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ageism

Parenting

Could the concept of adultism transform relationships between adults and children?

14 May, 2014

The concept of Adultism – a stealth prejudice in many of our homes

“Isms” are rare in my circle of friends, colleagues and acquaintances. Nearly everyone I know is involved in a journey of eradicating any sexism, racism or other prejudice in their lives. We are all aware that NO ONE should be treated worse because they are different.

Apart from children.

They are different and they are treated poorly because of it.

Adultism

Consider how happily we humiliate children in public- forcing them to say “please” and “thank you” before giving them the item they want.

We treat their bodies like our property – taking stuff out of their hands without invitation, moving them aside without an “Excuse me”, forcing clothes on them.

We talk about children while they are right there “How old is she?” “Is she a good girl?”

We fail to take their conversation seriously – a toddler will be explaining something, or telling a story, and so often, instead of listening and responding sensibly, we chuckle, and interrupt with “Hehe, you are TOO CUTE!” And we catch other adult’s eyes to laugh at this funny little thing’s wild story of a broken leg and a horse called Shakira.

We don’t trust a child’s judgement- frequently over ruling their own ideas and solutions, often just with one word “No” or four words, “Because I said so!”

We question their feelings – “You’re not scared” and we tell them to stop feeling them “Don’t be sad!” in a way that I have never heard one adult say to another.

We give children no say in their activities and force them to tug along with out agenda “Right, time to go!” or “You don’t want that mobile phone, here have this maraca instead!”

We tell children not to listen to their own bodies, but to trust US because we ACTUALLY know what they’re bodies are saying “You haven’t eaten enough! You can’t possible be full!” Or “Come on, it is 8pm you must be tired.” Or “It is freezing! You must keep your jumper on!”

There are many more ways we oppress children because of their age- I could go on and on; they are tripping out of my typing fingers because I know them too well. I am guilty of at least a couple of these every single day.

And all of these examples, if we were to change “child” to “woman” or “disabled person” would be completely and utterly OUTRAGEOUS. But we feel free to treat children this way simply because they are young and often don’t have the words to protest. (Or they do protest and we call it a tantrum.)

Adultism

The concept of adultism, as defined by Dr Checkoway is “…all of the behaviors and attitudes that flow from the assumption that adults are better than young people, and are entitled to act upon young people in many ways without their agreement.”

I believe that awareness is the first, crucial step towards change. It was reading Parenting for Social Change by Teresa Brett and Escape from Childhood by John Holt that opened my eyes to the way I was allowing a corrupt power relationship to perpetuate injustice in my own home. Despite being utterly committed to a fair world, free from any “isms” I was allowing this massive “ism” to happen under my own roof.

(I’m not sure how served we are by the term “adultism” as opposed to “ageism” which seems a more technically accurate term, and one that already has some traction due to older generation having their rights overlooked. It is possible that ageism, in relation to young people, might be a more palatable phrase.)

Gosh, this is all sounding a bit heavy, isn’t it? I have woken up all fired up about it this morning!

I also feel really positive though as awareness is happening, all over the world. Just as so many people in the world are challenging, and defeating, racism and sexism, I believe we are beginning the journey to challenging ageism against young people.

One day childhood will be experienced differently- we will treat children with respect and they will be free to enjoy their full plethora of rights. This concept of adultism could be the things that transforms this.

What do YOU think? 

Read my follow up post to this: A day in the life of a family challenging adultism.