Ephebiphobia is the fear of youth. The Freechild Project

Ephebiphobia… is a full-blown media panic. Images of “ordinary” teenagers besieging grown-up havens are everywhere… Today’s ephebiphobia is the latest installment of a history of bogus moral panics targeting unpopular subgroups to obscure an unsettling reality: Our worst social crisis is middle-Americans own misdirected fear.

— Mike Males

It isn’t a surprise to many young people or adults: There are people throughout society who refuse to go near youth, to the point where they move away, lobby against, and vote against anything positively affecting young people, with the idea that those actions will keep youth away from them.

These actions may be symptoms of a social condition called ephebiphobia. Ephebiphobia is the fear of youth. In the United Kingdom ephebiphobia is also called paedophobia. This term was coined 10 years ago to capture the society-wide panic that has gripped media, politicians, and even schools. It is generally based in negative stereotypes and bad experiences from childhood, and is perpetuated by the way popular media portrays young people.

Ephebiphobia is part of a spectrum of age-based fear that includes

  • Pediaphobia – The fear of infants and/or young children
  • Ephebiphobia – The fear of youth
  • Gerontophobia – The fear of elders/seniors

These fears often lead to discrimination. Any discrimination based on age is called ageism; discrimination against youth specifically is called adultism.

Details about the Fear of Youth

Originally coined by Kirk Astroth, a 4-H outreach agent in Montana, today ephebiphobia is recognized as a major issue in youth engagement throughout society. Sociologists, government agencies, educators and youth advocacy organizations use ephebiphobia to describe any loathing, paranoia, or fear of young people, or the time of life called “youth”. In the United Kingdom the word “paedophobia” has become the popular word describing a fear of youth.  The fear of children is called “pedophobia” is the fear of infants and children.

ISSUE: Ephebiphobia affects Democracy

  • Democratic process Denying young people the right to voteand the right of representation, making policy without youth voice and creating laws, policies and structures that exclude young people may all be signs of a fear of youth in government.
  • Segregation Libraries and agencies may exclude or deny youth participation as an outreach method, and police, government workers and administrators may act in overbearing or misguided ways.
  • Voter turnout When young people experience connection throughout their community through volunteering, activism and other forms of civic engagement, they are more likely to become and stay active voters throughout their lives. However, the fear of youth has led politicians and voting organizations to neglect young peoples’ concerns and energy.

ISSUE: Ephebiphobia affects Culture

  • Demonization Media organizations demonize young people while dance troupes and football teams neglect physical differences
  • Discrimination youth of color are left out of traditional youth leadership activities and then locked up in juvenile detention centers. The fear of youth can make young peoples’ experiences of racism and sexism worse, as well.
  • Family Breakup Families are severally affected by ephebiphobia, as parents develop an increasing amount of fear of their own children and other young people around them.

ISSUE: Ephebiphobia affects Education

  • Compulsory Fear of youth might have been a reason why schools became compulsory in the late 1800s and early 1900s. After too many children and youth were forced to work in the labor market, many couldn’t find jobs and ended up on the streets without an “occupation”. Schools were created as places where young people could have a productive experiences throughout the day – without being in public and scaring adults.
  • Corporal punishment While only “brave” adults became teachers, their fear is said to have led to the introduction ofcorporal punishment in schools. Ephebiphobia can also increase racism in schools.
  • Age Segregation Fear of youth may happen when large numbers of young people of any age are allowed to congregate, cooperate and coordinate. The inability to distinguish between conspiracy and community may make some educators continue to keep students from interacting in schools.
  • Academic Achievement Student engagement has been shown to correlate to academic achievement, and when students sense a fear of youth, their engagement is severely affected. Classroom management, learning activities and student discipline are all affected by ephebiphobia – in all grade levels.

ISSUE: Ephebiphobia affects the Economy

  • Discrimination Signs in store windows outlawing under-18s without parents, minimum purchase rules and anti-youth friendly behavior
  • Jobs Businesses can also be afraid to have youth do any meaningful jobs, or help determine what activities, products or services the economy of local communities can or should offer.
  • Buying Research has shown that in the U.K. adults often develop a fear of youth in neighborhoods where they see young people regularly, with a large minority of adults actually moving to different areas to get away from youth.

ACTION: Create New Cultures

Our communities need new cultures where children and youth are seen as complete partners. Equity – helping people who start in different places reach the same goal – is absolutely required.

  • TIP: Advocate Actively include children, youth and adults as complete partners whenever and wherever possible.
  • TIP: Confront Don’t let ephebiphobia go unstopped when adults or youth show it. When prejudice words or behaviors happen, let people know that is not okay, and tell them why.
  • TIP: Create Safe, supportive and engaging places need to exist for youth and adults to interact as complete partners whenever and wherever possible.

ACTION: Create New Systems

The places where young people and adults do, should and can partner together cannot continue to operate the ways the do without changing. New systems – including policies, positions, funding and evaluations – have to be developed that actively engage children, youth and adults as complete partners.

  • TIP: Develop Organizations and institutions need positions and opportunities for young people and adults to become complete partners. That includes schools, community organizations, government agencies and foundations.
  • TIP: Educate Do not thrust young people or adults into any positions without educating them about what they are becoming involved in.
  • TIP: Make It Deep Encourage young people and adults to examine their partnerships whenever possible. Emphasize shared histories and the necessity of equitable education for children, youth and adults in order to illustrate the power of connection.

Reading List

  • Astroth, K. (1994) Beyond ephebiphobia: problem adults or problem youths? (fear of adolescents). ”Phi Delta Kappan”. January 1, 1994.
  • Bromwich, R.J. (2002) Beyond Villains and Victims: Some Thoughts on Youth and Violence in Canada. Toronto, ON: Women’s Justice Network.
  • Butts, P.M. (2000) ”Beyond Ephebiphobia: Overcoming the Fear of Middle & High School Students; A Program for Public Librarians.” Macatawa, MI: Macatawa Public Library.
  • Clark, C. (2004) ”Hurt: Inside the World of Today’s Teenagers (Youth, Family, and Culture).” Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.
  • Collins, J. (2002). “Gangs, Crime and Community Safety: Perceptions and Experiences in Multicultural Sydney. Sydney: University of Technology.
  • Coontz, S. (1999) ”The Way We Really Are: Coming to Terms With America’s Changing Families.” New York: Basic Books.
  • Giroux, H. (2003) ”The Abandoned Generation: Democracy beyond the culture of fear.” New York: Palgrave.
  • Giroux, H. (1999) ”The Mouse that Roared: Disney and the End of Innocence”. New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
  • Giroux, H. (2004) ”Take Back High Education: Race, Youth, and the Crisis of Democracy in the post-Civil Rights Era” New York: Palgrave.
  • Gray, D. (1999) “Negroponte: Europe’s Net development held back by fear of youth, risk taking.” CNN.
  • Grossberg, L (2005) ”Caught In The Crossfire: Kids, Politics, And America’s Future (Cultural Politics & the Promise of Democracy)” New York: Paradigm Publishers.
  • Institute for Public Policy Research. (2006). Childhood is changing, but “paedophobia” makes things worse.
  • Jones, P., Shoemaker, S. Chelton, M. (2001) ”Do It Right! Best Practices for Serving Young Adults in School and Public Libraries” New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers.
  • Gough, P. (2000) “Detoxifying Schools.” ”Phi Delta Kappan”. March 1, 2000.
  • Grønnestad-Damur, W. & Pratch, L. (n.d.) “No Ephebiphobia Here!” Edmonton: Edmonton Public Library.
  • Kozol, J. (2005) ”The Shame of a Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America”. New York: Three Rivers Press.
  • Males, M. (2002) “The New Demons: Ordinary teens.” Los Angeles Times.
  • Males, M. (2001) Lies, Damn Lies, and ‘Youth Risk’ Surveys.Youth Today.
  • Palladino, G. (1997) ”Teenagers: An American History.” New York: Basic Books.
  • Parrish, G. (1999). “Fear of Youth.” Seattle Weekly.
  • Scottish Executive (2006) Measurement of the Extent of Youth Crime in Scotland.
  • Shary, T. (2002). ”Generation Multiplex: The Image of Youth in Contemporary American Cinema.” Austin: University of Texas Press. p.4.
  • Street-Porter, J. (2005) The Politicians Fear of Youth Culture.The Independent.
  • “Studios caught in teen-age dilemmas Multiplex issues,” Worcester Telegram & Gazette (MA), July 20, 2001.
  • Waiton, S. (2006) “The Roots of Paedophobia.” Spiked magazine.
  • Youth Media Council. (2005) Reclaiming Meaning, Echoing Justice. Oakland, CA.
  • Youth Liberation, ”Z” magazine online.
  • Three Types of Youth Liberation by Sven Bonnichsen
  • Everyone deserves to be given a chance An essay against ageism towards teenagers, written by a Canadian adolescent.
  • Are We Down On Our Kids? A Review of ”Caught in the Crossfire: Kids, Politics, and America’s Future” by Lawrence Grossberg in ”Endeavours” magazine that diagnoses cultural ephebiphobia in the U.S.
  • Ayotte, W. (1986) ”As Soon as You’re Born They Make You Feel Small: Self Determination for Children.”
  • Chicago Anarchist Youth Federation (n.d.) ”Schoolstoppers Textbook.”
  • Cullen, S. (1991) ”Children in Society: a libertarian critique.” London: Freedom Press.
  • Goodman, P. (1964) ”Compulsory Mis-education and The Community of Scholars.” New York: Vintage Books.
  • Illich, I. (1970) ”Deschooling Society.” New York: Harrow Books.
  • Holt, J. (1972) ”Freedom and Beyond.” New York: E.P. Dutton & Co.
  • Miller, A. (1990) ”For Your Own Good: Hidden cruelty in child-rearing and the roots of violence.” 3rd edition. New York: Noonday Press.

You Might Like…

Elsewhere Online


Other tools are out there, too – share your thoughts in the comments below! For more information about how The Freechild Project can help challenge ephebiphobia in your community or organization, contact us.

Order FACING ADULTISM by Freechild founder Adam Fletcher at http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1517641233/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=1517641233&linkCode=as2&tag=thefreechildp-20&linkId=43XBKODOPHWZ46XW
Order FACING ADULTISM by Freechild founder Adam Fletcher!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s