients of adult-driven programming, whether in schools, nonprofits, government agencies or other places, towards becoming active partners throughout the world they are part of. Well, apparently writing that article wasn’t enough for me, and I had to create a video, too.

So here’s my latest video called “Adults Letting Go and Taking Charge.” Hope you like it; let me know what you think in the comments section on YouTube.

Leelah’s Murder Is OUR Fault

Leelah Alcorn’s death was practically a murder. It shows how America’s legal system, which enshrines parental rights above children’s rights, has killed another young person.

More importantly though, we need to see that Leelah’s murder is our fault. We have not done enough, taught enough, said enough, or worked hard enough to stop this horror from happening. And it is a horror, and it was preventable.

Discrimination Against Youth

Leelah’s story shows us- yet again- the discrimination against youth that seems inherent in our society. The horribly preventable circumstance that led to Leelah’s death are unfortunately the norm for every single American youth today, regardless of how they identify. The fact that Leelah identified as trans exacerbated that reality for her. Follow me: Every single American youth today is targeted in the most malicious ways throughout society simply for being young. This is the case whether they are cis, straight or queer; wealthy, poor or working class; academically gifted, creatively driven or athletically poised. Youth are singularly denied their rights, oppressed for their identities, conscripted for their abilities, and completely downtrodden because of their because of their ages and our society. And its merely and entirely about their age.

Add distinguishing factors to their age such as race, gender identity, socio-economic class, and academic ability, and youth move from being “merely” enslaved to entirely oppressed. The enslaving factory of this adultocracy is so deeply entrenched that parents, teachers, youth workers and many many people who call themselves youth allies merely perpetuate it without ever knowing it. My book focuses on helping these individuals see beyond their own lenses and aspire to be something greater.

Personal Action

The most effective piece of this article focuses on you. Its what David Bond from The Trevor Project said at the end of the piece:

However, Bond told me, even just one supportive adult in a LGBT teen’s life decreases suicidal ideation. “Be consistent in that person’s life and check in in a genuine way – and don’t be afraid to ask if they’re thinking of killing themselves,” Bond advised would-be allies.

“There’s a misconception that if you ask the question you’re going to put the idea in someone’s head. But it’s more often a helpful question than a harmful one.”

Whatever the answer – and I believe more states banning so-called conversion therapy and easier legal and financial avenues for emancipation, especially for older teens, should be a big part of that – we need more action now.

“A year feels like forever when you’re young,” PFLAG’s Sanchez told me. It’s no longer good enough to remind LGBT kids that “it gets better”. We need to figure out more legal, safe alternatives for those who can’t wait that long.


Everyone of us can take action and do something about this, but we have to face the reality that everyone of us is responsible for Leelah’s death (and the unnoted deaths of so many other American youth) first, and then work from that place. THAT is the work to do, no matter who we are.

And none of that is meant to take away, minimize or otherwise continue the oppression of trans, cis, or anyone who identifies as “other” throughout society. Its meant to highlight the compounding factors that are attempting to decimate peoples’ senses of ability, possibility and hope. We can do better than mere survival, and Leelah’s story demonstrates another way that can happen. Each of us can take action.

Legal Action

America’s legal system must act to do several things:

  • Stop allowing abusive parents to kill youth;
  • Stop devious judges from profiteering off youth imprisonment;
  • Stop racist and classist educators from reinforcing the school-to-prison pipeline;
  • Stop social workers from placing youth in harms way;
  • Stop police from arbitrarily enforcing laws against youth;
  • Change laws to allow all youth everywhere to choose their living situations;
  • Develop a guaranteed income for all youth, everywhere;
  • Prevent youth oppression by acknowledging the full personhood of children and youth from birth.

When these things happen, horrific and preventable deaths like what happened to Leelah Alcorn will not happen again. But not before then. If you really want to change the situation, join the struggle to end discrimination against young people.

Thanks, Kate, for calling me to write about this.

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?

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!

Stop Attacking Youth!

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 liberal must 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.

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

A Culture of Age Discrimination


Age discrimination is everywhere. It’s our culture of age discrimination that ensures everyone discriminated against because of their age, and everyone will discriminate against someone because of their age at some point in their lives. Until we recognize this cause-and-effect relationship we all experience, we cannot truly fight any aspect of age discrimination.

Understanding Age
First, we have to recognize there is an age continuum that has been made up in our society. This continuum assumes abilities, knowledge, interest, and output for people according to their ages. 
On the continuum, there are four primary roles:
  • Child—Generally situated anywhere between the ages of birth and adulthood, in my analysis childhood focuses on birth to the age of youth. 
  • Youth—Between the ages of child and adult is a unique position called youth. Varying according to cultural tradition, youth can include ages 12 to 18, 12 to 21, 12 to 25, or even 12 to 34. 
  • Adult—Generally agreed on as a period of general social acceptance, adulthood is commonly seen as the period from age 18 through to being seen as a senior, or older person. 
  • Older—Also called seniors or geriatrics, older people are treated as a distinct population starting around age 65. They may demonstrate physical or mental signs of aging, or simply be treated differently because of their age. 

These four roles in society determine attitudes towards them, and in turn, treatments of them. They aren’t necessarily negative all the time; instead, the treatment variates according to environment, culture, socio-economic background, physical ability, and other identities.

However, in the vast majority of circumstances throughout our society, adults are treated most favorably. Adultcentrism is a dominant feature throughout communities, governments, homes and families, faith-based communities, and even schools.


Adultcentrism is based on adultism, which is bias towards adults. This bias is the central force in causing the three resultant phenomena of pediaphobia, which is the fear of children; ephebiphobia, which is fear of youth; and gerontophobia, which is fear of older people. While all of these are reliant on each other for their emphasis and power, each is rooted in the primary bias towards adults.

The Relationships Between Age Discriminations

Consistently favoring adults leads to these discriminations in a variety of ways. Namely, adultism is used internally by individuals to justify their fears of alternating age groups of which they don’t belong or don’t favor.

Adults may dislike children because they appear remote from behaving, acting, looking like, or becoming adults. This dislike is rationalized by developing a fear due to the perception of remoteness among children. This fear of children is pediaphobia.

Despite being an increasingly unique period of life distinct from childhood and adulthood, the period of youth or adolescence is seen as a transitory state that’s neither here nor there; it’s not child or adult. That lack of positioning in many adults’ eyes leads to distrust, which in turn is justified by fear. The fear of youth is ephebiphobia.

As adults seek to constantly secure and reinforce their positions as dominant authorities, they impose their will, perspectives, beliefs, ideas, cultures, structures, attitudes, and actions on all others who are not them. This enforces adultcentric perspectives, and reinforces adultism.

Aging beyond ready recognition as the mainline adult, older people or seniors become seen as less-than-adult. Justifying this perception with negative attitudes and actions, adults of a younger age enforce their perspectives over older people through adultism. They justify this with a conscious or unconscious fear of seniors, which is gerontophobia.

I have long contended that in order to address any of these, we must name them accordingly. Now I know that to name any of them, we must name all of them and see how they’re reliant on each other. How’d I do?

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

Ephebiphobia

Eating away at the heart of democracy today, the fear of youth is a force that’s destroying families, community, and society. Known as ephebiphobia, this phenomenon is a wide-spread cultural force that causes adults to scoot away from kids in restaurants, voters to wage campaigns against public schools, and seniors to move away from neighborhoods with teens living in them.

Since I discovered the term in an obscure academic journal more than a decade ago, I have been using The Freechild  Project to promote awareness of ephebiphobia. I have also authored an article on Wikipedia, and helped several students write their own work on the topic too. I have trained thousands of youth workers and educators across the US and Canada on the fear of youth, and challenged young people to combat it directly themselves. We’re making headway, but there’s a lot of room to grow. Learn more at freechild.org.

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

Adultism

Adultism is a primary assumption in western culture. Commonly defined as discrimination against youth, I believe adultism is also bias towards adults, and the addiction to adults. This reality is the basis for many laws, customs, and beliefs in our society, and slowly, steadily betrays both the adults and young people it affects most.

Adultism drives almost every aspect of a young person’s life, including the view of who young people are. It doesn’t just affect young people either; the effects of adultism last from the time a person is a baby until they die. Every time we interact with children or youth we are affected by adultism. They don’t have to be present, either, as adultism is reflected in our attitudes, opinions, and thoughts about childhood and adolescence.

The Freechild Project has been promoting awareness of adultism for more than a decade. Using the internet, training workshops, and publications, I have sought to teach, advocate, and activate a generation of young people and their adult allies to take action. It has worked, and today, more than ever before, the struggle against adultism and towards youth integration throughout society is underway. These are exciting times! Learn more about adultism at from this video or at freechild.org.

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!