This is for young people and adults written by the young people of Youth on Board on the effects of Adultism, particularly in youth organizing, and ways to address it.
You’re too young to understand.
You’re so articulate for your age.
Speak when spoken to.
Just wait until you have children.
This is grown people’s business.
What is Adultism?
Adultism is the assumption that young people are inferior to adults simply because of their young age. Adults often act on this assumption by limiting our access to decision-making, information, resources, human rights, and opportunities to voice our thoughts.
As young people, we grew up hearing these comments or similar ones from teachers, parents, mentors, coaches and many other adults. Because adultism is the one oppression we all live through, it has become “normal” in our society. It is not a surprise when young people grow up to be adults who are adultist towards the new generation of young people. But, we are hopeful that this will not always be the case.
An adultism-free world is possible when both young people and adults work together create powerful, permanent change in our world. This means that we have to do the work of learning to identify and stop adultism for all young people.
What does Adultism look like in Youth Organizing
Sometimes, when we express and act on our thoughts we are met with push back from adults. As youth organizers, these are the adultist experiences we face a lot and what you can do about it as a young person:
1. Adults think we don’t have our facts straight. Remind adults that we are capable of seeking accurate information and that knowledge does not necessarily increase with age.
2. Adults think our adult allies tell us what to do. Remind adults that we can make decisions for ourselves, and that adult allies play an important role in making sure we have access to what we need to make informed decisions. Adults should think with us, not for us.
3. Adults think we are just angry. Yes, we have many feelings like all humans and there are many things to be upset about in this world. Remind adults it will be hard to create solutions together if they use how we feel as an excuse for not hearing what we have to say.
Principles for Young People to Tackle Adultism
Educate adults about ending adultism. If you notice something is adultist, it okay to name it and to address it to the adult with care and respect. It can be hard to do this, so grab a trusted adult ally or a young person you trust to support you in doing it.
Don’t believe negative messages. There are lots of negative messages about young people. We hear these messages at home, at school, and on TV. Don’t believe them. Simply because you’re young does not mean that your ideas are any less important. Even if you think you don’t have anything to say, look a little deeper. You know a lot, and you have huge contributions to make.
Speak up. Find ways to make your voice heard. You can serve on a board, work with a local youth program, volunteer, organize a community event, or just talk to your friends about issues that concern you. It’s all about being active, taking a stance, and making a difference.
Do it again and again. Not everyone is going to hear your message the first time. Whether you are lobbying your school board to include young people, or organizing a neighborhood festival, remember to speak your mind over and over. Don’t get discouraged. Believe in your ideas, and be persistent.
Some Tips for Adults to End Adultism
Decide that the opinion of young people always matters. Ask young people 10 different times and 10 creative ways what they think before you give up! Young people have opinions, but no one asks for them and so they often feel like they don’t know anything. Try this out, and eventually they’ll share.
If and when a young person seeks your attention, stop what you are doing and listen. If they are asking for advice, refrain from giving non-permissive advice and instead ask the young person, “Do you want to know what I would do/think?”
Being a good adult ally is also gently encouraging other adults to respect young people. Often, adults cut young people off or forget to make space for them to speak. In those situations, saying some version of the following is helpful: “That’s an interesting point [adult person], let’s return to it after we finish hearing what [young person] has to say.”
Make sure young people have a seat at decision-making tables in their schools, communities, and their families. Often, young people are relegated to the back room, a special committee, or not invited to discussions at all - you can be the person that invites them to be front and center and give them the support they need to be successful.
Plenty! For more information, check out our publications page to download short resource books about how to listen to young people, provide emotional support and build authentic relationships with them. You can also get started today with the following actions: Check out our projects page to read more about our work to dismantle adultism!
The Reality About Young People
We are smart, powerful, cooperative and care a lot about the world and people around us. We want relationships with adults and know that when they give us the space and encouragement we need, we always move changes forward.