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Age restriction of operating the waffle baker independently

Adultism is a predisposition towards adults, which can also be viewed as biased against children, youth, and all young people who are not 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.[1]


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.[2]

This definition has been superseded by another from a late 1970s journal article proposing that adultism is the abuse of the power that adults have over children.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.[3]

Co-Counseling adopted the term in the late 1980s to describe "the oppression of and discrimination against people who are young."[4] Since then the term has come to describe any mistreatment or silencing of children and/or youth.[5]

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

Young people are systemically mistreated and disrespected by society, with adults as the agents of the oppression. The basis of young people's oppression is disrespect. Manifestations of the oppression include: systematic invalidation, denial of voice or respectful attention, physical abuse, lack of information, misinformation, denial of any power, economic dependency, lack of rights, and any combination of the above.[6]

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,

"[Adultism is] an adult practice of forming certain beliefs about young people and practicing certain behaviors toward them because of societal views, usually negative, that are based on their age. Adultism happens when this prejudice is combined with the ability of adults to exert control over the lives of young people. When adults practice adultism, young people are viewed as objects instead of resources. The end result is that young people become disempowered and disenfranchised.[7]

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.[8]

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."[9]

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

Similar 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.[10] Tokophobia, the fear of childbirth, may also be a precursor; gerontophobia, or its antonym, gerontocracy, may be extensions of adultism.

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.[11] 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."[12] (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.[13] Advocates of using 'ageism' also believe it makes common cause with older people fighting against their own form of age discrimination.[14] 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."[15]

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.[16]

Recently, theologians Heather Eaton and Matthew Fox proposed, "Adultism derives from adults repressing the inner child."[17] 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."[18] That perspective is seemingly supported by Maya Angelou, who remarked:

We are all creative, but by the time we are three or four years old, someone has knocked the creativity out of us. Some people shut up the kids who start to tell stories. Kids dance in their cribs, but someone will insist they sit still. By the time the creative people are ten or twelve, they want to be like everyone else.[19]

Evidence of Adultism

A 2006/2007 survey conducted by the Children's Rights Alliance for England and the National Children's Bureau asked 4,060 children and young people whether they have ever been treated unfairly based on various criteria (race, age, sex, sexual orientation, etc). A total of 43% of British youth surveyed reported experiencing discrimination based on their age, far eclipsing other categories of discrimination like sex (27%), race (11%), or sexual orientation (6%).[20]

Classification of adultism

Experts have identified multiple forms of adultism, offering a typology that includes internalized adultism,[21] institutionalized adultism,[22] cultural adultism, and other forms.

Internalized adultism

University of Michigan professor Barry Checkoway 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.[23] "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."[24] 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.[25]

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.[26] This treatment is increasingly seen as a form of gerontocracy.[27][28]

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

Cultural adultism

Cultural adultism is a much more ambiguous, yet much more prevalent, form of discrimination or intolerance towards youth. 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."[32] This summarizes cultural adultism. For examples see:


Social 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.[33] Many youth are rallying against the adultist myths spread through mass media from the 1970s through the 1990s. [34][35]

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.[36] 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.[37]

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[38]

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.[37]

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.[39] Current researchers whose work analyzes the effects of adultism include sociologist Mike Males[40] 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[41], and at least one organization[42] and one curriculum[43] do just that. Several educators have created curricula that seek to teach youth about adultism, as well.[44] Currently, organizations responding to the negative effects of adultism include the United Nations, which has conducted a great deal of research[45] 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.[46]

Common practice accepts the engagement of youth voice and the formation of youth-adult partnerships as essential steps to resisting adultism.[47]

See also


  1. ^ Scraton, P. (1997) "Childhood" in "crisis"? Routledge. p. 25.
  2. ^ Courbon, P. (1933). Mental adultism and precocious growth of the personality. Annales Medico-Psychologiques. 87, 355-362.
  3. ^ Flasher, J. (1978) Adultism. Adolescence 13(51) Fall 1978, 517-523.
  4. ^ Re-Evaluation Counseling website
  5. ^ on Adultism
  6. ^ Understanding Adultism Jenny Sazama (1996).
  7. ^ (n.d.) Building Positive Youth and Adult Partnerships by the National Foster Youth Advisory Council of the Child Welfare League of America.
  8. ^ American Pictures
  9. ^ Youth Together Glossary
  10. ^ Fletcher, A. (2006) Washington Youth Voice Handbook Olympia, WA: CommonAction
  11. ^ Youth Liberation: An Interview With Brian Dominick on Znet
  12. ^ Kelly, B. "'Youthism' and Ageism in Our Movement?" Next Left Notes (2006).
  13. ^ Thread from National Youth Rights Association Online Forums re: Ageism vs. Adultism. Retrieved 7/20/08.
  14. ^ Alex Koroknay-Palicz's blog. Retrieved 7/20/08.
  15. ^ Young, K & Sazama, J (2006) 15 Points to Successfully Involving Youth in Decision-Making. Boston: Youth On Board.
  16. ^ Flasher, J. (1978) Adultism. Adolescence 13(51) Fal 1978, 521.
  17. ^ 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.
  18. ^ Holt, J. (Ed) Teach your own: The John Holt book of homeschooling. Perseus Publishing.
  19. ^ Iraki, X.N. and Mukurima, Muriuki. "Kenya Times News, Opinion--Education new vehicle of a class society". Retrieved 2007-03-21.  
  20. ^ Willow, C., Franklin, A. and Shaw, C. (2007). Meeting the obligations of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in England. Children and young people's messages to Government. DCSF.
  21. ^ Get The Word Out! Jenny Sazama (2004). p.12
  22. ^ Hernandez, D. & Rehman, B. (eds). (2002)Colonize This!: Young Women of Color on Today's Feminism. Seal Press
  23. ^ Adults as Allies (1998) WK Kellogg Foundation.
  24. ^ Cult Awareness and Information Center
  25. ^ Understanding adultism: A key to developing positive youth-adult relationships. by John Bell
  26. ^ 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."
  27. ^ 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
  28. ^ 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."
  29. ^ Breeding, J. (n.d.) Does ADHD Even Exist? The Ritalin Sham Sunriver, OR: The Natural Child Project.
  30. ^ Giroux, H. Take Back Higher Education: Race, Youth, and the Crisis of Democracy in the Post-Civil Rights Era (2004).
  31. ^ Institutionalized discrimination is also viewed as structural violence. See Kelly, P. "Fighting for Hope" (1984) for specific evidence of institutional 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."
  32. ^ Treating children as equals. Wright, J. New Renaissance Magazine (2001)."
  33. ^ (2006) 15 Points to Successfully Involving Youth in Decision-Making. Boston: Youth On Board. p 95.
  34. ^ (2004) "Making Space - Making Change: Profiles of Youth-Led and Youth-Driven Organizations". Movement Strategy Center. p 17. Retrieved 9/7/07.
  35. ^ Giroux, H. "The Abandoned Generation: Democracy Beyond the Culture of Fear" (2003).
  36. ^ (2006) 15 Points to Successfully Involving Youth in Decision-Making. Boston: Youth On Board. p 94.
  37. ^ a b (2006) 15 Points to Successfully Involving Youth in Decision-Making. Boston: Youth On Board. p 92.
  38. ^ Zeldin, S, Kusgen-McDaniel, A, & Topitzes, D. "Youth In Decision-Making: A Study on The Impacts of Youth on Adults and Organizations" (2001).
  39. ^ 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.
  40. ^ Chu, J. (1997) "Navigating the Media Environment: How Youth Claim a Place through Zines," Social Justice. 24. p 147.
  41. ^ Holt, J. (2003) Teach Your Own Perseus Publishing.
  42. ^ Youth On Board
  43. ^ Creighton, A. & Kivel, P. (1992) Helping Teens Stop Violence: A Practical Guide for Counselors, Educators, and Parents Hunter House.
  44. ^ Miller-McLemore, B. (2003) Let the Children Come: Reimagining Childhood from a Christian Perspective Josey-Bass.
  45. ^ The Evolving Capacities of the Child UNICEF. (2005)
  46. ^ The Difference between Youth and Adults HRW online.
  47. ^ (n.d.) Adultism Resources The Freechild Project website.

External links

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