Adultism is such a strong force throughout our culture that it causes me to wonder exactly what we’re afraid of. Because so often it appears to be just that: fear. A parent afraid that their 16-year-old won’t respect them simply because they’re too big to spank anymore. A teacher afraid of the first-grade student who is smarter than them in math. Police who are afraid that the graffiti art might never stop spreading, and store owners who are afraid that youth will stop buying their products if they have unfettered access to them.
John Bell wrote that this fear undermines young peoples’ of self-confidence and self-esteem; increases their sense of worthlessness; and diminishes the ability of young people to function well in the world, among many other outcomes. Why would we do something like that to someone else?
I am developing a deeper appreciation for First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who strongly advocated for young people, including the American Youth Congress and the National Youth Administration, which she was largely responsible for the formation of. ER often shared her apparent concern about the effects of the Great Depression on youth, in particular writing that,
“I live in real terror when I think we may be losing this generation. We have got to bring these young people into the active life of the community and make them feel that they are necessary.”
I am certain she would not be satisfied with her mission still today. Perhaps the greatest fear of many adults is not the greatest fear of all adults – because I share Eleanor’s fear right now.
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