“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?