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So I’m continuing to explore youth-worker John Bell’s article "Understanding Adultism: A Key to Developing Positive Youth-Adult Relationships".  According to Bell most young people experience adultism from the day they are born until the day the world around them recognizes them as an adults.  It is part of the structure of society and its institutions, including families, schools, churches and government.  (If you did not read my first piece introducing the concept of adultism, you can read it by clicking this link.)

The essence of adultism is when a person treats a child or youth disrespectfully in a way that they would not treat an adult in similar circumstances.  This mistreatment is reinforced by social institutions, laws, customs, and attitudes and can include:

  1. Assuming that adults are superior and more important than young people
  1. Assuming that adults are entitled to act upon young people without their agreement
  1. Assuming that young people are not as intelligent and their feelings are not as important as adults
  1. Not taking young people seriously, including not giving them significant participation in decisions that impact them
  1. Being physically, verbally, or otherwise psychologically abusive to young people

Bell says that if this were a description of the way a group of adults was treated, we would all agree that their oppression was almost total.  However, for the most part, the adult world considers this treatment of young people as acceptable because most adults were treated in much the same way when they were young, and internalized the idea that "that’s the way you treat kids."

According to Bell, adultism appears in abnormal and normal behavior towards young people in a broad spectrum of societal activities, institutions and issues.  Here is an overview of the scope of what he cites...

Physical, Sexual or Psychological Abuse

Much abusive behavior by adults toward young people can be attributed to adultism, to the extent that the adult would not treat another adult in this way.  These would be cases where adults feel they can "get away with" expressing their own anger or frustration in the form of abuse because the object of that abuse is "only a child", an "inferior" in patriarchal "pecking order" terms, and does not merit the level of respect they would give another adult.

Punishment and Threats

There is also a whole range of nonphysical punishments or threats that can be considered adultism, that adults would not inflict on other adults but are comfortable doing so with young people, including...

  1. Routinely criticizing, yelling at, invalidating, insulting, intimidating, or making them feel guilty
  1. Arbitrarily or unfairly "grounding" or denying "privileges"
  1. Doling out additional punishment when young people protest against what they legitimately consider mistreatment, simply because they are questioning what the adult considers to be their absolute authority

Denied Control

Young people are denied control and even influence over most of the decisions that affect their bodies, their space, their possessions and even their self-definition. For example, most adults think they can pick up little children or kiss them or pull their cheeks or touch their hair without asking or without it being mutual. Adults can often be seen grabbing things out of children’s hands without asking.

Verbal Interactions

Adultism can be found in many verbal interactions between adults and youth where adults:

  1. Talk down to children, as if children could not understand them
  1. Talk about a young person with the young person present as if they were not there
  1. Give young people orders to do things or lay down rules with no explanation
  1. Not really listen to young people, but demand young people listen to them all the time
  1. Not take the concerns of a young person as seriously as they would an adult’s
  1. Not appreciate the thinking of young people as worthy of adult respect, let alone on a par with the quality of adult thinking
  1. Automatically side with other adults when they have a disagreement with a youth

In Schools

Any community or institution needs rules to live by, but the rules in most schools are imposed on young people without their consent and represent a high level of control, the severity of which exhibiting adultism, including:

  1. Hall passes and detention
  1. Occasions where teachers yell at students with impunity, but students are disciplined if they yell back at those teachers
  1. Occasions where students are punished unfairly because adults feel frustrated.
  1. Students being continuously evaluated, graded and ranked - to the point of internalizing a view of themselves as either "smart", "average" or "dumb" — with profound impact on many aspects of their lives
  1. Students generally not being given the corresponding opportunity to evaluate their teachers
  1. Young people having no real power in the important decisions that affect their lives in school

Throughout their education, most students have no voice, no power, and no decision-making avenues to make significant changes to an institution where they are one of the significant stakeholders.  While society's motivation of providing education for all it’s young people is laudable, the school system as an institution perpetuates adultism.

In the Law

There is a different set of laws for young people. They do not have the same rights as adults. Of course, some laws specifically protect young people from mistreatment but other laws unduly restrict their life and liberty, including:

  1. Some curfew ordinances unduly restricting young people beyond considerations for their safety
  1. Treating young people as adults when they commit serious crimes but not when they behave appropriately
  1. In divorce cases, until a recent landmark custody case, not permitting young people to have a voice in deciding which parent, if either, they wished to live with

I will be interested in any feedback you have to give me on this.  This is an entirely new way at looking at the relationships between adults, youth and children and may go against deep-seated conventions that we adults have taken for granted growing up in a culture still laced with 5000-year-old patriarchal ideas and ethics.

Originally posted to leftyparent on Sun Oct 25, 2009 at 04:17 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Chi, moodyx, webranding

    Cooper Zale Los Angeles http://www.leftyparent.com

    by leftyparent on Sun Oct 25, 2009 at 04:17:55 PM PDT

    •  Very Interesting Diary. Long Story Short (5+ / 0-)

      my brother recently married into a large family. You can count my family members on one hand. In a strange twist of faith as a 40 year old dude at large family events I am in the room/table(s) with the kids (8-20).

      Since I've never been married, don't have any kids, I don't have a lot of experience with them. So I didn't realize I was doing this at first, but I engaged them in conversation the same why I would somebody my age.

      That has lead to some pretty interesting conversations, and even their parents asking how I got them to talk about that kind of stuff.

      "In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act." - George Orwell

      by webranding on Sun Oct 25, 2009 at 04:28:12 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Since the brain does not stop growing until ... (0+ / 0-)

      about age 25, how can anyone still maturing be considered to be an adult?  Alternatively, what does the word "adult" mean these days?

      •  Good question and always good to... (0+ / 0-)

        reexamine these things.  The general convention in our society is 18, though some argue for some sort of "conditional" adulthood at a younger age.  Not sure if brain development correlates with simple practical wisdom, since we seem to use so little of our brain anyway.

        Cooper Zale Los Angeles http://www.leftyparent.com

        by leftyparent on Sun Oct 25, 2009 at 09:40:44 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  I think that you re conflating several (6+ / 0-)

    different issues here. Physically abusing a child is illegal. Anyone who assaults a child should be appropriately punished.

    The law should treat children differently. I don't want 10-year-olds driving and 12-year-olds getting married. I certainly don't want to see a return of child labor.

    Some of the rest of the issues you list are just bad parenting or bad school administration.

    •  Agreed (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      A Citizen, MNGrandma

      and I'm not too sure about the whole notion of "adultism."  It seems to me to be an excuse for abdicating parental responsibility.  

      I think that I have had enough of you telling me how things will be. Today I choose a new way to go ... and it goes through you!

      by Norbrook on Sun Oct 25, 2009 at 04:50:09 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Being disrespectful of someone... (0+ / 0-)

        is never an abdication of responsibility toward them, as far as I can see.

        Though you may be right if adults neglect kids based on the excuse of giving them more latitude.

        Cooper Zale Los Angeles http://www.leftyparent.com

        by leftyparent on Sun Oct 25, 2009 at 04:55:45 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Not even that (0+ / 0-)

          The whole thesis, and the examples you use, are simply warmed-over ideas that have been floating around since the 50's.  Just with a new label slapped on them.  The abdication of parental responsibility (or adult responsibility) comes from the manifest unwillingness to set boundaries, and rules - and enforce them.  Sometimes, "no" and "because I said so" are valid.  

          I think that I have had enough of you telling me how things will be. Today I choose a new way to go ... and it goes through you!

          by Norbrook on Sun Oct 25, 2009 at 05:07:09 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  I agree that "no" can be valid... (0+ / 0-)

            but "because I said so" can easily be adultist if it is not backed up by a reasonable explanation.  Arbitrary authority is never a good thing in my book.

            Cooper Zale Los Angeles http://www.leftyparent.com

            by leftyparent on Sun Oct 25, 2009 at 05:20:47 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Respectfully, I disagree here. (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              172 IQ

              at least to a point.

              If my kid asks why she has to go to bed at 8:30 when she doesn't feel like it, I can explain about needing sleep, mom and dad needing adult time, etc.  But really, that's explaining why I say she has to go to bed at 8:30.  Why she actually has to do it is, well, because she's 8 and because I say so.  In reality, even very good, kind, and conscientious parents make rules that are frankly somewhat arbitrary.  They may differ from the rules at the house next door.  Each set of rules may very well be perfectly fine, functional, whatever.  On a lot of levels, I have no problem with "because I say so," because frankly it's the truth.  

              I agree that it shouldn't be a substitute for thoughtful interaction, and I also don't disagree that kids are worthy of respect and consideration.  But they're not adults and they're not entitled to adult privileges.  

              •  Even if somewhat arbitrary as you say... (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                khereva

                If the reason boils down to "because I say so", what sort of lesson are you teaching other than respect your superiors even when their decisions are arbitrary.  Even if 8pm or 8:30pm is arbitrary, your reason is that they need sleep, as they say, "that's my story and I'm sticking to it"...*g*

                Cooper Zale Los Angeles http://www.leftyparent.com

                by leftyparent on Sun Oct 25, 2009 at 06:26:14 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  I have no problem explaining reasons (0+ / 0-)

                  behind why I say so, and I do explain them, but frankly half the time she's only tangentially interested in the reason and is more interested in arguing about it or trying to get me to change my mind.  

                  And frankly, I (and everybody else) have to deal with rather arbitrary rules all the time, some of which make sense and some of which don't.  I really don't think it's the most horrible, abusive lesson in the world for my kid to learn to deal with that on some level.  It's not the same as accepting an injustice or never trying to get silly rules changed.  But, you know, I just don't agree that "because I said so" is necessarily an authoritarian, ogre answer.

                  •  Fair enough... I know the kind of thing... (0+ / 0-)

                    you're talking about.  These frustrating discussions with a kid who just wants to vent by arguing every detail.  At some point you state your case and say you are through discussing.  I'm just not a big fan of "because I say so" and all it's ramifications.

                    Cooper Zale Los Angeles http://www.leftyparent.com

                    by leftyparent on Sun Oct 25, 2009 at 09:43:03 PM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

        •  What do we mean by disrespect? (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          A Citizen

          If our society doesn't trust 12-year-olds to get drivers' licences, is that disrespect?

          I generally approve of treating people as adults as early as possible.  Our society seems to gradually raise the threshold of adulthood, to the point where even college graduates are treated like little snowflakes in need of sheltering.  

          I see this often in debates over student loan reform:  people act like high-school graduates and even college graduates are too young to understand the ramifications of taking out a loan.  And yet, if a high-school graduate didn't go to college he or she would be expected to manage rent, utility bills and a car payment at the age of 18.

          But that doesn't mean it's discrimination to (correctly) treat children like children; it just means that we need to expect adult behavior of them.

          •  "No" to answer your initial question... (0+ / 0-)

            I don't think that that is a lack of respect, tho I'm sure there are some 12-year-olds that could drive quite well given the chance.

            I'm just advocating that we as much as possible treat people by their demonstrated behavior and capabilities and not by broad stereotypes based on past conventional wisdom.

            Cooper Zale Los Angeles http://www.leftyparent.com

            by leftyparent on Sun Oct 25, 2009 at 05:48:26 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

    •  I'm trying to get at the roots of "bad"... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      arreay

      parenting and general adult behavior towards youth.  Physically abusing anyone is illegal, but children are more often the victims of abuse than adults... so what's that all about.  Bad parenting and bad relationships between adults and youth in school are areas of great concern to me in that I feel they hamper the development of our culture and the expression of each human being's unique consciousness.

      I agree with you that it is inappropriate for a 10-year-old to drive or a 12-year-old to marry, those are legitimate societal limits put on youth for their own safety and the safety of others.  But I believe we all are well served if we examine all limitations on young people to make sure they serve a positive purpose and not simply punitive to "put them in their place" in the pecking order.

      Cooper Zale Los Angeles http://www.leftyparent.com

      by leftyparent on Sun Oct 25, 2009 at 04:52:29 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  My experience is (5+ / 0-)

    Most adults are simply kids in big bodies.  They are still emotionally no more than 10 or 12 years old, if that.  Somewhere in their past, they were stunted and have not had someone to help them grow beyond.  It does take incredible and painful, and shamefilled, work to undo that damage.  Unfortunately, the world is not geared toward helping.  When I look/meet an "adult" I always remind myself that I am meeting a damaged child, just as I am.  I can only hope to find out that they are working on themselves.

    •  You may be right as to a developmental... (0+ / 0-)

      dysfunction that contributes to this problem.

      Hopefully not all the adults you encounter are so injured and damaged.  

      Cooper Zale Los Angeles http://www.leftyparent.com

      by leftyparent on Sun Oct 25, 2009 at 04:59:45 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Thanks, unfortunately... (0+ / 0-)

        I have yet to meet one who does not have some type of damage.  There are those working to repair that damage, but they struggle, as do I.  Support, in groups or otherwise, is vital.  Also, I look at what they do in life, workwise, etc., and that also is a strong indication of the damage done.  Think of it as someone with "post-it notes" stuck on various parts of their bodies, notes that announce the type/point of damage.  (that's enough for today)

  •  5 year olds and self-determination (5+ / 0-)

    My friend and her ex are fighting over custody of their 5 year old daughter. I know the daughter,and she already has firm ideas about her identity, about where she would prefer to live and which school she would prefer to go to.  During this custody battle, the courts have not consulted with the child or asked if she had a preference in any of these areas.  I think it would be good to let her have a voice in these proceedings.

  •  interesting you post this today (4+ / 0-)

    I'm in an nonfiction writing workshop right now, and one of my classmates wrote a piece about her son, who at 17 was experimenting in pot and e.  From the essay it sounded as if the drug use was on an occasional basis at most.  Yet the essay is about how she and her husband took the boy one morning with no warning whatsoever and sent him off to one of these hard core reform camps (ending his normal high school career) because she had overheard him on the phone saying he had enjoyed trying e at a party weeks before.  

    She described the camp as having a complex system of rules that were tied to demerits. Specifically, she said that if you look at the window - and the building had many windows - you were given 100 demerits because they thought it meant you were trying to escape.

    That kind of freaked me out.

    I was paid to post this comment by my cat, but he's a deadbeat.

    by decembersue on Sun Oct 25, 2009 at 04:55:31 PM PDT

  •  Thankfully, this is one ism I can't be accused of (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    khin, MNGrandma

    since I treat everyone that way, regardless of age...

    Those who labour in the earth are the chosen people of God. - Thomas Jefferson

    by Ezekial 23 20 on Sun Oct 25, 2009 at 05:06:21 PM PDT

    •  The 17-year-olds opinion... (0+ / 0-)

      should be factored in there somewhere.

      Cooper Zale Los Angeles http://www.leftyparent.com

      by leftyparent on Sun Oct 25, 2009 at 05:18:20 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  What way is "that way" in your case? (0+ / 0-)

      Cooper Zale Los Angeles http://www.leftyparent.com

      by leftyparent on Sun Oct 25, 2009 at 05:18:47 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Well (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        MNGrandma

        that was a tongue in cheek comment, but honestly, I don't believe teenagers are really any different from adults.

        I think your universe starts out self-centered and (hopefully) expands the longer you live until you're trying to think about everyone and everything in the choices you make, but I don't think there's any set timetable for when you get there.  Some people die at 90 and are as self-centered as the day they were born, others seem to have mastered thoughtfulness and consideration by the time they hit puberty, if not even before.

        Those who labour in the earth are the chosen people of God. - Thomas Jefferson

        by Ezekial 23 20 on Sun Oct 25, 2009 at 05:49:50 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  It depends on age (0+ / 0-)

    If I was a parent, and I'm too young to be, I probably would not have much problem for example if my teenager wanted to watch R rated films. However, if my eight year old wanted to watch R rated films, I would say no.

    Join ZBlogs--an explicitly leftist blog. www.zmag.org/blog

    by khin on Sun Oct 25, 2009 at 05:18:41 PM PDT

  •  Very interesting diary, thank you. (0+ / 0-)

    I often find myself in an unpopular position, since as I say I take the radical stance that children are human beings.

    I have almost no dealings with anyone related to me, save for the occasional (once or twice a year) email to my mother. Dad is email filtered. Family was something of a wash, as far as I'm concerned.

    neca politicos omnes; deus suos agnoscet.

    by khereva on Sun Oct 25, 2009 at 06:35:16 PM PDT

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