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What is Adultism?

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  • Written By: Jacob Queen
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 07 December 2016
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Adultism is a term describing the arbitrary mistreatment of children and young people based purely on their age. The kinds of behavior that are often used to describe adultism would be considered socially acceptable in many societies. People who crusade against adultism suggest that children should be treated more like adults and given more of a say in their own futures. They acknowledge that adults have certain responsibilities for the well-being and education of children, but they don't think these should be exercised arbitrarily or used to justify repressive behavior.

Activists against adultism don't argue against parental authority over children. They still think parents have a job to tell children what's acceptable, but in many cases, they have a problem with the tone people use when disciplining children. For example, people tend to yell at their children or embarrass them in front of other people while disciplining them. Many activists would generally argue that this sort of behavior is dehumanizing for the child and that it has the potential to make the child into a more malleable and conformist adult.

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Another aspect of adultism is the arbitrary dismissal of ideas ands opinions that young people may have. Young people often have a lot of ideas about what they want from their lives, and some people will totally ignore these because they feel that adults always know better. Those who disagree with adultism suggest that it's better for people to give children more say in their futures and listen more closely to their opinions.

One of the ideas that has grown out of the anti-adultism movement is unschooling. This is when parents allow children to choose what to learn without forcing them through a particular kind of educational program. Children are generally given access to whatever resources they need so that they can learn the things they're most interested in. Different people approach unschooling with different levels of structure, and those who favor this educational approach suggest that parents have to adjust it to the learning style of their particular children.

Many people disagree with the idea that adultism is anything more than the natural instincts of parents. They would generally suggest that people have a innate desire to make decisions for children because they instinctively know that they aren't mature enough to be treated as equals. Some even suggest that people need to be applying more discipline and setting more boundaries for children instead of creating a more loosely regulated environment.

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honeybees
Post 7

Adultism is something that is easy for kids to have an opinion on because they aren't parents yet.

How many people do you know that had all the answers before they became parents. I would often hear people say things like, 'I would never raise my voice at my kids, or I would never let my kids have a cellphone, etc.'

Once you become a parent, then you realize just how hard it can be and many issues are not so cut and dry.

As long as I earned it, I was given quite a bit of freedom to make more decisions each year. I was also warned of the consequences many times before I would make a decision.

This way, I knew it was my decision, and I would be held completely responsible for the way it turned out.

myharley
Post 6

I didn't realize there was a specific word for this when it came to how children and young people are treated by their parents.

I just thought it came down to all the different styles of personalities and parenting. No two people are going to parent exactly the same.

When we become parents, we often raise our kids the way we were raised, or make a conscious effort to do it differently.

Maybe I am old school, but I don't think most young kids have the life experiences they need to always make the best decisions for themselves.

Sure, they need to be able to make a lot of their own decisions, so they can see the consequences of those actions. But, I think you can do them a disservice by allowing them to do whatever they want to do.

nony
Post 5

@SkyWhisperer - I do think we need to be careful about using these ideas in education. I’ve worked in education for four years, and I can tell you the idea that kids can just pick and choose what they want to learn is deplorable.

Most of them will pick all the “fun” stuff and then when they get to college, they’ll wind up taking remedial courses in English and math.

There is a reason that children around the world are beating us in the quality of their educational attainments. It’s because they’re not part of an educational system that is constantly experimenting with the latest fads in the ever nebulous pursuit of “fairness.”

If it’s not multiculturalism one day, it’s adultism the next. Just give it time. Another fad will make its way around the bend in a few more years, while your kids will continue to do poorly in math and science.

SkyWhisperer
Post 4

Well, accuse me of adultism if you want, it really doesn’t matter. There’s always another “ism” ready to come along and slap people with to make them feel guilty. It’s water off a duck’s back to me.

I’m old fashioned, and while I believe that adults should listen to children and not humiliate them or demean them in anyway, mommy and daddy do know what’s best until you’re 18.

The fact is that life isn’t just about knowledge and ideas. It’s about wisdom – and I’m sorry, that pretty much comes with age, or listening to your elders. There, it’s out of my system. I’m an adultist.

burcidi
Post 3

@ysmina-- That's interesting! I feel exactly the opposite! I guess we always want the opposite of what we are given.

My parents let me make all of my decisions growing up. I wasn't a 'victim' of adultism at all. They always stood by me no matter what. I'm not regretful of most of my decisions, but there were a few decisions that I wish had chosen a different route. I wish my parents would have yelled at me and said "No!"

It seems that if parents tell us what to do, they're adultists. And if they don't, they are indifferent or careless parents.

ysmina
Post 2

@simrin-- I don't agree. Adultism isn't just about the attitude of parents towards their children, it's also about the attitude of society at large.

For example, we have a whole educational system in place and everyone is expected to follow a certain route in education and then their careers. In my family for example, everyone is a college graduate so there was never a question about whether I would go to college or not. I was told what my life would look like from very early on and I was required to be successful at whatever I was given.

Twenty five years and a bachelors and master's degree later, I don't feel that this is the kind of life I want to live. If I had been asked my opinion at that time, I might not have wanted to go to college.

SteamLouis
Post 1

I can't say that I'm for or against adultism. I agree that children should not be repressed. They should be given choices by adults and parents and their ideas should be listened to. But this also doesn't mean that children should do whatever they please.

If parents make every single decision for their children and refuse to listen to their opinions, it will be very unhealthy for the child. Instead of protecting the child as they aim to, parents might cause the child to become incapable of making decisions when they are adults.

But children are not adults and they are not mature enough to take important decisions. They need their parents to show them the right way and help them understand the realities of life.

So I think what we need is an attitude between pro-adultism and anti-adultism. What do you think?

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