Defeating Adultism

Our society is deeply entrenched in adultism, which is bias towards adults and consequently, discrimination against young people. It is prevalent throughout the institutions of our society. In order to re-negotiate adultism, we have to identify what support has to exist throughout society. I call this support “scaffolding”. I call this re-negotiating “youth integration”.

Youth integration will occur in two steps:

  1. The first step is desegregation of youth, which is deliberately ending the segregation of young people throughout society. Today, segregation happens implicitly and explicitly throughout society, including schools, at home, in commerce, and in law-making, enforcement, and courts. Desegregation will address the tools of segregation, including policies and practices, as well as the attitudes and opinions that reinforce them.
  2. The second step is integration of youth. When young people are re-established in equitable relationships throughout society, including their relationships with parents, teachers, youth workers, police, and others, integration is present. It is a deliberate step meant to stop and reverse segregation.
IfightAdultism

Scaffolding Against Adultism

Supporting young people as adultism is defeated  throughout society has to be done with deliberation and determination. Challenging adultism and fighting discrimination against youth must be situated in the larger struggle for nonviolence and social justice across our society. Awareness of these struggles and attuning with great legacies of transformation positions young people as the substantive leaders in social change they have been for more than 100 years.

Following are three central elements in the scaffolding.

Element One: Culture

The first column of scaffolding for youth integration is Culture. Culture is made of the beliefs, habits values, visions, norms, systems, and symbols within a specific and definable community. Adultism is made in the fiery furnace of culture, as groups of people work together to define and reinforce stringent perspectives that re-enforce adultism. In the same way, culture can help examine those assumptions and redefine them in line with social justice through youth integration.  

adultismaffectsprogramoutcomes

Element Two: Structure

The named activities, policies, strategies, processes, allocation, coordination, and supervision of people throughout a community happens through the structure of a definable group of people. In schools, structure includes school rules and curriculum; in society, it includes laws and policing. Structure makes things happen, enforces those things, and encourages them. Structural change promoting youth integration requires deliberate action for transformation. It should actively engage young people in equitable relationships while establishing and maintaining adult allyships.

adultismaffectsadultattitudes

Element Three: Attitude

Where culture and structure belong to a group, attitude belongs to individuals. “Your attitude determines your altitude” applies to adult understandings of youth: “Adult attitude determines youth altitude.” In our adult-dominated, adult-driven society, young people are subject to and subjugated by adult opinions, actions, attitudes, knowledge, and beliefs. This is the full effect of adultism. In order to counter this effect, we must change our own attitudes and provide opportunities for the people around us to change theirs, including youth and adults. This takes new ways of communicating, interacting, and being. It takes personal engagement within our selves and throughout the worlds around us.

adultismaffectsyouthprogramdesign

We must address each of these elements when we seek to integrate young people in any part of society. Each is present throughout all the formal and informal institutions throughout our society. You can find culture, structure, and attitude in individual homes, schools, governments, and other places. By creating scaffolding for youth integration, we can re-negotiate adultism throughout our lives.

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Youth and Community Development

Check Your Perspective exercise by The Freechild Project

Working together with other members of their communities, including children, adults and elders, youth and community development offer ways youth can change the world few other activities can. Community development happens when people take action to solve common problems affecting the places they live, work and play everyday. Community members, neighborhood activities, elected officials, professionals and youth can all work together to build better communities for everyone affected. Increasingly, when foundations, government programs, and innovative community organizations want creative solutions to difficult funding issues, they turn to young people for solutions. Oftentimes, youth are connected to their communities in more authentic and unhindered ways than adults that can help communities by better understood.

Discourage litigation. Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can. Point out to them how the nominal winner is often the real loser — in fees, and expenses, and waste of time. As a peace-maker the lawyer has a superior opportunity of being a good man. There will still be business enough. — Abraham Lincoln

 

Ways Youth can Change the World through Community Development

Youth as Community Organizers — When governments won’t engage youth, community groups and nonprofits can step in to engage youth as community organizers. Through training and empowerment, they can develop unique, powerful campaigns that engage many people, including children, youth, adults, families and elders.

Youth and Government — Participating in regular and sustained government positions, roles and activities can allow youth community developers to change the world. Roles should be rull voting and frequent, and focus on engaging diverse young people.

Youth as Planners — Young people can participate as community planners in community development work. Using education and training, they can learn the skills and knowledge they need, and applying their knowledge they can guide their peers, younger people and adults, too.

 

The Freechild Project Youth-Driven Programming Guide by Adam Fletcher
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Things Youth Need to Change the World through Community Development

Opportunities — Local governments, nonprofits and advocates should create substantive, sustainable opportunities for children and youth to contribute to community development. There should be regular, ongoing activities and visual, transparent outcomes.

Training — Training young people about community development can be engaging and empowering in many ways. Children and youth can learn what community is, how communities are built, where community development and planning fails, and what roles they can play throughout the processes.

Stories — Young people can become motivated and inspired to create change through community development with stories. The stories of their friends, families and peers are important, as can be stories from other youth around the world.

 


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  • Growing Up in Cities – Growing Up in Cities provides models of interdisciplinary, intersectoral collaboration for listening to the voices of young people and creating more responsive urban policies and practices.
  • Kids and Community– A website developed by city planners to encourage kids to learn about cities and get involved in changing them.
  • Children, Youth, and Environments Journal – CYE is an international, multidisciplinary network of researchers, policy makers and practitioners working to improve the living conditions of children and youth. CYE supports the sharing of knowledge and experience, while recognizing young people’s capacity for meaningful participation in the processes that shape their lives.
  • Project for Public Spaces – A nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people of all ages create the kinds of places that build communities. We achieve this through technical assistance, training, research and education – as well as programs in parks, plazas and central squares; transportation; public buildings; and architecture and public markets. Website includes examples, tip sheets, and more.
  • California Center Youth Voices – Improves youth awareness of and involvement in community planning and land-use decisions.

 

 

 

 

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Youth and Racism

Freechild Project youth protest in Seattle

Youth and racism are wound together, depending on each other to unravel the pain, hurt and despicable enduring nature of racism. Being “against racism” is to be against any system based on some kind of supremacy, including white supremacy, racial supremacy of any kind, tribal supremacy, class supremacy, even male and female chauvinism. Young people are taking power action against racism and making their communities more powerful, empowering places for all people to live in.

Washing ones hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral. — Paulo Freire

 

Ways Youth are Changing the World focusing on Racism

Youth-Led Activism — When adults won’t partner with young people or when young people want to take immediate action without permission, they can lead their own community organizing projects and rallying their peers to create change, or take action on their own. Picketing, sit-ins, boycotts and social media action are just some of the ways youth-led activism can affect racism.

Service Learning — Studying the social effects of racism, young people are building communities through service learning. Programs focused on white privilege, empowering communities of color and more can teach students about racism in distinctly effective ways. When facilitated effectively, service learning encourages students to apply their learning throughout their lives.

Youth and Incarceration — Young people are challenging the school-to-prison pipeline, long-term incarceration, incarcerating youth with adults, and solitary confinement within prisons, all wrapped together with analysis focused on the disproportionate incarceration of people of color. Youth and incarceration shouldn’t be synonymous, and youth can change the world when they focus on ending the racism which makes this happen.

 

The Freechild Project Youth-Driven Programming Guide by Adam Fletcher
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Things Youth Need to Change the World focusing on Racism

Education — Learning about the history of racism isn’t enough. Young people need to understand their role in white privilege and racism, whether they’re people of color or white. Learning how to see privilege, dismantle white supremacy, overcome structural racism and fight against dominant cultural norms is essential, too.

Youth/Adult Partnerships — Creating intentional relationships designed to foster trust, communication, mutual investment and meaningful involvement can effectively engage youth in changing the world focused on racism. Young people can transform communities and organizations through youth/adult partnerships, increasing effective action and building support along the way.

Opportunities — Young people need substantive opportunities to take action against racism. Schools, neighborhood groups, nonprofits, government agencies and other organizations can create opportunities. Young people can create their own opportunities through youth-led community organizing and youth-led programs, too.

 

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Youth and Public Health

Seattle students in a Freechild workshop discuss issues with an adult ally

Public health is made of organized efforts around the world that aim at to prevent disease and promote health across our communities. Tied together through education, action, evaluation and advocacy, youth and public health are addressing a lot of issues, including HIV/AIDs, smoking, pregnancy prevention, and more.

“If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito. — Source unknown

 

Ways Youth can Change the World focusing on Public Health

Youth as Teachers — Young people can be some of the best public health educators, whether teaching their parents, their siblings, other young people or adults throughout their communities. Engaging youth as teachers can quickly normalize activities, knowledge and attitudes that are different or new for their communities in ways adults cannot, and can reach people others can’t, either.

Social Media — Texting public health messages and sharing public health knowledge with their peers and other throughout social media can help youth be powerful communicators and recruiters. Social media can also help youth educators build community around their issues, roles and regions, too.

Youth-Led Activism — When adults won’t listen to youth voice or allow youth participation, young people can make their voices heard through activism. Whether they are organizing communities, leading sit-ins, advocating for policy change or building online movements, young people can be powerful activists for issues that matter to them.

 

The Practice of Youth Engagement by Adam Fletcher!
The Practice of Youth Engagement by Adam Fletcher!

 

Things Youth Need to Change the World focusing on Public Health

Education — Young people should know the basic, elemental parts of public health all of the time, no matter who they are, where they live or how much money their families and communities have. However, to change the world with public health, children and youth should learn critical thinking skills, build their knowledge base, and expand their abilities.

Youth/Adult Partnerships — Working with adults as partners is a sure way to change the world through public health. Young people can teach adults about issues that matter while receiving the support, encouragement and knowledge of adults.

Funding — Securing and sustaining funding is vital for youth-led public health action. Changing the world through active engagement in the issues that affect them most, children and youth deserve the fiscal support they need for programs, activities and outcomes that reflect the importance of public health throughout our lives and communities.

 

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Experiential Learning for Youth + Social Change

SoundOut Summer Camp Participants

When young people learn through doing, they are participating in experiential learning. When youth-led experiential learning is happening, young people focus on real issues they can relate to that are taken from the real world they live within. Experiential learning is individually oriented, even when children and youth work in groups. Action learning, service learning, cooperative learning and challenge learning are all forms of experiential learning.

“…for the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them” — Aristotle

Ways Youth can Change the World through Experiential Learning

Youth-Led Projects — When young people lead experiential learning, they can change the world. Learning about different activities, planning experiences, facilitating groups and assessing their projects can show youth they are powerful beyond measure.

Youth/Adult Partnerships — Working with adults as allies allows young people to build their abilities, knowledge and skills in safe, healthy relationships. Experiential learning can allow children and youth to build new understandings of how teaching and learning happens.

Community Youth Development — Become engaged in actively, meaningfully changing their communities can give young people opportunities to learn through experience while changing the world. Learning about community, social change and action is at the heart of CYD.

Things Youth Need to Change the World through Experiential Learning

Training — Learning about experiential learning as a concept and a practice can build the ability of children and youth to make life experiences more meaningful for themselves. They can be trained in the methodology, in the facilitation, in assessment and in how to apply experiential learning beliefs across different applications.

Inspiration — Going through learning activities without knowing what is happening, why its happening and where its going to, young people can lose their motivation for learning. Becoming inspired can happen through storytelling and a lot of other ways.

Classroom Credit — Experiential learning can be challenging to plan, hard to facilitate and risky to assess. Acknowledging the energy, action and goals of learners with classroom credit can add substance, meaning and depth to experiential learning.

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Youth and Gender Equity

"I study to liberate, not to get into debate."

Gender equity is the fair distribution of respect, trust, communication, involvement and resources to people who identify as male, female or who are transgendered. It does not necessarily mean making the same activities, facilities and cultures available to males, females and transgendered people. Gender equity does mean that females and transgendered people experience a full range of choices that meet their needs, interests and experiences. That means some activities may be the same as those offered to males, while others may be altered, and some may be altogether different. Young people can change the world through gender equity by taking action towards equity while challenging and eliminating disadvantages people experience because of their gender. They can also examine and challenge practices and policies that may hinder the participation of people because they identify as females or transgendered.

“I do not think, sir, you have any right to command me, merely because you are older than I, or because you have seen more of the world than I have; your claim to superiority depends on the use you have made of your time and experience.” ― Charlotte Brontë

 

Ways Youth can Change the World through Gender Equity

Youth-Led Classes — Youth can teach children, their peers and adults about gender equity. Through hands-on activities with real learning goals, youth facilitators can role model the most effective ways to reach learners, and share the most effective and empowering information along the way!

Policy Development — Working with policy-makers as allies, youth can create policies, rules, regulations and formal procedures in organizations, agencies and institutions in order to foster gender equity. Contributing to the study, critical analysis and rewriting of policies, youth can also evaluate their implementation and effectiveness.

Community Governance — Young people can participate in neighborhood associations, community groups, village / town / city government, county government and other local-level activities to ensure gender equity. Children and youth can also research issues that matter to them, present their findings and promote what they’ve learned, too.

 

Learn about adultism at https://freechild.org/adultism/
Learn about adultism.

 

Things Youth Need to Change the World through Gender Equity

Training — Gender discrimination and gender bias is obvious to a lot of people when they are very young children. However, learning about the systemic and cultural bias against women and transgender people can require specific education and training. Young people may need these learning opportunities to move into action.

Opportunities — Adults can create substantive opportunities for children and youth to become involved in challenging gender bias and building gender equity. Actual activities and more can transform discrimination.

Technology — Staying connected across distances, identities and communities can be a challenge for youth advocating for gender equity. Using technology including social media and texting can allow young people to cross the distances on their terms.

 

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Youth + Social Change through Youth-Led Activism 

Freechild Project youth protest in Seattle

An approach that intentionally trains young people in community organizing and advocacy, youth-led activism also assists children and youth in putting these skills to action in order to alter power relations and create meaningful change throughout their communities. Through youth-led organizing, young people can employ activities such as political education and analysis, community research, campaign development, direct action, critical thinking and membership recruitment.

How Youth Youth + Social Change Happens Through Youth-Led Activism

Youth-Led Protests — When young people can’t find adult allies, when the organizations and communities they are part of deny youth voice, and when society doesn’t budge, protest might be the most viable option. Youth-led protests can be the most powerful option children and youth have to transform society. There are countless protest activities, including sit-ins, picketing, #hashtags, walkouts, sit-ins, and more.

Youth-Led Media — Instead of allowing media to paint pictures of youth and their communities however they want to, young people can take up the mantle of journalism and truth-telling to share their own stories. Youth-led media can give children and youth a clear, concise voice to reach beyond their friends into the hearts of communities, cities, nations and the world.

Mutual Mentoring — Sometimes, simply acknowledging an adult as an ally isn’t enough. Mutual mentoring allows children and youth to be in empathetic, appropriately equitable relationships with adults. In these relationships, young people and adults are empowered to teach one another, support each other and build healthy, meaningful opportunities to grow together.

Tools for Youth + Social Change through Youth-Led Activism

Education — Simply becoming engaged in an issue is the first step towards youth-led activism. However, learning about the politics, economics and social effects of issues being protested are key, too. Youth activists can research, study and critique things central to their community organizing efforts.

Training — Learning about issues is not all youth activists need. Training can be essential for youth-led activists to be successful. They can learn the skills needed and tactics that are vital for successful for powerful short-term and long-term campaigns designed to change the world.

Inspiration — The reality of youth activism today is that there is a lot of inspiration. However, finding it can be challenging for children and youth, as few sources are brave enough to share powerful stories of youth changing the world. Youtube, select media, and many other sources may provide important stories youth can relate to. Also, in communities around the world its important to see what’s happened before, and many communities have hidden histories of youth-led activism.


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Youth Voice Tools

Youth participants in a Freechild program.

The Freechild Project Youth Voice

The Freechild Project defines Youth Voice as the active, distinct, and concentrated ways young people represent themselves throughout society.

The Freechild Project has been promoting Youth Voice in nonprofit organizations, schools, foundations and government agencies since it was founded in 2001.

Working with a variety of partners across the country, Freechild has learned about Youth Voice from the 1000s of young people and adult allies in our workshops and critical conversations.

Use the Table of Contents below to find some of the tools, examples and resources we have developed and collected over the years.

Youth Voice Tools
Table Of Contents

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Youth Social Entrepreneurship + Social Change

Freechild Project adult ally teaching youth media making skills

Adults depend on children and youth every day. Whether its giving them a role as parents, teachers or youth workers, or having someone to instruct, invest and empower, adults get their meaning and purpose from young people. However, there are times when that has to be made obvious. Youth social entrepreneurship shows us some of those times. When children and youth see serious social issues they can solve on their own or with adults as allies, they can take action, develop enterprises that meet those challenges, and work to sustain their actions.

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Special thanks to Jim Toole for his contributions to this page!

Youth + Social Change through Youth-Led Programs

Freechild Project youth and adults working together in Seattle

As young people build their knowledge, skills and abilities to change the world, they should have positive, purposeful opportunities to develop and expand their commitment to positive social change. Youth-led programs are opportunities created by individuals and organizations where youth lead planning, decision-making, facilitation, reflection and evaluation on issues that matter to them, using actions they want to use. Through youth/adult partnerships, adults can act in supportive, engaging ways. However, youth always maintain the lead, direction and authority.

Students should not only be trained to live in a democracy when they grow up; they should have the chance to live in one today. — Alfie Kohn

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