Friday, October 4, 2013

Oppression of young people


First, what is adultism?
Adultism  “Refers to behaviors and attitudes based on the assumption that adults are better than young people, and entitled to act upon young people without their agreement.” Who experiences adultism?... uh... me and all other young people! Actually, I would even say that everyone experiences it at some point in their lives.

As young people, we don't often get to speak out against adultism, so I decided to break that trend and start talking.

Adultism is essentially disrespect of the young. Our society often considers young people to be less important, competent, and capable than adults. It does not take young people seriously and excludes them from important decisions that impacts their lives and their communities. 

This mistreatment is also systematically reinforced by a number of things including social standards, cultural behavior, and even federal laws.
Adultism is seen in a large variety of things and places including:
  •        Schools
  •        Laws
  •        Customs
  •        Attitudes
  •        Social Institutions 
If you want more specific examples of this there is a great site called the National Youth Rights Association that has a lot of good examples and resources.

Maybe you are still wondering to yourself what exactly adultism looks like. Ask yourself if you have you ever heard any of the following statements and think about what the impact of these statements might have on you or your friends.
“Wow, I can't believe you are only 16. You are so articulate."
"As long as you are living in my house you will follow my rules."
"You can't dress like that, you are only 14."
"You'll understand when you are older." 
"You don't know what you want. You're only 18."
"It is just a phase. You'll grow out of it."
"Because I said so." 

A lot of these statements communicate a sense of condescension or disrespect. Another way we might see this happening is when adults speak for young people or make decisions for young people without getting their input or permission. These acts can make young people feel frustrated, angry, sad, or powerless.

Adults are not always conscious that their words or actions impact us like this. As a young person, I know lots of adults who have actually used similar statements to try to give me a compliment, calm me down, or protect me. They didn't realize, just as I didn't realize, that their words often put me on edge or made me feel controlled or coddled. Just like with many other forms of oppression such as sexism, racism, or classism, adultism is often communicated in an unintentional and subtle way, which makes it difficult to call out. But just like any other ism, it is a real and harmful form of oppression. 

Don't get me wrong, I know young people need some structure, consequences and, possibly even advice, to be successful or to navigate all of those developmental stages and changes. I am not saying that a there should be no age limits or seniority in place. I don't know if I could handle a world were the dangers of driving were tripled because eight year olds could do it, or where
everyone had brain damage because people could consume alcohol since they were an infant. I recognize that some laws and systems are in place for a reason. I also appreciate that young people get to go to school and have the help of older people to learn how to be physically, mentally and/or emotionally ready and prepared. Without some form of adultsim, the world could be a really dysfunctional place.

However, adultism should not be a double-sided thing that used to both protect youth, while also discriminating against them. Young people may need support and guidance, but we also need to be respected and valued for the contributions that we can make. Often it is the younger people who come up with the more innovative and creative ideas. Teens today are more open-minded and can think outside of the box. Young people are very capable of being part of the decision making process. If you don't have young people at the decision making table, the decisions that are made about them or for them will fail. It is those who take the time to understand, support, and empower younger people through getting their input, letting them make their own decision, and valuing their contributions, who really make a difference in young people's lives.

Overall, I feel like young people need to have a voice and a choice! If you feel like your voice has been silenced and that adults in your life are not respecting you, sometimes it can help to vent or talk it out with someone your own age. We all deal with adultism on some level. Vent sessions can really help sometimes. Also, it can be helpful to find a youth run organization or space, where you can feel safe. 

If you want more resources around this or want to vent to another young person who gets it, you can always call Teen Link. We are a helpline run for youth run by youth. We are open every night from 6-10pm. You don't need to tell us your name or really anything other than what you want to. We are just hear to listen and give you a space to be heard. Our number is 1866-833-6546 and our website (where we also have chat) is

1 comment:

  1. I can understand keeping certain things like alcohol away from teens because it undisputedly causes very real and guaranteed damage, but there are tons of other minor things that people with adultism attempt to deprive teens of such as the choice to have public education. stuff like that only wastes away one of the best times in persons life where he or she could be doing or learning the things that they truly love.