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.