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!

The Evolution of Society

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Children and youth have been treated as apolitical and passive throughout time.

They are viewed as immature, irrational, untamed, incapable, dependent, inexperienced, victims, compliant, under-developed, unacceptable, manipulable, unknowledgeable, compromised, uncultured, and unfinished for what seems like eons.

Treated as less-than-human, non-members of society, and as adults-in-the-making, children and youth have experienced generations of indifference and neglect simply because they were not perceived as adults.

This view of children and youth is not science; it is bias. It is bias towards adults, which is the definition of adultism.

Over the last 40 years, young people have boldly challenged this view. In the last 10, they have more loudly challenged it through activism and technology than ever before. THAT scares adults for many reasons, primary among which is that the historical order of society is continuing upheaval. That upheaval is quickening though, and as ethically responsive adult allies, it is our obligation to advocate and guide this change in every part of society.

Adultism has become more oppressive as a response to this evolution. More than ever before, the systems, cultures, and attitudes that treat children and youth without regard for their full humanity are becoming obvious. Parenting, friendships, schooling, social services, community groups, governments, faith communities, legal systems, economic systems, health care, nurseries, and playgrounds are among the institutions throughout our society that are being revealed for their biases towards adults.

At the core of the discrimination young people face are the historical roots of adultism:

  • Paternalism. Paternalism is when a child or youth is controlled with the claim that they’ll be better off or protected from harm. It’s ugly enforcer is patriarchy, which is protectionism on a grand level.
  • Segregation. Setting young people apart from other people because of their age is segregation. It’s ugly cousins include alienation, which happens when children or youth are segregated from a group or an activity they should be involved in; demonization, which happens when young people are portrayed as evil, deviant, or malicious; and criminalization, which makes children and youth illegal because of their age, like age-based curfews do.
  • Adultcentrism. The belief that adults are superior to young people is adultcentrism. It’s obvious outcome is adultocracy, which is the system of structural and cultural controls adults use to impose their authority, domination and supremacy over children and youth. The linear outcomes of adultcentrism and adultocracy are their ugly children, gerontocentrism and gerontocracy, which are focused on seniors.
  • Fear. The fear of children, which is pediaphobia, allows adults to segregate them; the fear of youth, which is ephebiphobia, gives adults permission to demonize and criminalize them. These responses to so-called deviance are dove-tailed with infantalism, which is the ascribing of behaviors that are perceived to be “child-ish” to children, youth, and adults.

All of this allows adults to maintain their power over young people in the most dramatic and simplistic ways. Without any voice in the matter, young people are routinely treated apathetically, pitifully, sympathetically, and charitably. This is despite the fact that all adults have been young. Our social programming disallows adults from remembering our younger years, which would lead us to empathizing with children and youth.

What may be needed is that farthest point on the spectrum of perceptions of young people, which is solidarity. More on that later.

I want to end this post by acknowledging that a massive evolution of young people is underway right now. Technology of all kinds is facilitating it, starting with the electronic transfer of communication, knowledge, ideas, and preparation for action. It is underway thanks to academia, where sociology and education have been on transformative bents for years in order to acknowledge authentic realities of young people, rather than their historically subjective judgments. It is underway in social settings too, including homes and neighborhoods and faith communities.

There’s an exciting future ahead, past these dark days. That’s because the evolution of childhood and youth is underway right now, and that’s because of you, right now. That’s why you just read this blog.

Becoming the Problem

For a long time it seemed to me that the problem was aging out: Every youth becomes an adult. At some point after that, adults become voters, workers, and taxpayers. It appeared that in that process most lost touch with their own experiences as children and youth. They develop indifference towards young people today, and even as they become parents, they get more adamant about their righteous discrimination against kids. Those who do take careers as youth workers, teachers, counselors, and in other kid-focused occupations often go even deeper, using their discrimination against children and youth to justify adultism and adultcentrism.

Well, time has afforded me different perspectives, or at least compassion for other adults. Alas, even from that view I can still see that in some ways, all adults are the problem- in much the same way that in some ways, given the right conditions and experiences all domestic animals could transmit rabies to adults.

I have recently been challenged by a few different adults for the perspectives I take on schools and the education system. These types of debates can exhaust me; however, I know they’re essential to keeping me in check, and I appreciate them.

My friends, colleagues, and acquaintances do this because I put myself out there. So I want to put this big fat disclaimer out there: I know that I might be the problem- in much the same way that all adults are.

That’s me simultaneously taking responsibility AND couching my culpability in the blanket of social ills. I need a paycheck, so sometimes I work for dubious issues; I want published, so sometimes I tone down my rhetoric.

However, there are places I won’t back down from. I’ll expand on those in my next post. In the meantime, it’s important to me to state that my own perspectives are informed by my own experiences as a young person and as an adult; as a learner, a student, a teacher, and as a friend to children and youth; and as a father, an uncle, a cousin, a son, and a brother. Every single person has unique experiences, and you don’t know what informs my thinking because of that.

Maybe instead of challenging we can simply accept; maybe instead of negating we can inquire. Let’s go together into the brave new days ahead of us.

— This is Adam Fletcher’s blog originally posted at http://www.YoungerWorld.org. For more see http://www.bicyclingfish.com

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

The Fierce Urgency of Now

“We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are
confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life
and history, there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still
the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked, and dejected with
a lost opportunity. The tide in the affairs of men does not remain at flood-it
ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is
adamant to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled
residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words, ‘Too late.’
There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance or our
neglect.” – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr in 1967.

Wars, a sunken economy, increasing homelessness, fewer educational dollars, sicker people and worse crime than seen in a generation are making our world a perilous place to live these days. Yet I want to suggest that there is a problem more pressing than any of those, and that problem is one that, like the others, is ultimately solvable. That problem is one of age segregation.

This is an age of engagement, when more than ever before young people have the opportunity to become engaged with themselves and their peers. Different from ever before they are growing up in peer networks and using forums for conversations that adults never before. They are exchanging stories and sharing insights and swapping advice and telling the truth in ways that previous generations never have – and never have been able to. Consequently adults are backing further and further away, letting children and youth to their own technological devices. And young people are showing this, friending in the 1000s, sharing music and clothing and culture online more than ever before. Simaltaneously, young people are still suffering the heinous indifference of adults towards the practical challenges they face right now: health care, education, afterschool programs, employment and recreation programs are the first getting cut in state Legislatures around the country. And the chasm built to enforce age-based segregation in our society grows, too, as more spaces are created to warehouse children and youth than ever before. This wholesale disconnection from adults comes as classroom sizes explode around the nation, as youth program staff are cut from already meager attempts, and as one organization is merged with another with the intention of cost-cutting, but the reality of lost outreach. When young people can’t find belonging in those places they seek it elsewhere, in the comfort of video games, basketball courts, girlfriends’ houses and the mall. Pity the community without those spaces, too, as youth will keep seeking to connect with their peers no matter what.

In my workshop here at the CDC DASH annual meeting yesterday I began on this new note, one that is starting to elaborate on a newfound pulse that is coursing through me. I am an adult who is consciously committed to not standing aside while the world passes me by, bemoaning what is wrong. This is a moral and ethical awareness that I have felt lingering in me for years, but couldn’t put words to until now. Dr. King’s words have never felt more honest, more relevant and more vibrant to me, as I am no longer afraid or even hesitant to see the utter power, the phenomenom and the courage of the new relationships that are changing our world. These relationships are founded in the awareness of adultism, the acknowledgment of rights, and the power of deliberative engagement.

Never again should a person be crammed into a cattle car classroom that is underfunded, overburdened and poorly staffed. Never again should a person be faced with the grim prospect of not finding work simply because they are young. Never again should a person not be allowed to shop with friends becuase they are young. Never again should a police officer incarcerate a youth for truancy. The kid unable to find a place to hang out, the young woman who can’t find a contraceptive after she looked, the boy forced to tag light poles because there is no safe space to express his art, the young person turned away at the voting station, the candidate whose campaign is instantly dismissed because she’s young, and all of this injustice is based on no discrimination more than AGE. And simply put, I will not accept anymore of it.

Today I call on YOU, my comrades in thought and action, to step forward. Let your stance be known, and do not hold back. If you work in this everyday, change your actions. If you write about this everyday, change your words. If you dream about this every night, change your visions. I can no longer settle for half-baked, half-driven, half-done youth involvement ideas. From here out I stand for nothing less than complete equity between young people and adults, and even more: We are dealing with today’s young people, for whom the future is not just a possibility – its a reality. Me and you, maybe not so much. We maybe well aware that our actions will affect another seven generations, but my daughter, the youth in your program, that student in your seat… these people are going to be alive in that future, and many more. We cannot continue to fail them.

I cannot.

Join me in moving forward and facing what that fierce urgency of now – the world can no longer wait.

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

New Norms or New Society?

Just returning from a retreat with 10 of today’s leaders in Democratic Education in the US, I am struck by how similar all of these conversations tend to be. Not only in terms of their overlapping concerns (e.g. social justice, youth engagement, meaningfulness) or methodologies (e.g. service learning, nonviolent communication, student/adult partnerships), but in terms of their limited scope: We all seem to have accepted that we can only tweak the system. I don’t know if its because of compounded challenges/failures, collective defeatism, or pragmattic realism, but honestly its starting to wear on me.

I feel like I am constantly expected to calm down my rhetoric, to relax my critical lenses simply because it makes others uncomfortable or makes me less desirable. This sort of slight is not new to me; instead, I have received these types of criticisms for years. The strongest relationships in my life are those where my allies, colleagues and friends have learned to listen to my perspective, however critical or “unacceptable” they may be for any given conversation. Today I am beginning to understand that my concerns aren’t just that we are failing at implementing any sustainable change or long term solutions to engaging young people; rather, I believe that we have to re-envision and recreate the relationships, cultures and structures we live in in order to fully realize the potential of human engagement, inclusive of children, youth, adults and seniors. We’ve got to rebuild this thing.

I’ll write more later.

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

Youth Voice at Home Pt II

On xmas day I posted about youth voice at home, and the notion that engaging young people has to extend throughout our communities, including the places where young people spend more time than anywhere else. My friend Jenn is a rock star goddess mother and writer and youth worker who has been doing this work for a month of Sundays. She replied to that post on Facebook, where I “re-broadcast” these blog entries. Here’s some of what she said, and my responses.

“My 3 1/2 yells that she wants to play hide and seek and I don’t want to. I’m doing this. And then I might want to read. What is the voice she is applying and what is the voice that I might be denying by not always engaging with her 24/7? Where do I draw the line between realizing her person and presence as an equal in this family and where do I learn to make my needs known and admired, too?”

There are many, many significant differences between youth voice at home and youth voice in community orgs and schools, and you just lit up the boards some of them. One is the notion of purpose: youth voice should be infused in community orgs to encourage engagement in the community, and youth voice should be infused in classrooms to encourage students engage in the curriculum. 

However, at home, youth voice should be acknowledged at home to reach both of those goals, and much, much more. Those other goals can’t be ignored, despite how much some would do that. Those other goals are determined by tradition, culture, religion, socio-economic class, education, heritage, and a lot more. They may include creating emotional ties, showing support, fostering love, enshrining respect, and encouraging kindness. Because of that difference parents have to take a different tact than youth workers or teachers. Our means must reflect our ends, and honestly I don’t believe young people can reach any of those goals by parents simply acquiescing to every whim of a 3 1/2 year-old. There’s an essential tension in many peoples’ understanding of youth voice, where we believe that engaging youth voice equates to giving young people free reign over a given situation. I think it is important to acknowledge that engaging youth voice means finding a common ground between different perspectives. Perhaps that is where you can engage your daughter’s voice (which I know you do already, but for the sake of saying it…): When your daughter makes her needs known to you, make your needs known to her by modeling appropriate tones of voice and ways of asking. Show the difference between simply giving in and teaching her how to wait for when its time to share space.

“I’m and adult and she’s a child. Our minds don’t think alike and they just won’t for years. Where will the youth voice portion of this confusion and frustration come in? …We have lived on the earth longer and can see some distances better somehow.”

I don’t think that engaging youth voice equates to eliminating the responsibilities of parenting. I don’t think we, as parents, are required to give up, give in, or otherwise refrain from fulfilling the obligations, duties and responsibilities we have as parents. However, I do think that as conscious, considerate and deliberate allies to young people in schools and communities, as well as in our homes, we have a moral and ethical obligation to challenge ourselves when our children are young, and as they grow older, to create spaces and opportunities for our children to share their voices, collaborate, connect and otherwise connect their voices to the livelihood and well-being to the other voices within their families, including parents and siblings.
As a young parent I believe I have a huge opportunity to examine and live this notion of engaging youth voice at home, and I hope I don’t let my daughter down in the process. She gives me hope for the future we are going to share together. How about you?
Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

A Seat at the Dinner Table?

For a long time there has been a group of Youth Voice advocates in the U.S., Canada and around the world who call for young people to have a proverbial “seat at the table.” This has meant a whole lot, from being on boards of directors and having leadership roles in nonprofits to being able to raise issues in town halls and sitting on the editorial boards for newspapers. Well, as the holiday season bares down for me and my family I’m thinking about seats for children and youth at the dinner table. That may seem kind of blasé or passé to the sophisticates who read this blog; I guess this entry isn’t for you.

Why the Dinner Table

I believe the most significant road Youth Voice advocates can walk is the family way: the majority of any young person’s time, the depth of influence and the sustainability of instinct and behavior from the home setting cannot be matched anywhere else in society. If we can change the way parents treat children and youth, and transition the ways young people behave and believe, we can change the world. And the simple fact of the matter is that adultism informs the most basic of household decisions during holidays, from the ornaments on Christmas trees to the rules for playing the dreidel to the crafts made for Kwanzaa. Right now I want to consider that seat at the table.
Let’s think about what that looks like: Its a holiday meal anytime of year where a family gathers to share food, tell stories and connect as blood in the same brood and from the same genetic pool (generally). Its an important time that religion, culture, and popular media reaffirms as important to our society. Routinely that mealtime includes immediate and extended family, close friends, neighbors, workmates, and others who are in our hearts or minds, who matter to us in some way.
Why is it, then, that we routinely segregate children from the “main” dinner table with a specially-designated “kids table”? Whether the breakfast nook in the kitchen, a card table in the living room or a picnic in the family room, the simple reality behind this routine differentiation can seem more than convenient to young people: instead is can be demeaning and alienating, serving as an indictment of age. There are disguises and tricks families can use to lessen the blow of being sentenced to the kids table; however, none of these eases the perception of young people who are aware of this differentiation. You might cite some of the litany of reasons: “some peace and some time to catch up without constant interruptions,” “adult talk,” manners or tradition.

Four Types of Tables

One part of my family lives in rural Alberta, where they all gather annually for Christmas dinner. My mom says one regular phenomenom there is the “kids choosing to sit wherever they want, and they all sit at one table.” This is self-segregation, which can be seen as an expression of strongly internalized oppression, or conversely a strong statement of self-empowerment.
My friend Danny told me that some of her most fond memories are from family dinners with kids’ tables, where good times were had. She’s not alone, as this writer says, “I loved the sense of connection it gave me with my cousins, some of whom I only saw a few times a year.” Built into that were lessons about appropriate age relations (read: pecking order?) and other forms of familial bonding. There is a sense of relief from having to “act your age” that is tangible at many kids tables, as well.
Maternal-ish figures sitting correctly and men waiting to watch football and kids getting their fingers smacked for smooshing the whipped jello are a reality in many homes, too. These age-inclusive tables may be experienced as oppressive, too, as the young people sitting there may be expected to be “seen and not heard” or to behave like “little adults.”
There are other tables where children and youth are treated with respect. I can remember plenty of times in my own house when my brother and I shoveled the mashed potatoes higher than the tallest guests’ head at holiday dinner, and my parents permitting our age appropriate behavior within reason. And the adults at our table, parents and their friends included, were generally cool. That’s what I’m aiming for in this post: appropriately age-inclusive behaviors in an age-inclusive environment.
And there are clearly anonomolies and other oddities. It seems there is a “cultural lag from the 1950s” childless adults and singles are forced to sit at kids table. There are also a lot of stories about precocious youth who “earn” their ways to adult tables by talking “like a grown-up” or otherwise behaving differently than their peers.
Challenging Adultism at the Table

There is a quote from Malcolm X where, referring to the Civil Rights Movement, he says something to the effect of, “We don’t want just a seat at the counter – we want to own the counter.” I am a fan of this particular sentiment for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is the self-realization inherent in the idea: “we” could mean children and youth, and “the counter” could mean their lives. But I’m not calling for young people to take over the holiday dinner table. Instead, I’m asking that we reconsider and reconcieve of what form that place takes in our households.

Ultimately the question of where and how and who and why a households sit together for holidays have to be answered by each family for themselves. Culture, heritage, obligation and pride are powerful forces that each adult needs to recognize and acknowledge, as do young people. However, none of those should be used as a crutch to lean on when it comes to adultism. As other people have suggested, adultism may be a “base” form of oppression that is learned from our infanthood, internalized and perpetuated through the rest of our lives. Creating safe and supportive familial environments is elemental in challenging adultism, and any committed Youth Voice advocate may find these steps elemental to challenging adultism at the table:

Integrate young people one your collective terms. Everyone comes to the table to eat, celebrate, be observant or otherwise comingle. Young people should be taught the value of that from the youngest age, and encouraged to contribute to the tradition however they seat fit, as well as how adults see fit. If they suggest they make place settings like at school, or make a dish, or tell a few jokes, or simply participate in conversation about their favorite topics, then make it known to everyone at the table that is what and how and who your table is.

Identify why you want young people to have a seat at the dinner table. It can be enough to simply say, “Pull up a chair” and make a space for a young person at your table, if you have a small dinner and simple gathering. However, if you are seating for forty and looking at integrating every an adult among every third child then perhaps you should be more deliberate when introducing that integration to the rest of the family. Have a clear goal in mind, and before the meal starts share that reason with your dinner table. That way people cannot deride you for being tricky or dumb.

Sustain the seat. Don’t let integrated tables end at the holidays. Instead, work to make them a fixture at all large gatherings your family or community has every year. This can lead to powerful connections being made beyond holidays and throughout the rest of the lives of young people. In turn, this gets back to the necessity of having a seat at the dinner table: it reinforces the notion that young people are significant enough contributors to society to be acknowledged everyday.

These steps provide a start. Let’s go there, and please share your stories related to young people having a seat at the dinner table!

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

Adultism in Parenting: The Terrible Twos

The so-called “Terrible Twos” are a myth.

A Drunken Postmaster

Supposedly coined by a drunken postmaster in the 1800s, the phrase has become ubiquitous among new parents everywhere I hear anyone talking about children. I have raised a child through them and participated in the upbringing of a number of nieces and nephews, and every adult in my circle agrees that the so-called “Terrible Twos” are simply not real. Now, there are many terrible days when you are raising small children, days that are filled with excrement and urine and vomit, and I am under now misunderstanding those days are terrible. So are the days when my daughter, who is four, demonstrates her strong will beyond anything acceptable by adults. But there is no such thing as the Terrible Twos.

Adultism Expressed

WHY do I bring that up here? I believe that the labeling of the Terrible Twos are the near beginning of the lifelong scheme each of us face throughout our childhood, into our youth, and as young adults. That scheme is adultism. Meant to describe any bias towards adults and against youth, adultism casts a wide net over the hypocrisy and alienating practices in schools today. I firmly believe that no child should agree with everything a parent tells them, and because of that we should expect resistance. That resistence is often labelled “terrible twos”; unfortunately, the only thing terrible about it is the discrimination inherent in the label.

Moving Forward

Let’s move past our own adultism and embrace the new roles of children in our society. Instead of seeing screaming and yelling as resistence, let’s hear them as voices. Not all voices are comfortable or easy, and not all voices are easily pacified or understood. However, all voices should be heard. Among two year olds we should hear them as a child’s indication that they have a want or a need to be interpreted by adults – that’s our jobs. From there we can move forward.

3 Steps

Here are three steps we can all follow to move past our own adultism:

  1. Acknowledge Your Adultism. All parents are biased towards adults. We go to adults for advice on childraising, we learn how to change diapers from adults and we have many things for our kids that were made by adults for children. All parents are biased towards adults.
  2. Confront Your Own Injustice. If adultism in your parenting seems unjust to you, confront yourself. Check your bad behavior or attitudes. Watch your language and see your biases. When you address your own adultism, you will be a more effective ally to your own children. Discover new ways of being with your own children.
  3. Check Others. Don’t allow adultism among parents to go unchecked. Instead, call out others’ bad behaviors, wrong attitudes, unfair language and discrimination against their own children. Help them learn new ways of being that aren’t adultist.

After you’ve taken those steps, you’ll be farther ahead than the vast majority of people in our society, especially parents. That’s a place to start.

My Review of “Childhood” by David Jenks

Childhood was written by David Jenks. This is my review for The Freechild Project.

 

In Childhood Jenks stabs at the heart of sociology’s obsession with mythology, this time in the form of childhood. By providing a concise, if inaccessible, analysis of why and how sociologists, psychologists, and educators conceive of children, Jenks encourages a critical examination of the assumptions behind many institutions.

This book provides necessary support for conversations about youth rights, civic engagement, and the roles of young people throughout society. It is a powerful tool for the determined popular reader, and an introductory primer for scholars.

 

Order Childhood