Adultism: A barrier for young people

Abigail King

Although racism and sexism are persistent in today’s society, a new “ism” is becoming consequential issue: adultism.

Adultism is the bias towards adults, leading to discriminate in youth. Often, youth experiencing adultism are not allowed to make decisions for themselves or others due to the idea that youth are not developed enough to exercise proper judgement.

Adultism is found not only in households, but in social institutions, laws, and youth organizations. Common phrases adults direct towards children that enact adultism in the household include “That adults are talking,” “As long as you live in my house, you will do as I say,” and “You are too young to understand.”

Another major act of adultism in the household is not allowing youth to make their own decisions or help with decisions for others.

Youth’s decisions are also marginalized in society and social institutions. At school, student’s opinions and views are not always accounted for and it is acceptable for an adult to raise their voice at a student, but students are punished if they treat an adult in such a way.

There are also laws that enforce adultism. In some communities, the law enforces a curfew. Curfews are typically for only youth because it is believed that youth are more likely to commit a crime than adults. This belief is false. Adults from the age of 18 to 24 are more likely to commit a crime than 10 to 17- year-olds.

While it is argued that the youth brain is not fully developed so youth should not be making decisions, youth often have a different, viable perspective on situations.The developing brains of youth allow them to think outside of the box and find new, even better ways of solving a problem.

Adultism can have a severe negative effect on youth. When experiencing adultism, youth lose their self-confidence, self-worth, and their ability to function in the world also diminishes. Adultism can also lead youth to act out in unintended self-destructive ways. These ways may include getting sick frequently, increase in mental disorders, and attempting suicide.

There are many steps that can be taken to decrease and stop the use of adultism in society. The first step that must be done is to accept that adultism is an issue and reflect on individual acts of adultism. Asking questions such as, “Would I treat an adult this way?” “Would I make this decision for an adult?” and “Would I limit an adult’s behavior in this way?” are beneficial in reflecting on adultism.

Once individual adultism begins to diminish, engaging youth in government agencies and community organizations is the next step. Even for programs centered around youth, the youth does not have a voice and adultism is prevalent.

A final step in decreasing adultism is noticing the difference of guiding and teaching youth and enforcing adultism upon youth. Youth are still in need of guidance, but guidance is not taking control and forcing youth down a certain path.