3 Secrets of Adults Who Help Youth

As teachers, youth workers, parents, counselors, and other adults who work with young people every single day, we have our secrets. They’re not true for every adult, and being able to admit them takes courage, especially when we admit them to other adults we work with.

In my new book, Ending Discrimination Against Young PeopleI explore the need to create safe spaces for honest conversations among adults who work with young people, and parents who are progressive. I am not one to tell others’ secrets; however, here I want to distill some of what I’ve heard and share it with you. These are secrets that many adults who work with young people have told me about the young people they work with.
3 Secrets of Adults Who Help Youth
  1. Adults don’t trust young people. Generally, the reason why adults work with young people in any supportive way is that they simply don’t trust them. They don’t believe children and youth can get the supports, experiences, ideas, knowledge, or outcomes adults think they should without the active participation of adults throughout their lives. This is true in the best classrooms and the lovingest homes, as well as the friendliest offices and healthiest workplaces. Ask an adult if this is true, and they’re likely to adamantly deny it. You can tell adults don’t trust youth when they…
    • Make decisions for young people without young people
    • Give young people consequences that wouldn’t be there without those adults’ interventions
    • Use phrases like, “I’m the adult here,” and insist on young peoples’ compliance
  2. Adults almost always think they know best. An evolutionary mechanism of many creatures, including humans, is called the fight or flight response. The idea is that animals react to threats with a feeling in our nerves that helps us determine whether to fight or flee. I believe adults are almost constantly aware of what they perceive is the compromised ability of young people to respond accordingly to perceived threats. Because of this, there is an evolutionary response within adults that causes us to believe that we need to know the best for ourselves and young people whenever we share company. This is apparent when…
    • Adults limit young peoples’ options “for their own good”
    • Young people are infantalized (treated like infants) no matter what age they are
    • Children and youth constantly defer to adults
  3. Adults are scared of youth. Any adult who says anything about the future in a negative context is plainly afraid of youth. This is true because they lack the faith, trust, or perspective to see that young people are inheriting a world that is gonna survive. It’s not going to fall apart, stop spinning, or implode at any second. Instead, it’s going to keep on turning, and things are going to work out. This becomes obvious when…
    • Adults talk about “kids today” in a negative sense, or talk about their childhood and youth as if there was nothing wrong, bad, or challenging when they were that age
    • Young people talk, act, dress, or behave like adults in order to make adults more comfortable with them
    • Adults make generalizations about today’s generation
I began this article by talking about adults who work in “helping professions” and parents. The reason why I single these folks out is that first, I am one of both. Secondly, as adults we get into these professions and learn to rationalize our work through many guises, which are the bulletpoints I shared above. But those are the symptoms; the words in bold are the realities. 
Let me know what you think in the comments below!

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