Why Does Adultism Exist?

adultismLately I’ve been thinking about why adultism exists. Unfortunately, there’s no easy reason. However, its easy to say that at the end of the day its all about power, and our relationship to power. However, there are deeply layers inside of that to examine.

Adultism exists because the cultural effects of discrimination against young people are long lasting. As I continue to learn more about adultism, I continue to discover more ways that we perpetuate adultism. As I explore in my book, discrimination against young people permeates almost all workplaces, homes, schools, and politics despite the most well-intended awareness-building campaigns, professional development, and anti-adultism projects. To say the least, unraveling hundreds of years of enshrined social norms is a slow process that will take more than a generation of work.

The reason for that is that the socialization of adults throughout Western society routinely encourages us to extinguish our memories of our own youth. So many people have traumatic experiences when they are young simply because they are young. Never dealing with those experiences, the bias, exclusion, disbelief, alienation, demonization, and otherwise feeling discriminated against in so many ways becomes normalized and feels rational.

In the absence of critical conscious awareness that allows them to deal with those feelings, all adults end up unconsciously perpetuating and propagating adultism.

In order to truly END discrimination against young people, we have to have a 3-prong program that addresses adultism in all of its forms:

  • Attitudinal Adultism: Personal feelings, assumptions, and beliefs that form a person’s attitudes about young people.
  • Cultural Adultism: The shared attitudes, including beliefs and customs, promoting the assumption that adults are superior to anyone who isn’t identified as an adult, simply because of their age. This is also called social adultism.
  • Structural Adultism: The normalization and legitimization of historical, cultural, institutional and interpersonal dynamics – that routinely advantage adults while producing cumulative and chronic adverse outcomes for young people. This is also referred to as institutional adultism.

When we address those systems of discrimination, we’ll begin to move all of our society forward. When we understand power and our relationship to power between youth and adults, only then can we end discrimination against young people once and for all.

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