“The Revolution will not be Adultist!” is the quote printed on the most recent popular Seattle Young People’s Project bowl-a-thon t-shirt. I find myself thinking about this quote often. Often when I wear the t-shirt, people read the quote and I see a confused look on their face or the look of faking understanding. I think underneath that confused look is the question, “What is Adultism?” In the Seattle progressive, liberal, even radical scene we talk a lot of good talk and even take some good action around issues of racism, sexism, and classism, but too often the discussion about how adultism intersects with these other oppressions is missing.
Today I ran across a Facebook status update by my friend, Adam Fletcher, on “re-defining adultism.” On his blog he defines “adultism” this way:
Adultism is the addiction to the attitudes, ideas, beliefs, and actions of adults. It is a major concept in the organization of society: Adultism prevails in every sector, including government, education, social services, and families. Its defeat is often seen as a bad thing, as adults are mostly capable only of seeing their own abilities as those that are truly needed to the function and well-being of our world.
The problem with adultism is that it ignores, silences, neglects, and punishes children and youth simply because they are not adults. Every young person experiences adultism from the day they are born until the day the world around them recognizes them as an adult.
I like how Adam frames adultism as an “addiction.” Addictions take active effort to overcome. The first step in overcoming addiction is awareness of the problem that we have, right? So I encourage you to ask the question: How are you and the groups that you are a part of ignoring, silencing, neglecting and even punishing children and youth? Have you written a grant “about and for” young people in your community without seeking youth input into that grant application? Do you have any youth involved in the decision making of your group? Have you found yourself saying recently, “Well they (a young person) just aren’t ready for that responsibility yet?” Have you been part of either creating or enforcing arbitrary age limits that young people can or cannot participate in an activity or program?
How can you and the groups you are involved in start sharing your adult power with young people? How can you engage young people in decision making? How can you as an adult (if you are one) start following the lead of young people instead of leading young people? How are you overcoming your addiction to the attitudes, ideas, beliefs, and actions of adults?
Mike Beebe says
This is Mike posting on his own blog:)- Seriously I would love to hear via comments what you are doing to promote youth leadership! This was not just a rhetorical question I posted in my blog.
I all ready heard from a family member who teaches young people who read this post and decided to hand over 100% of planning the content of the class over to her students! Let’s use this as an opportunity to exchange good ideas!
We at Penny Harvest (www.pennyharvest.org/seattle) are planning a youth summit and its being planned and led by 5th, 6th, and 7th graders while the adults provide the logistical support. Submit your comments filled with good ideas so we can all learn from each other!
Great post Mike,
I think a lot of adults unintentionally practice adultism. It requires a conscious effort to break this cycle and think about creative ways to engage with youth.
In January the King County Youth Development Network co-hosted the King County youth Worker’s Forum where youth spoke to us about advocating for youth on youth issues. Read more here: http://kcyouthdevelopment.net/blogs/from-youths-vocies.
I too am interested in hearing what other efforts youth workers are making to engage youth in the discussion and program development that affects them.
Mike Buchman says
Mike, very thoughful post. As someone who is raising a teen I often find myself face up against my “experience knows better” bias. Like any other -ism, it puts down the inherent and intrinsic worth of another person’s existence in favor of the well-known limits of one’s own perspective. Of course the danger comes in with the power dynamic. There are times when it is good that I have power over my kid. There are lots of times when it is not, not to her, not to me, not to the world. And like any other adult I need to work harder to recognize which is which and when to step out of the way.
Mike Beebe says
Thanks for sharing your experience as a parent Mike. I think that’s one of the most difficult situations to practice putting our ‘adultism’ in check. ..and easy for me to comment/critique/challenge as a non-parent. I appreciate your thoughtful reflection on it and I agree there is a time and place where our parent/adult power can be a good thing. Supporting youth leadership does not mean we as adults have to completely step out of the way rather we really engage in partnership with young people.