Discrimination Against Youth Voice

The Freechild Project Youth Voice

 

Any honest conversation about Youth Voice must address the challenges that young people and adult allies face when they work to engage children and youth throughout our communities. By their very existence, Youth Voice programs are made to respond to these challenges; ignoring them is not being honest about the purpose of Youth Voice. Racism, sexism, classism, homophobia… the list of challenges facing young people is enormous. However, one of the core challenges is a common experience that all people face early in their lives. That challenge is discrimination against children and youth.

Discrimination occurs anytime one thing is chosen before something else. That is often a good thing – otherwise, why wouldn’t we all steal our food instead of growing it or buying it? We all discriminate everyday. However, discrimination often excludes people because of false bias or prejudice.

Discrimination against children and youth is caused by the bias adults have for other adults that causes them to discriminate against young people. Bias for adults is called adultism. When something is based on adultism, it is called adultcentrism.While adultism is sometimes appropriate, adultcentrism is often inappropriate. Compulsory education can force students to disengage from the love of learning. Youth development programs can force youth to disconnect from adults. Almost every activity that is for young people is decided upon, developed, assessed and redeveloped without young people. That is adultcentrism.

Language, programs, teaching styles, and all relationships between young people and adults are adultcentric. The most “youth-friendly” adults are often adultist, assuming that youth need them – which, while it may be true, is still centered on adult perspectives. Adultism is not always harmful – but adultism is always real.

Adultism leads to a phenomenon of “little adults” – young people who are “adults-in-the-making”, rather than children and youth today. Adultcentrism leads to manipulating and tokenizing young people through Youth Voice activities. Despite the intention, that process often further disengages young people!

Adultism exists for a lot of reasons, including beliefs about the abilities of young people, roles of different people throughout society, and the nature of society. Those beliefs have sometimes lead to the fear of children, called pedophobia, and the fear of youth, called ephebiphobia. These fears drive much of society to segregate young people from adults, demonize youth in the media, and ostracize children from elders. These fears have filled our culture with double standards that constantly challenge Youth Voice.

Identifying Discrimination

Identifying different forms of discrimination against young people throughout our society is important. Following are some of those forms.

Discrimination against Youth Voice in Language

  • “Act your age.”
  • “Children should be seen and not heard.”
  • “What do you know, you’re just a kid!”
  • “Do as I say, not as I do.”
  • “You’ll understand it someday, just you wait.”

 

Discrimination against Youth Voice in Youth Work

  • Programs designed by adults for youth without youth
  • Isolation of children and youth from adults
  • Professional language does not allow youth to easily understand what is being done to them
  • Evaluations engage adult staff and not youth participants

 

Discrimination against Youth Voice in School

  • Students are forced by law to attend schools that may not be effective
  • Classroom learning relies on adults as sole-holders of knowledge
  • Decisions about students, including learning topics, activities, punishments, budgeting and teaching methods are routinely made without students
  • Adults routinely grade students without giving equal weight to students’ perspectives on their own academic achievement
  • Double-standards in treatment, including when the belief that when teachers yell at students, they are controlling classrooms; when students yell at teachers, they are creating unsafe learning environments

 

Discrimination against Youth Voice in Communities

  • People under 18-years-old are virtual non-citizens without the right to vote or any tangible political representation and minimal influence
  • Community problem-solving that routinely neglects youth members
  • Business policies that allow for discrimination, such as “Under-14s must be accompanied by adults,” and “Under-18s cannot be managers.”
  • Local laws that target youth, including anti-cruising and anti-graffiti laws
  • Media bias against youth that alternatively portrays youth as apathetic super-predators who are obese, stuck on computers, gang members.

 

How YOU Can Resist Discrimination Against Youth Voice

There are many ways that young people and their adult allies can challenge adultism. Addressing discrimination against Youth Voice is a challenge that many young people and adult allies should take personally, especially when armed with meaningful strategies for powerful action. Following are a few strategies for resisting adultism:

  1. Adults should strive to be a role model for other adults. Demonstrate in your own conduct and the way you talk that you oppose attitudes and behavior that debase, degrade, inflict injury on or promote animosity against young people of all ages.
  2. Youth should get to know your adults, no matter where they are – school, youth programs, the library, everywhere. Support those who actually show they care above all about young people, that they have integrity and that they can be objective.
  3. Insist that your youth program/classroom/religious community/organization sets high goals and expectations for adults, no matter what positions they are in, where they come from or how much education they have.
  4. Carefully examine the media in your community. See if it is realistic, democratic, and free of adultist biases. If they are not, demand coverage that is.
  5. Insist that youth development, educational, and behavior management practices be reviewed for effectiveness. These practices reveal what adults do not know, not what they do.
  6. Volunteer as an adult ally for a youth program or school.
  7. Talk with young people you know. Listen to them. Engage yourself in their lives as appropriate, and as you are capable.
  8. Provide literature and resources about Youth Voice to young people themselves.

 

Tips for Addressing Discrimination Against Youth Voice

Advocating for and sharing Youth Voice throughout a community often means being prepared for just about anything – on a moment’s notice. When facing adultism head-on, it can be important to be intentional in your efforts. Following are some tips when addressing adultism:

  • Seek understanding by encouraging adults to examine adultism. Explore the feelings adults have about young people. Youth and adults should work together to find the source of frustration, resentment or treatment towards youth.
  • Acknowledge anger and let youth and adults know that it is okay to feel anger – but remind them they do not need to act out their anger towards young people.
  • Engage allies by asking an adult ally to address and explore adultism with other adults. If you are an adult trying to reach another adult, it can be powerful to bring young people directly into the picture.
  • Remember that Youth Voice is for everyone, and that in easy times and struggling times, Youth Voice should be hard. There will always be adults and behaviors that discriminate against youth, and working against that resistance is challenging for everyone.
  • You are not alone, and there are other people advocating for Youth Voice and struggling against adultism. Connect with others in your town, across Washington, and around the world – because they are out there!
  • Stay focused, no matter how pointed the adultism might seem. Stay calm and try not to take it personally. Address behaviors, structures, and other things that can be changed.
  • Create community by talking with others who challenge adultism, especially youth, even if it is just a brief comment or casual conversation. Adultism affects or has affected every single person in our society, and it takes persistence and teamwork to resist it.

 

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Other tools are out there, too – share your thoughts in the comments below! For more information about how The Freechild Project can help support youth voice 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
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13 comments

  1. I agree. The fact of the matter is, if I were to say something political or anything involving issues in the “real world” I would be told to stay out of it. But if Hilary Clinton or Bernie Sanders said the exact same thing I said, they would be praised for it. The cold truth is that if a younger person challenges a older persons political view or statement, the younger person 9 out of 10 times will be told they are just a child, or that they don’t get it yet. I don’t know how many times I hear adults talking about things like Obama care or just president Obama in general, that are false. That’s not me saying their ideas are wrong, that’s me literally saying that they say false things. For example I have heard an adult say that the United States found weapons of mass destruction in the middle east, which is false. I’m a democrat from Pennsylvania and my family moved down south so as you could imagine, I run into a lot of republicans. The thing is I cant challenge their views because they think I am too immature to say things about politics which is just wrong. Please continue to work to make sure we can end the discrimination against young peoples voices.

    1. The voting age is 18 for a reason. It would not be appropriate to enfranchise young children or very young adolescents due to the fact that there is a tendency for them to lack the ability to understand the long term ramifications of who they may vote for or how they voted. Usually adults have more of the ability to understand the long term ramifications of how they voted or who they voted for. It would be inappropriate to abolish the voting age.

      1. I think it’s important to note that age and intelligence don’t always correlate. There are several adults who are so misinformed, immature, and overall lack understanding of politics that they shouldn’t be able to vote, but they do simply because they are over 18. Meanwhile there are several young individuals below the age of 18 that are so knowledgeable in politics and have strong opinions that they wish to be heard, and are not able to do so.
        This is the case with a number of things.
        Ideally we wouldn’t use age as a way to quantify what an individual is capable of but rather their overall maturity, regardless of age. Of course certain things would be exceptions to this rule (ex. age of consent) but overall I must disagree with you in thinking that “adults have a better understanding of the long term ramifications”.
        Hey, lets try judging people by “the content of their character” okay?
        Just a thought.

        1. Most adults aren’t capable of understanding long-term consequences either, and their way of thinking is overly stubborn and closed-minded. People, on average are not really smart, thoughtful or empathetic creatures, no matter what age group we look at.

          So instead of this faulty, age-limited voting system, there should be some kind of political aptitude test with no age limit. About the role of basic political institutions and such.
          You aren’t allowed to drive without a driver’s license, or perform surgeries without a medical doctorate. So why should politics work differently? Think of all political leaders nowadays that you know. More than half of them are completely inept and/or psychopaths. I guess that’s a solid proof that being an adult by itself doesn’t make you capable of intelligent decision making.

          …Also, (for 15 Alyx) I don’t think age of consent laws are reasonable either. Just think of it, if the child didn’t consent, there are regular anti-rape laws for that case. If they did, why would you want to invalidate their choice? It is quite dehumanizing to disregard a anyone’s opinion so blatantly. “You ARE a rape victim! I don’t care if you are in love!” How does this sound?

          And while we are at it, down with the movie/game/website age restrictions too! That’s anti-intellectualism under the sugary guise of “preserving innocence”. But what is “innocence” even? I think it means “not being guilty”. How is it guilty to watch/play/read bloody or sexual things. Sex is normal, no other living being is so ashamed of it as humans. Animals do it in front of their kids! (Well, even I find that squicky, still it’s just a cultural thing…) As for the bloody stuff, kids can decide for themselves if they are scared of it or not. Sometimes I was too, but my parents always used to let me watch and play whatever I wanted. Yet I didn’t turn out to be murderous or violent. (That’s usually the impact of domestic violence instead, which is ironically disregarded, and even accepted as a way of parenting in too many countries…)

          Anyway, it’s difficult to be young and opinionated…

          …And sorry for the rant, I’m just happy that I found a website that cares about the discrimination of young people. 😀

  2. What are the consequences of adultism? Adultism is sharing the common ground with domestic violence. Can people use free child. Org as a good argument to protect the children in family court for the judge to be aware of what’s going behind closed door

    1. Using The Freechild Project website is your call – there are few citations on the site and its largely conjecture and inference. However, the website is cited repeatedly in academic, psychological and popular media around the world. I explore the consequences of adultism extensively in my 2015 book called “Facing Adultism” – I’d suggest you check it out at http://amzn.to/2sfcU0k

  3. @22, but still a kid at heart 😉
    In regards to consent laws, here in CT (and most places) it’s set at 16. If an 8 year old consents to sexual acts, it would not be appropriate. Removing age of consent laws paves way for sexual acts with children, which I could only hope you do not find okay.
    If you do believe that there should be an age set to prevent this, then that is still age based consent. (note there is exceptions in individuals close in age, or married).

    As for movie/game/website restrictions, these do not exist. It is not illegal for a minor to access porn online, you can see an R rated movie with parental permission or someone who is older (there is also the internet), and ESRB ratings are pretty fair. The majority of games fit under E for everyone, 10+, or teen. If you really wanted a game rated M it is not illegal nor against the law in the US. You can again, easily buy it online, or for many places in person.
    It deeply concerns me that you believe it is entirely fine for kids to be exposed to certain things at such a young age. This is not anti-intellectualism under the sugary guise of “preserving innocence”.
    One thing is watching a documentary about animals that happens to have mating, or learning about a world war that inevitably is going to have violence, but you are talking about website, movies, and video games that are rated that for content such as gore, drugs, alcohol, and strong sexual themes. Things that are not benefiting them in the slightest. Kids do not need to be exposed to this, especially via these mediums which tend to overglorify such things. Again, one thing is watching a quality film (Such as Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away) in which the character Yababa is seen smoking and it would be unfair for a child not to watch it on the basis of this. If the parent had a problem, they could just watch it and explain the dangers of smoking afterword. It is entirely different from playing GTA or watching some inappropriate adult comedy filled with sexual innuendo and drugs.
    I think you have forgotten the role of a parent and are somehow under the belief that kids (and as an extent teens) should be almost entirely self regulatory.
    Parent derives from a latin root meaning “to bring forth”. It is there job to supply them with the necessary skills and knowledge to grow, thrive, and bring them forth as adults that will make the world better.
    The same way you are what you eat, you are what you feed your mind. Senselessly exposing it it to certain things will negatively your outlook on the world. Don’t be so quick to assume the things you see have no affect. That goes for everyone, regardless of age.

    1. Hey Alex, and thanks for your comment. Unfortunately, I think you’re wholly missing the point of my page here.

      Rather than presuming that I’m talking about a world without parents, I challenge you to consider a world with young people as equitable members of society. Equity – not equality – is the key here. While its absolutely true that adults (parents especially) have specific roles throughout our society, I believe its important to see that children and youth have roles too, and given the changing nature of our society, those need to transform. Rather than being seen and treated as the passive recipients of adult-driven households, schools, governments and culture, all young people everywhere must be repositioned as active co-creators throughout all of the institutions that define where we live, how we live, and what we do throughout our lives. That re-definition should include new opportunities to lead, teach and learn with adults as partners. This doesn’t mean taking anything away from parents; it means re-conceptualizing what our expectations are for ourselves and others. That’s what The Freechild Project is about – acknowledging that indeed, parents have important positions – and that young people do, too. Its not either/or, its both/and.

      Thanks again for your comment.

      1. @Adam Fletcher I understand and agree with that notion entirely.
        It is “22, but still a kid at heart ;)”
        that my comment was directed at. I’m just a bit confused/concerned about some of the statements he/she is making.

  4. As someone with the face of a fifteen year old trapped in a 19 year old’s life, I can testify that Ageism is a huge factor in many aspects of my life including employment opportunities, work situations, public interactions, and conversations with adults, especially parents. I work at a camp and because of how young I look, the parents are reluctant to leave their child in my care and therefore the kids tend to ignore my authority, I can’t really fault them because their own parents just discredited my right to lead when they asked if I was old enough to be left alone with children. My judgement is constantly undermined by parents and many adult figures. The other day I was flying home from college and (after a gate agent had tried to get me to board as a minor who needed a babysitter) an elderly man seated next to me instructed me to buckle up as we were sitting waiting for people to board the plane. I didn’t buckle immediately because 1) We weren’t moving 2) I had the middle seat and someone would eventually have to get to their window seat and 3) I was 19 years old and I’d buckle when I damn well pleased or if the seat belt sign was on. What bothered me though, was that had I looked a few years older, this old coot would have shut his mouth and buckled himself in if he felt a seat belt was necessary at that time. Instead, the man felt that I was incapable of making the right judgement regarding the seat belt and felt the need to exert his dominance over me. Had I been in middle school I would have buckled my belt but as a college student; I worked minimum wage jobs to pay this man’s social security so he and his decomposing wife could spend their last summers in RV taking up parking space at Yellowstone. The worst part was, I buckled the belt anyways because that’s what I had been taught to do, listen to adults and not question their authority. Then there’s the public situations, like I turn into a category 5 criminal if I’m at a park after sunset or the sign that says ‘Kids under 18 can’t carry a bag into our store.’ as if the 18 and under crowd are the only people who steal, and so help me god If I want to apply for a job. The job front is the hardest because no one wants to take orders from a little girl so I can rule out any management opportunities, secondly, if I work as a hostess or bartender I need to look the part which I’m sure is true for a lot of jobs, and finally, age equals experience so when I look like I’m fifteen, people automatically assume I don’t know or understand jack squat. Lastly, my parents. We’re in this awkward limbo of I’m an adult but they still can’t see it. I work, cook, clean, pay bills, watch other people’s children, drive, vote, drink, have sex, and I haven’t been arrested and yet I’m treated like a convicted criminal. I have a curfew, a to-do list, ridiculous repercussions for my actions like being sent to my room, my feelings are automatically invalidated as “trivial” or a “temper tantrum” or “childish” and my reactions and actions are always taken into question like my parents are a higher power when the two of them aren’t exactly standing on the moral high ground. I’ll never forget my mother’s face when I said something smart about my parents’ divorce:
    my father: You’re in trouble because you weren’t honest.
    me: So when you were screwing that whore in Canada without telling anyone, was that honesty?
    It’s like being an adult allows people to forget what being hypocritical is and gives them the ability to criticize the young people and target millennials for things that their generation started or took part in. Ex. Bill Gates –> Kids these days, always on their phones. Ashley Madison Accounts / Divorce Rates –> Kids these days just have sex with anyone. Global Warming / Environmental Issues —> Kids these days, wasting water and electricity. The media uses millenials as scapegoats and the under 18 population, as non-voting, non citizen party, is forced to not be taken seriously as the media bashes them without representation.

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