Here’s an exploration of three types of adultism that are prevalent throughout society.

  • Justified Adultism: “Justified adultism” (aka “righteous adultism” or “pious adultism”) would be anytime adults think they are implicitly and inherently right in doing something for, to, or at children and youth because they are adults, and young people are, well, young. “Your kids will hate you but will thank you later” is a crass rationalization that attempts to justify adultism. Well-meaning liberals, well-meaning conservatives, and people of all ages employ justified adultism all the time to rationalize schools, parenting decisions, technology access, etc.
  • Powertrip Adultism: That’s as opposed to “powertrip adultism” (aka “high and mighty adultism” or “adultocracy”), which doesn’t bother to justify itself. Instead, power is simply, automatically and autocratically foisted onto the shoulders of people over 18/21/25 simply because they are recognized as adults. This is used to grant driving licenses, alcohol purchasing ability, and voting rights to adults, and exclude all young people from the same. Powertrip adultism is less apparent in general behaviors throughout society though, since the old lady scolding kids for riding bike through the road median flowerbed doesn’t really happen anymore. However, where it does exist it tends to be hyperbolic, ie sending teenage youth to adult jails for teenage crimes.
  • Hateful Adultism: I don’t believe most adults wakes up and wants to be evil towards young people. However, some people feel genuine antipathy towards people who are young; they actually feel hate, disgust, distrust and dislike towards youth. This hateful adultism is actualized in obvious and subversive ways, and is proven throughout our society. Sometimes its reflected in the development of adult-only physical, mental and emotional spaces; other times it shows in policies, rules, regulations and more. There are places where the activities and programs for youth show hateful adultism, too.

The line between these three might appear arbitrary – and might completely be that way – to young people themselves. Ask a youth!

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

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Published by Adam

For almost two decades, Adam F. C. Fletcher has led international outreach focused on engaging people successfully. Working with thousands of youth-serving nonprofits, K-12 schools, government agencies, international NGOs and other organizations around the world, his work spans the fields of education, public health, economic development and social services, and includes professional development, public speaking, publishing, social media and more. He founded the Freechild Institute for Youth Engagement, SoundOut and CommonAction, as well as writing more than 50 publications and 500 articles. He has also established 150-plus community empowerment projects.

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