Adultism is bias towards adults, which is often considered discrimination against youth. It is also society’s addiction to adults, including our attitudes, behaviors, beliefs and activities. The literature in this area is meager at best, and doesn’t explore the topic in-depth beyond assumptions, assertions and beliefs. However, it establishes a cultural, personal and structural basis for assessing the issue.
Following is some of the literature that has informed the Freechild Institute’s work in this area. Please cite this page if you use this information.
- “Constitutional Suffrage for Women” by W. S. Harwood in The North American Review 162; 474 (May, 1896), pp. 632-634. Retrieved August 2018 from here.
This is the first article in which “adultism” was coined. The author, making the claim that adults are uniquely situated to vote because of their age, suggests children are not able because they haven’t experienced adultism, which is roughly defined here as the process of becoming an adult.
- “Adultism the rock of offense” by Patterson DuBois in Kindergarten Review, Vol. 11, pp. 261-264. (January 1901). Retrieved August 2018 here.
The oldest reference to adultism available, this chapter explores historical and contemporary understandings of adultism, which is described as an affliction resulting in acting like adults. John Dewey’s theory of children learning through political perspectives is examined in-depth, with the author ultimately scorning any attempt to treat children other than static, demarcated creatures who need to play with toys and have fun.
- “Adultism” by Jack Flasher in Adolescence (1978).
Psychologist Jack Flasher is generally credited with first using the term in this sense in a 1978 journal article. Although not widely accepted, the concept of adultism has received attention in the children’s rights movement, within critical psychology, throughout youth development and in education. This is the foundational paper that establishes adultism as the abuse of the power adults have over children. Parents, teachers, psychotherapists, the clergy, police, judges, and juries are all guilty of the belief children are inferior to them. Through excessive nurturing, possessiveness, and over-restrictiveness, adultism is consciously or unconsciously geared toward excessive control of the child.
- “The New Demons: Ordinary Teens” by Mike Males in the LA Times, April 21, 2002. Retrieved August 2018 from here.
The author of this article is a sociologist who has published several books outlining the statistical realities facing youth in the 1990s: They weren’t as violent, distraught, at-risk or incapable as adults made them out to be.
- “Understanding Adultism: A Key to Developing Positive Youth-Adult Relationships” by John Bell (1995). Retrieved August 2018 from here.
An outstanding article that explores adultism, including what it looks like, its implications, activities, and impacts on society.
- “The Politics of Paternalism: Adult and Youth Perspectives on Youth Voice in Public Policy” by Jerusha Osberg Conner, Nathan C. Ober and Amanda S. Brown in Teachers College Record (2016).
Studying the implementation of a local youth council, the authors researched the practice and outcomes of adultism in one city. Developing a theoretical framework of adultism to guide the analysis, they used open and axial coding, memo writing, and the construction of matrices and charts to track emergent patterns. Among their findings, they identify a “roller coaster of adultism” and reveal how adultism interacts with specific structures and realities in policy-making.
- “The ‘Harper’s Index’ of Myths About American Teens” by Mike Males (2001). Retrieved August 2018 from here.
This is a MUST-READ for any adult who is serious about debunking myths about modern teenagers. Includes startlingly reaffirming statistics about teen drinking, violence, and more.
- “Treating Children as Equals” by Jody Wright in New Renaissance magazine Vol. 8, No. 3. Retrieved August 2018 from http://www.soaw.org/resources/anti-opp-resources/113-age/632
In this article the author details how parents are complicit in adultism and how we can fight adultism at home.
- “Critical Pedagogy, Democratic Praxis, and Adultism” by Toby Rollo, J. Cynthia McDermott, Richard Kahn and Fred Chapel. Retrieved August 2018 at https://goo.gl/mRWZnR
This article is the most thorough critical examination of adultism I’ve ever seen. From a social justice lens, the authors explore the roles of adultism in several educational settings, including the popular Foxfire program, the Highlander Center, and specifically anti-adultist PAR.
- “Age bias for young and old through the years” in Canberra Times. (2005).
- “Adultism in Architecture. Are Children Being Discriminated Against by our Urban Surroundings?” By Anna Jens for GRIN Verlag, (2015).
This short booklet exposes how adultism—discrimination against youth—is apparent in the built environment as well as psychological dispositions.
- “Section 1.3.1: Adultism and Protective Exclusion in Childhood” by Murli Desai in A Rights-Based Preventative Approach for Psychosocial Well-being in Childhood for Springer (2010). Retrieved August 2018 here.
This chapter and the subsequent text examines a sociological understanding of adultism, and apparently makes a case for its extension and rationalizes its usage throughout society.
- “Adultism and childism” in Philosophy and Education: An introduction to key questions and themes by Joanna Haynes, Ken Gale and Melanie Parker (2002). Retrieved August 2018 here.
This short section reviews historic and current literature to explore adultism while co-relating it to “childism.”
- Kids & Guns: How Politicians, Experts, and the Press Fabricate Fear of Youth by Mike Males (2004). Retrieved August 2018 here.
Imagine if national news agencies endlessly featured every child murdered at home by parents, every enraged midlife middle-class gun massacre. Inconceivable. “Kids and guns” is not the problem, but a diversion by a complacent, established America that propagates demographic myths about age and race, culture-war trivialities, and sensational scapegoating to avoid facing its own violence.
- “Adults Just Don’t Understand: Checking Out Our Everyday Adultism” by Kel Krey for everydayfeminism.com. Retrieved August 2018 here.
A good summary of adultism in parenting and beyond.
- Childism: Confronting Prejudice Against Children by Elisabeth Young-Bruehl for Yale University Press (2012).
Describing a vast discrimination against children worldwide, the author argues the human rights of children are constantly violated by childism. This is a neologism coined by the author, and the book was well-received.
- “Adultism: Discrimination by another name” by Tamara Stewart in The 21st-century Black Librarian in America: Issues and Challenges edited by Andrew P. Jackson, Julius Jefferson Jr. and Akilah Nosakhere for Scarecrow Press.
This chapter examines adultism from a racial and place-specific lens, looking at African American youth in libraries. It’s a fascinatingly pointed perspective, offering learning on the unique applications and implications of adultism in a specific place.
- “Unlearning adultism at Green Shoots: a reflexive ethnographic analysis of age inequality within an environmental education programme” by Donovon Ceaser in Journal Ethnography and Education (2014).
The author examines their own experience as a teacher in a social and environmental justice program for the appearance, affects and outcomes of adultism.
- “What Does ‘Equality’ Mean For Children In Relation To Adults?” by Harry Shier CESESMA for Queen’s University (2012). Retrieved August 2018 from here.
- “Insist or Enlist? Adultism Versus Climates of Excellence” by Thomas Tate, Thomas and Randall Copas for Reclaiming Children and Youth (2003). Retrieved April 2022 here.
- “Ageism and adultism curriculum design” by Barbara J. Love and Kathleen J. Phillips in Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice, edited by Maurianne Adams, Lee Anne Bell and Pat Griffin. (2007)
This chapter explores what adultism is, what it does and why it matters in educational settings. The authors share activities for teaching about adultism and identify the possibilities of educating others about adultism.
- “Understanding Adultism and Adult Privilege: An Essential Step Towards Honouring Children and Young People” a Powerpoint by Bob Pease for The Tasmanian Children’s Commission Forum (2015). Retrieved August 2018 here.
This is a presentation on adultism outlines what it is, highlighting intersectionality and other current concerns.
- “The nonadultist adult” in Philosophy of Childhood Today: Exploring the Boundaries edited by Brock Bahler and David Kennedy for Lexington Books (2016).
This chapter explores the roles, activities and outcomes of adults who are committed to not perpetuating adultism.
- “Module 9 Critical Theories of Deconstruction of Problems in Childhood” by Murli Desai in Introduction to Rights-based Direct Practice with Children for SpringerLink (2018).
- “Facing Adultism” by Adam F.C. Fletcher for CommonAction (2014).
In Facing Adultism, Adam Fletcher talks straight about discrimination against young people, and pulls no punches as he lays out the realities of adultism today. Originally published as Ending Discrimination Against Young People, in this book Fletcher lays out the details of adultism in all of its forms. Showing how adultism affects everyone, he shows the way for anyone who wants to defeat discrimination against young people. In these pages, you’ll learn what adultism is; where adultism happens; and how YOU can make a difference. It can be rough out there for children and youth, and the ways we’re young shape our whole lives. You don’t have to be blind about adultism anymore, as this book shines the light like no other.
Fletcher, Adam F.C. (2022) “Freechild Bibliography on Adultism.” Olympia, WA: Freechild Institute. Retrieved April 22, 2022 from freechild.org.
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