Are YOU Making Adultism Okay?

In nonprofits today, there is attention paid towards racial, gender, and other forms of discrimination. However, little is made of a very real form of discrimination that is undermining a lot of well-meaning social justice activists’ work today: adultism.

In my new book, Ending Discrimination Against Young People, I define adultism in three ways:

  • Bias towards adults;
  • Discrimination against children and youth;
  • The addiction to adults expressed throughout our culture, society, and personal ways of being.

Adultism occurs throughout education, including K-12 schools, government agencies and policy-making, and many other places that intersect with education – even democratic education!

Despite our best intentions, many adults and students try to make discrimination against young people okay in all kinds of ways. Following are some of them.

15 Ways Adults Try to Make Adultism Okay

  1. Denying discrimination against children and youth. Adults might say: “This is a free country, and kids can do whatever they want if they put their minds to it,” or “Hey, wait a second, that’s not what I meant… I mean… you took my words out of context, don’t make it try to sound like I’m adultist!” They may also claim that young people being able to talk about adultism makes the adults non-adultist.
  2. Telling young people they are too sensitive. Adults might say, ”You’re too sensitive,” or, “If youth weren’t so aggressive, vocal, hostile, angry, or upset, adults would listen to youth and they wouldn’t get in trouble!”
  3. Speaking for children and youth. Adults might say, “I’m a youth ally myself, so why can’t we all just ignore age, it’s not like it’s even real. It is not as if I tangibly benefit from being an adult every day or anything! Can’t we all just get along?”
  4. Turning the tables. Adults might say, “You are just discriminating against adults, you know. You’re discriminating against me right now, you hypocrite!”
  5. Denying reality. Adults might say, ”Whoa, that guy over there is SUCH an adultist, unlike me… I know exactly the right things to say and I’m never adultist. By which I mean overtly offensive about it. Hold on, I think I’m going to go spit on that adult. I hate him.”
  6. Bending over backwards. Adults might say, ”You kids are so right! I agree with everything you say, because you’re right, of course
  7. Reinforcing adultism with personal reasons. Adults might say, ”But a youth cut in front of me in line at the grocery store last night, said something stupid, mugged me, or took my hubcaps! So as far as I’m concerned, they proved all of my prejudices!”
  8. Taking on adultism. Adults might say, ”I can’t possibly be an adultist… I’m part of the oppressed due to the fact that I’m a woman! (or gay, poor, young, transsexual, etc.)”.
  9. Trying to be a youth. Adults might say, “Dang, dude! I listen to emo and rock out at the shows, and you know I’m down with the homies. Did you see the last edition of that graphic novel?”
  10. Being constantly available to youth. Adults might say, ”Teach me, help me. I’m just an adult, so I need your wisdom as a youth to show me how not to be adultist. Wait, is what I said earlier adultist? How about this shirt I’m wearing? Can you come with me to this meeting, so they know I’m not adultist?”
  11. Rationalizing adultism through faux-empathy. Adults might say, “Unlike all those other adults out there, I’m an anti-adultist.” “I do anti-adultist work and I try to educate other adults about adultism.” “Wait, did you hear me?”
  12. Switching sides. Adults might say, ”I totally agree. Adultism is one system of oppression among many interlocking ones that specifically awards more privilege and power to all adults whether they like it or not and serves to keep the existing power structure in place. Oh… what? You want me to volunteer in a community organization, contribute money, do security for your protest march? Uh… yeah maybe next time, I’ve got to wash my hair tonight. And walk my dog, see the latest episode of my favorite show, manage my stock portfolio…”
  13. Sympathy for youth. Adults might say,”Oh my god… that is so awful. I’m so sorry. Sorry. I can’t imagine what it must be like… I’m sorry. That’s so awful. I feel so bad for you. Sorry.”
  14. Being a friend by force. Adults might say, “Hey, I’m not an adultist, OK? Some of my best friends are youth. See?” or “Yeah, I’ve known her since I was a kid, and she’s never said anything adultist to me!”
  15. Hiding behind their age. Youth might say, ”What? I can’t possibly be adultist – I AM a youth. How can I be adultist against myself, huh? No, I haven’t heard of internalized adultism, and I still think youth involvement is reverse discrimination!”

All of these things actually discriminate against young people by favoring adults over young people. Identifying how you personally rationalize adultism can lead to becoming a more effective adult ally. All adults are adultist, and most young people are too.

To learn more about adultism, check out my book Facing Adultism. Full of examples and actions, I intend for educators, youth workers, parents, and others to step up and change the ways they interact with young people. Read the book to learn more!

8 Rude Things Adults Say to Young People

When adults are talking rude to young people, they show patronizing superiority. Many parents, youth workers, teachers, and others are not aware of how rude they are towards children and youth.

Most adults would be shocked if young people were as rude towards them as they are towards young people. When we’re confronted by a brave youth, we usually deny it (“that’s not what I meant”, or “you’re being too sensitive”).

However, even well-meaning adults can say things to youth with good intentions that come across as rude. Because of their past experiences, social conditioning, peer influence, and other reasons, most youth are really hesitant to share their real feelings with adults. Because of that, most parents, teachers, youth workers, and other adults who work with youth may never know how they talk towards youth.

Here are eight rude things adults often say to youth. Whenever you say them, its going to sound rude.

8 Rude Things Adults Say to Young People
The risk of writing a list like this is that there are almost always exceptions depending on the context. With young people, as with all people, it’s often not what is said, but how you say it–the tone of the message. A simple phase like, “What’s up” can come across as rude if truly someone feels that they are superior to the other person.


Whatever the case, just beware that if you’re working with young people, you probably sound rude today.

1. “I’m not a creative youth, but Lavonia here is, so she should do that stuff!”

I really doubt that Lavonia loves slogging through mundane details any more than you do, but she has to – as a youth council member or youth staff, it’s her job and not yours, so she does it. She takes pride in what she does too, and does it well. So don’t call her out in front of other adults and youth as a “detail” youth, as if that’s her job as a youth, and then congratulate yourself for being an adult who knows the “big picture”. A similar condensing bit of “praise” for youth is something like, “Hey, let me introduce you to Juan – he’s the one who really runs things around here, not me (snicker, wink).” No, he doesn’t really. You’re an adult, and you run things. Juan is just doing his job as a youth council member, stuff he’s supposed to do. Don’t pretend otherwise.

2. “Don’t worry about it,” or “It’s no big deal.”
It may not be a big deal to you, but it must be a big deal to the youth in your program or they would not have brought it up. Adults need to take the time to listen to youth and find out why they are concerned. Then, adults can take the opportunity to coach young people to help them find a solution.

3. “It’s for your own good.”
What makes adults the only people who can decide what is good for young people? Children and youth should be expected to have a serious, meaningful role in determining their “own good”.

4. “Well, that sounds good in theory, but in the real world….”
So what world are you saying the young people your are talking to are from? You might want to take some time to hear young peoples’ “theory” out and check your assumptions at the door – the children and youth around you might be more real than you.

5. “We’ll look into that,” “I’ll think about that,” or “You’ll have to work that out on your own.”
Noncommittal answers dismiss youth and imply they aren’t worth the time, honesty, and effort of adults. Also, again, you’re missing a great opportunity to coach. Ultimately, that’s your job – to coach and guide the young people around you.

6. “I know you’re feeling ______ right now, but you really shouldn’t because…”
Never assume you know what young people are feeling or tell them how they should be feeling. Ask them how they feel, and acknowledge it by responding with empathy.

7. “You’ll understand when you’re older,” or “When I was your age…”
Well, maybe young people do understand you right now, and just don’t agree with you. Try finding out why and you might learn something. Taking this approach creates a line of separation between young people and adults and invalidates what children and youth are experiencing right now.

8. “Kid” or “Homie” or “Sweetie” or “Dude”
Many young people prefer to be called by their first names – but its always a good practice to ask individual people what they’d like to be called.

BONUS RUDE THINGS (thanks to all the folks who contributed on the ENDING DISCRIMINATION AGAINST YOUNG PEOPLE Facebook page!): “I brought
you into this world, and I can also take you out!” ”You’re so smart for fifteen!” “When are you going to grow up?” “Don’t
touch that, you’ll break it!” “As long as you are in my house, you’ll do it!” “You’re
being childish.” “You’re so stupid (or clumsy, inconsiderate, etc.)!” “Go to
your room!” “Don’t ever yell at your mother like that!” (yelling) “She doesn’t
understand anything.” (about a baby) “You are too old for that!” “You’re not
old enough!” “Oh, it’s only puppy love.” “If you don’t stop crying I’ll give you something to cry about.” “What do you know? You haven’t
experienced anything!” “It’s just a stage. You’ll outgrow it.” “Go to your
room!” “Don’t ever yell at your mother like that!” (yelling) “Act your age.” “Children
should be seen and not heard.” “What do you know, you’re just a kid!” “Do as I
say, not as I do.” “You’ll understand it someday, just you wait.” “It’s my
house and you’ll follow my rules!” ”Calm down,” “You’re just a kid,” “Grow up!” “These kids are a form of birth control!” “You’re cruisin’ for a bruisin!’” “Did you just do what I saw you do?” “Because I said so.” “Someday I hope you have a kid and she’s just like you.” “Don’t get smart with me.” “You’ll do it and you’ll like it.”

Ground Rules to Stop Rude Adult Talk
One way to set the stage for clear and comfortable communication between young people and adults is to set ground rules when working together. Here is an example of some commonly used ground rules:

  • Speak for yourself
  • No put-downs
  • Take responsibility for your words, your action, and your learning
  • Expect unfinished business
  • Listen to others and to what you are saying, too
  • Show respect
  • Have fun
  • You have the right to pass at any time in group discussions or activities

Take Action! 

  1. Create Space – Its important to create environments where young people and adults feel comfortable asking questions and being themselves.
  2. Stop Hesitating – Make sure everyone knows they can stop conversation and ask questions at any point. Make it a norm to inject in the conversation when its appropriate.
  3. Be Diverse – Celebrate the variety between youth and adults, and among youth, and among adults. AND try to always talk in ways that are understood by everyone in the group.
  4. Body Language – Be aware of body language and facial expressions. If you are speaking, pay attention to how other people are reacting and ask questions, if you need to.
  5. Be Comfortable – Use language you are comfortable with. Don’t use jargon or slang just to fit in. Just be sure you’re sensitive to others in the group, no matter what their age.

Questions to Ask Yourself

  • How about you? What does rude speech sound like to you?
  • Do you speak in a way that everyone can understand what you’re saying – young people? adults? people who speak English as a second language? others?
  • Are you aware of the views and perspectives of the young people and adults in the room?
  • Do you talk with others respectfully? Do you listen carefully to what they have to say?
  • If somebody is speaking with words or in a way that is confusing to me, what should I do?
  • When is it okay to use slang or jargon?

Want to do more? Check out my latest book, ENDING DISCRIMINATION AGAINST YOUNG PEOPLE, available now from Amazon.com.

Press Release: Youth Discrimination Is Tearing Society Apart!

PRESS RELEASE:
Youth Discrimination Is Tearing Society Apart!

Olympia, WA—Every parent, teacher, and youth worker knows they aren’t as effective as they could be, but often aren’t sure why. Using willpower to force children and youth to comply, even the most well-meaning adult uses curfews, takes away toys, and bribes with rewards.

There’s hope. ENDING DISCRIMINATION AGAINST YOUNG PEOPLE, by internationally-recognized youth expert Adam Fletcher ($19.95, Createspace Publishing), uses powerful analysis and introduces language related youth discrimination to show readers where, how, and why this problem affects them every single day.

ENDING DISCRIMINATION AGAINST YOUNG PEOPLE details how society routinely discriminates against young people by forcing adult will, implementing rigid age-based policies, and encouraging negative attitudes towards children and youth. Diving deeply throughout communities, Fletcher exposes cultural assumptions and details structural systems that keep young voices from being heard. He also shows how social injustices such as racism, classism, and sexism are related to discriminating against the young.

“We don’t like to hear it, but every adult discriminates against young people,” Fletcher explains. “Understanding and accepting that reality is the really the first step to creating a more just and equitable society for all people.”

Like many parents and youth workers, Fletcher wondered for a long time why more young people weren’t powerfully, purposefully engaged throughout their own lives. After a decade training youth, Fletcher began to piece together the massive, society-wide patterns of discrimination against young people. When he began finding language throughout psychology, sociology, and youth work describing different parts of this discrimination, he saw a blanket literally smothering children and youth in every corner.

“All young people face these issues, and few people are actually talking about them,” Fletcher explains. “When adults begin to speak frankly about their inabilities to connect with kids, and when children and youth can speak openly, we discover this isn’t just theory; it is actually happening everywhere, all the time.”

ENDING DISCRIMINATION AGAINST YOUNG PEOPLE is the only modern book designed to explore this reality in depth. What better way to become a better parent, more effective teacher, or more positive role model than addressing your own biases?

With this book, Fletcher hopes adults will, “develop new perspectives of young people to open positive, powerful futures for all people, instead of just a few, so that instead of times getting impossibly hopeless, they show that another world is always possible.” 

Others are taking note of this book. Reviewing the book, Alex Koroknay-Palicz writes, “Fletcher provides an expert look at the revolutionary idea that youth endure, and are harmed by, pervasive age discrimination and supplies supportive advice on how young people and adults can work against it in their daily lives.” Koroknay-Palicz is the former executive director of the National Youth Rights Association. 

To set up an interview or to request a review copy, contact Adam Fletcher at 360.489.9680 or email info@adamfletcher.net. 

ENDING DISCRIMINATION AGAINST YOUNG PEOPLE
by Adam Fletcher
ISBN-13 978-1492183822

US$19.95 
Paperback 
190 pp. 
8 ½” x 5″
Available on Amazon.com or ask at your local bookstore.