A lot of people I’ve discussed adultism
with are quick to dismiss it as the whining of privileged teens. However, there are many, many adults (including many regular commenters on this blog) who readily see this phenomenom in the schools, youth centers, homes, businesses and other spaces young people and adults occupy everyday. We are concerned with the disengaging reality of adultism, and the fact that it drives away young people from the very spaces where we intend to bring them together with us. However, what can we do when we see and experience adultism in our work, in our communities or even in our homes?
This is what adults can do to fight adultism:
- Understand what Adultism is. Webster’s doesn’t define adultism. In my 2006 Washington Youth Voice Handbook I defined adultism as “a predisposition towards adults, which some see as biased against children, youth, and all young people who are not addressed or viewed as adults.” You can find this echoed on Wikipedia.
- Think before you speak. Words can hurt, whether you mean them to or not. When describing a person, think if mentioning their age is important to the story. Everyone has an age, not just children and youth. Don’t call someone “special” – it is often demeaning.
- Use considerate language. Do your refer to everyone under 30 as a kid? If you don’t know someone’s age don’t assume. Some people prefer teen or young adult, while others like youth. Some prefer young person, others like child. If you’re unsure which to use, ask.
- Don’t Assume. Do you assume that young people are more ignorant or incapable than adults? That all black youth like Hip-Hop or that Asian youth are good at math? Stereotypes hurt everyone – including young people. Examine what your prejudices are.
- Support Youth Space. Just like adults like time away from young people, where we can dance and be ourselves, youth need time away from adults where they can feel free to act like themselves, without fear of hearing an inadvertently adultist comment. If you’re an adult try and understand it’s not personal. If an event is advertised for “Youth Only” only attend if your age is younger than adults.
- Interrupt adultist jokes or assumptions. You can do so with out being rude. Don’t let your silence speak for you. Simply say, “I don’t find that funny,” or “I don’t appreciate jokes like that.”
- Donate time or money to youth organizations. Shannon Stewart’s spectacular All-Ages Movement Project tracks creative youth spaces that create safe spaces that challenge adultism everyday; Freechild has long been committed to doing the same for the larger youth movement.
- Join in an activity to celebrate Global Youth Service Day. Join in a Youth Rights Sit-In or service activity to honor the work and wisdom of young people today.
- Make a friend. Get to know, as a real friend, a young person. Not a work colleague or a neighbor you share casual conversations with, but to push past your comfort zone and make friends enough so that you can ask and be asked those direct questions about age in an environment of trust.
- Learn about youth in history. The newsboys, Mother Jones, the American Youth Congress, Students for a Democratic Society and the 26th Amendment are all legacies of youth activism throughout American history. Do you know of others?
- Join or start an organization dealing with youth rights. Many groups are also fighting discrimination of any kind, including homophobia and sexism.
- Write a letter to the editor of a city paper. Encourage them to cover more events and stories about young people in your community or to give the paper praise if they have done a particularly good job.
- Reach out beyond your community. If you work with young people everyday think about joining forces with other human rights groups in your community around issues such as police brutality, profiling, job discrimination, unequal education or any other human rights issue.
- Volunteer With Nontraditional Youth Engagement Orgs. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans youth, homeless, young people who have dropped out of school, innercity youth and rural youth all need adult allies who step forward as allies. Find an organization in your town that works with these populations and spend some time giving back.
- Organize With Youth. Support young people as an ally as they plan a youth rally, conference, protest or other action with their peers, for their communities.
- Expose Yourself. Try to learn about a youth culture – there are many, all different from every other. If you’re an adult attend a concert, dance or film created by young people. Youth film festivals, concerts or community dialogues are powerful venues for fighting adultism.
- Grow Your Understanding. Read a website or a book about fighting adultism. Work with young people to understand connections between adultism, racism, sexism and homophobia. Free your mind, grow your thoughts and get some wisdom with youth as allies.
- Keep an open mind and you will learn something.
- Everyone is different. What I say here may not apply to every situation.
- Know that adultism is part of our culture – don’t be ashamed if you mess up. Everyone makes mistakes. That’s how we learn.