Adultism is a predisposition towards adults, which some see as biased against children, youth, and all young people who aren't addressed or viewed as adults. Adultism is popularly used to describe any discrimination against young people and is distinguished from ageism, which is simply prejudice on the grounds of age; not specifically against youth. Adultism is ostensibly caused by fear of children and youth. [Scraton, P. (1997) "Childhood" in "crisis"?" Routledge. p. 25.]

Etymology and usage


The word adultism first appears in psychology literature in 1933, when it was defined as a condition wherein a child possessed adult-like "physique and spirit". It was exemplified by, :A boy of 12 and a girl of 13 who had the spirit and personality of adults.... They were placed in institutions because of stealing and prostitution. These forms of precocity lead the individual into difficulties and should be recognized early in the development of the individual. [Courbon, P. (1933). Mental adultism and precocious growth of the personality. "Annales Medico-Psychologiques. " 87, 355-362.]

This definition has been superseded by another from a late 1970s journal article proposing that adultism is the abuse of the power that adults have over children. The author identified examples of adultism not only in parents but in teachers, psychotherapists, the clergy, police, judges, and juries. [Flasher, J. (1978) Adultism. "Adolescence 13"(51) Fall 1978, 517-523.]

Co-Counseling adopted the term in the late 1980s to describe "the oppression of and discrimination against people who are young." [ [ Re-Evaluation Counseling website] ] Since then the term has come to describe any mistreatment or silencing of children and/or youth. [ [ on Adultism] ]

In 1996, Jenny Sazama, an adultism expert with an organization called Youth On Board, explained that,

This definition is now used widely by youth-serving organizations and education institutions seeking to counter the effects of adultism. The Child Welfare League of America writes,

While not meeting universal acceptance, one national media organization promotes the notion that "adultism is the foundation for all forms of oppression," due to the commonality of every person's having experienced said discrimination. [ [ American Pictures] ]

Illustrating the commonality of this problem, local youth-serving organizations increasingly address adultism. A program in Oakland, California, describes the impact of adultism, which "hinders the development of youth, in particular, their self-esteem and self-worth, ability to form positive relationships with caring adults, or even see adults as allies." [ [ Youth Together Glossary] ]

The Texas Network of Youth Services offers a [ list of traits] associated with adultism.

imilar terms

Adultism is a generalization of paternalism, allowing for the broad force of adulthood beyond males, and may be witnessed in the infantalization of children and youth. It has been proposed pedophobia (the fear of children) and ephebiphobia (the fear of youth) are antecedents to adultism. [Fletcher, A. (2006) "Washington Youth Voice Handbook" Olympia, WA: CommonAction] Tokophobia, the fear of childbirth, may also be a precursor; gerontophobia, or its antonym, gerontocracy, may be extensions of adultism.Fact|date=May 2007

Similar terms such as adult privilege, adultarchy, and adultcentrism/adultocentrism have been proposed as alternatives which are more morphologically parallel. Some activists alternatively call adultism "youthism," equating it to sexism and heterosexism. [ [ Youth Liberation: An Interview With Brian Dominick on Znet] ] The dilemma inherent in this term is present in other activist circles, where "youthism" is employed to indicate "one form of ageism which describes people who hold beliefs or take actions advocating unfavourable balance of power or resources toward the 'younger' generations." [ Kelly, B. [ "'Youthism' and Ageism in Our Movement?"] Next Left Notes (2006).] (See "jeunism" in the following paragraph.)

At least one prominent organization describes discrimination against youth as ageism, which is any form of discrimination against anyone due to their age. The National Youth Rights Association argues that ageism is a more natural and understandable term than adultism and thus is more commonly used among the young people affected by this discrimination. [ [ Thread from National Youth Rights Association Online Forums re: Ageism vs. Adultism] . Retrieved 7/20/08.] Advocates of using 'ageism' also believe it makes common cause with older people fighting against their own form of age discrimination. [ [ Alex Koroknay-Palicz's blog] . Retrieved 7/20/08.] However, a national organization called Youth On Board counters this, arguing that "addressing adultist behavior by calling it ageism is discrimination against youth in itself." [Young, K & Sazama, J (2006) "15 Points to Successfully Involving Youth in Decision-Making." Boston: [ Youth On Board] .]

The opposite of adultism is jeunism, which is defined as the preference of young people and adolescents over adults.


In his seminal 1978 article, Flasher explained that adultism is born of the belief that children are inferior, professing that adultism can be manifested as excessive nurturing, possessiveness, or over-restrictiveness, all of which are consciously or unconsciously geared toward excessive control of a child. [Flasher, J. (1978) Adultism. Adolescence 13(51) Fal 1978, 521.]

Recently, theologians Heather Eaton and Matthew Fox proposed, "Adultism derives from adults repressing the inner child." [Eaton, H & Fox, M. "Chapter 10: Transcendent Spirit: Child Honoring and Religion." in Cavoukian, R. (Ed) & Olfman, S. (Ed). (2006). "Child honoring: How to turn this world around." Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers/Greenwood Publishing Group.] John Holt stated, "An understanding of adultism might begin to explain what I mean when I say that much of what is known as children's art is an adult invention." [Holt, J. (Ed) "Teach your own: The John Holt book of homeschooling." Perseus Publishing.] That perspective is seemingly supported by Maya Angelou, who remarked:

Classification of adultism

Experts have identified multiple forms of adultism, offering a typology that includes internalized adultism, [ [ Get The Word Out!] Jenny Sazama (2004). p.12] institutionalized adultism, [Hernandez, D. & Rehman, B. (eds). (2002)"Colonize This!: Young Women of Color on Today's Feminism". Seal Press] cultural adultism, and other forms.

Internalized adultism

A University of Michigan researcher asserts that internalized adultism causes youth to "question their own legitimacy, doubt their ability to make a difference" and perpetuate a "culture of silence" among young people. [ [ Adults as Allies] (1998) WK Kellogg Foundation.] "Adultism convinces us as children that children don't really count," reports an investigative study, and it "becomes extremely important to us [children] to have the approval of adults and be 'in good' with them, even if it means betraying our fellow children. This aspect of internalized adultism leads to such phenomena as tattling on our siblings or being the 'teacher's pet,' to name just two examples." [ [ Cult Awareness and Information Center] ] Other examples of internalized adultism include many forms of violence imposed upon children and youth by adults who are reliving the violence they faced as young people, such as corporal punishment, sexual abuse, verbal abuse, and community incidents that include store policies prohibiting youth from visiting shops without adults, and police, teachers, or parents chasing young people from areas without just cause. [ [ Understanding adultism: A key to developing positive youth-adult relationships.] by John Bell]

Institutional adultism

Institutional adultism may be apparent in any instance of systemic bias, where formalized limitations or demands are placed on people simply because of their young age. Policies, laws, rules, organizational structures, and systematic procedures each serve as mechanisms to leverage, perpetuate, and instill adultism throughout society. These limitations are often reinforced through physical force, coercion or police actions and are often seen as double-standards. [Males, M. (1997) "Framing Youth: 10 Myths about the Next Generation." "Courts have explicitly ruled that policy-makers may impose adult responsibilities and punishments on individual youths as if they were adults at the same time laws and policies abrogate adolescents’ rights en masse as if they were children."] This treatment is increasingly seen as a form of gerontocracy. [ [ Monitor Breakfast with James Carville and Stanley Greenberg] "This is not class warfare, this is generational warfare. This administration and old wealthy people have declared war on young people. That is the real war that is going on here. And that is the war we've got to talk about." - James Carville] [Gatto, J.T. (2002) [ The Underground History of American Education] "Children allowed to take responsibility and given a serious part in the larger world are always superior to those merely permitted to play and be passive. At the age of twelve, Admiral Farragut got his first command."]

Institutions perpetuating adultism may include the fudiciary, legal, educational, communal, religious, and governmental sectors of a community. For examples see:

*Over-medicating children [Breeding, J. (n.d.) [ Does ADHD Even Exist? The Ritalin Sham] Sunriver, OR: The Natural Child Project.]
*Compulsory education
*Access to contraceptives
*Criminalization [Giroux, H. "Take Back Higher Education: Race, Youth, and the Crisis of Democracy in the Post-Civil Rights Era (2004).]
*Drinking age
*Age of candidacy
*Access to healthcare [ Institutionalized discrimination is also viewed as structural violence. See Kelly, P. "Fighting for Hope" (1984) for specific evidence of instutional adultism in healthcare, identified as structural violence. "A third of the 2,000 million people in the developing countries are starving or suffering from malnutrition. Twenty-five per cent of their children die before their fifth birthday... Less than 10 per cent of the 15 million children who died this year had been vaccinated against the six most common and dangerous children's diseases. Vaccinating every child costs £3 per child. But not doing so costs us five million lives a year. These are classic examples of structural violence."]
*Freedom of religion
*The Draft (Men's rights)
*Voting age
*Child soldiers
*"See also" Legal issues affecting adolescence "and" Total institutions

Cultural adultism

Cultural adultism is a much more ambiguous, yet much more prevalent, form of discrimination or intolerance towards youth.Fact|date=May 2007 Any restriction or exploitation of people because of their young age, as opposed to their ability, comprehension, or capacity, may be said to be adultist. These restrictions are often attributed to euphemisms afforded to adults on the basis of age alone, such as "better judgment" or "the wisdom of age." A parenting magazine editor comments, "Most of the time people talk differently to kids than to adults, and often they act differently, too." [ [ Treating children as equals.] Wright, J. New Renaissance Magazine (2001)."] This summarizes cultural adultism. For examples see:

*Child abuse
*Academic misconceptions of youth
*Online filters
*Corporal punishment
*Child labor
*Mass marketing to youth
*Peer pressure
*Child prostitution
*Controversy over sagging
*Stereotypes about Youth subculture
*Teen sex
*Drinking age
*Generation gap


ocial stratification

Discrimination against age is increasingly recognized as a form of bigotry in social and cultural settings around the world. An increasing number of social institutions are acknowledging the positions of children and youth as an oppressed minority group. [(2006) "15 Points to Successfully Involving Youth in Decision-Making." Boston: Youth On Board. p 95.] Many youth are rallying against the adultist myths spread through mass media from the 1970s through the 1990s. [(2004) [ "Making Space - Making Change: Profiles of Youth-Led and Youth-Driven Organizations"] . Movement Strategy Center. p 17. Retrieved 9/7/07.] [Giroux, H. "The Abandoned Generation: Democracy Beyond the Culture of Fear" (2003).]

Research compiled from two sources (a Cornell University nation-wide study, and a Harvard University study on youth) has shown that social stratification between age groups causes stereotyping and generalization; for instance, the media-perpetuated myth that all adolescents are immature, violent and rebellious. [(2006) "15 Points to Successfully Involving Youth in Decision-Making." Boston: Youth On Board. p 94.] Opponents of adultism contend that this has led to growing number of youth, academics, researchers, and other adults rallying against adultism and ageism, such as organizing education programs, protesting statements, and creating organizations devoted to publicizing the concept and addressing it. [(2006) "15 Points to Successfully Involving Youth in Decision-Making." Boston: Youth On Board. p 92.]

Simultaneously, research shows that young people who struggle against adultism within community organizations have a high rate of impact upon said agencies, as well as their peers, the adults who work with them, and the larger community to which the organization belongs [Zeldin, S, Kusgen-McDaniel, A, & Topitzes, D. [ "Youth In Decision-Making: A Study on The Impacts of Youth on Adults and Organizations"] (2001).]

Cultural responses

There may be many negative effects of adultism, including ephebiphobia and a growing generation gap. A reactive social response to adultism takes the form of the children's rights movement, led by young people who strike against being exploited for their labor. Numerous popular outlets are employed to strike out against adultism, particularly music and movies. Additionally, many youth-led social change efforts have inherently responded to adultism, particularly those associated with youth activism and student activism, each of which in their own respects have struggled with the effects of institutionalized and cultural adultism. [(2006) "15 Points to Successfully Involving Youth in Decision-Making." Boston: Youth On Board. p 92.]

Academic developments

A growing number of governmental, academic, and educational institutions around the globe have created policy, conducted studies, and created publications that respond to many of the insinuations and implications of adultism. Much of popular researcher Margaret Mead's work can be said to be a response to adultism. [Michell, L.M. (2006) "Child-Centered? Thinking critically about children's drawings as a visual research method." "Visual Anthropology Review. 22"(1) Spring. pp 68.] Current researchers whose work analyzes the effects of adultism include sociologist Mike Males [Chu, J. (1997) "Navigating the Media Environment: How Youth Claim a Place through Zines," "Social Justice. 24". p 147.] and critical theorist Henry Giroux.

Addressing adultism

Any inanimate or animate exhibition of adultism is said to be "adultist". This may include behaviors, policies, practices, institutions, or individuals.

Educator John Holt proposed that teaching adults about adultism is a vital step to addressing the effects of adultism [Holt, J. (2003) "Teach Your Own" Perseus Publishing.] , and at least one organization [ [ Youth On Board] ] and one curriculum [Creighton, A. & Kivel, P. (1992) "Helping Teens Stop Violence: A Practical Guide for Counselors, Educators, and Parents" Hunter House.] do just that. Several educators have created curricula that seek to teach youth about adultism, as well. [Miller-McLemore, B. (2003) "Let the Children Come: Reimagining Childhood from a Christian Perspective" Josey-Bass.] Currently, organizations responding to the negative effects of adultism include the United Nations, which has conducted a great deal of research [ [ The Evolving Capacities of the Child] UNICEF. (2005)] in addition to recognizing the need to counter adultism through policy and programs. The CRC has particular Articles (5 and 12) which are specifically committed to combating adultism. The international organization Human Rights Watch has done the same. [ [ The Difference between Youth and Adults] HRW online.]

Common practice accepts the engagement of youth voice and the formation of youth-adult partnerships as essential steps to resisting adultism. [(n.d.) [ Adultism Resources] The Freechild Project website.]

ee also

*Age discrimination
*National Youth Rights Association
*The Freechild Project
*Children's rights
*Youth rights
*The Mosquito


External links

*Bell, J. (n.d.) " [ Understanding Adultism: A Key to Developing Positive Youth-Adult Relationships.] " Olympia, WA: The Freechild Project.
* [ Adultism and the Roots of Authoritarianism]
*Velázquez, J. and Garin-Jones, M. (2003) [ "Adultism and Cultural Competence"] "Children's Voice" Child Welfare League of America. January/February 2003.
* [ Unit on Adultism] from, originally located at Creighton University.
*Tate, T. (2003) "Insist or enlist? Adultism versus climates of excellence." "Reclaiming Children and Youth, 12"(1) p. 40-46.

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