Adultism in the Law

Terms related to adultism

After a decade of research focusing on United States and international laws, the Freechild Institute has found there are many laws that both enshrine and combat adultism. Many of these try to protect youth from discrimination.

Issues Addressed By Laws

These laws prohibit or ban things that are done to youth or things that youth are excluded from, including:

  • Discrimination against youth by physical, sexual, and/or psychological maltreatment or neglect
  • Discrimination against youth through illegal labor, endangerment and infanticide
  • Discrimination against youth through parental actions including youth maltreatment
  • Discrimination against youth because of their gender identity and/or sexual orientation
  • Discrimination against youth through sexual abuse/exploitation
  • Discrimination against youth through neglect or abuse
  • Discrimination against youth through sexual or labor trafficking
  • Discrimination against youth with disabilities
  • Discrimination against youth through familial migration
  • Discrimination against youth through unaccompanied children in a situation of migration
  • Discrimination against youth without parental care or who are in alternative care
  • Discrimination against youth in police custody or detention
  • Discrimination against homeless youth
  • Discrimination against youth with parents in prison or custody
  • Discrimination against youth in court or other judicial proceedings
  • Discrimination against youth in custody disputes, including parental child abduction
  • Discrimination against youth because of their race
  • Discrimination against youth in minority ethnic groups
  • Discrimination against youth through female genital mutilation or forced marriage
  • Discrimination against youth through who are not in compulsory education or training or working children below the legal age for work
  • Discrimination against bullying or cyberbullying against youth

Who Is Affected?

Stakeholders in these issues space all the areas touched upon, including youth, parents, law enforcement, teachers, community educators, public health workers, social workers, government officials, school leaders, elected representatives, youth workers, business owners, medical doctors, NGO leaders, community advocates, mental health counselors, and many, many others.

Lawmakers who could make laws to further prevent youth discrimination include local elected officials include mayors, members of a county commission, city counsel, school board, utility or hospital district; a judge, a justice of the peace, a county or city attorney, a marshal, a sheriff, a constable and a registrar of deeds; tax collectors and assessors; and members of advisory boards and committees.

These individuals control, have power over, legislate or otherwise represent all people in democratic societies, including youth. They can make, enforce, modify or otherwise affect youth in countless ways, and are essential all elected officials who can prevent youth discrimination.

Similarly, in many countries a president and the vice president or another democratically elected official on the national level can prevent youth discrimination. In many states, a governor, a secretary of state, or a member of a legislative body such as the Congress or a state legislature can affect youth discrimination.

How To Change Laws

Organize and mobilize youth to speak up, take action and advocate for change! You can change laws to stop adultism even more effectively. Here are some steps you can take.

  1. Invite policymakers to freechild.org to learn about adultism. Educate legislators by providing them with data, research, stories and general information about adultism. They might not know what it is, what it does, who it affects and what the outcomes are. Share us!
  2. Meet with policymakers in person while they are at their in-district offices during congressional recess. Make appointments and go to meetings and share data and research that highlights adultism in your community.
  3. Call your elected officials’ offices to weigh in on specific adultism-related issues. Host educational meetings and trainings to gather, network and share information on adultism in policies, rules and laws.
  4. Share stories, data and resources with elected officials to illustrate how their decisions promote adultism. Educate the public about the policymaking process and how it promotes adultism. Introduce youth and their adult allies to elected officials who represent them, and talk about adultism.
  5. Participate in lobbying visits or hold anti-adultism advocacy days to advocate for or against specific legislation. Build public awareness by educating community members on adultism in specific laws that impact young people and their communities.
  6. Draft a petition or sign-on letter to express views about adultism and recruit youth and/or adults to sign on.
  7. Organize a rally, town hall or press conference to build public awareness about adultism and to hold policymakers accountable.
  8. Write an op-ed or letter to the editor to share your expertise on adultism in laws that recently became important in your school or community.
  9. Participate in a town hall and ask your elected officials questions about their position on adultism overall and in specific laws.
  10. Encourage citizens to vote (through nonpartisan voter mobilization efforts).
  11. Submit comments or feedback on policies affecting children and youth as they are being developed.
  12. Use social media like Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to educate the public and lawmakers about adultism. Don’t forget to tag them and include #facingadultism hashtags!

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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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Structural Adultism

Freechild Project youth at a summer camp in Seattle

Structural adultism may be apparent in any instance of systemic bias where formalized limitations or demands are placed on people simply because of their young age. These limitations are often reinforced through physical force or police actions.

Adultism informs our society’s conception of adulthood through our cultures, structures, and attitudes.

This is increasingly seen as a form of gerontocracy, explained by James Carville when he wrote,

“This is not class warfare, this is generational warfare. This administration and old wealthy people have declared war on young people. That is the real war that is going on here. And that is the war we’ve got to talk about.”

From every report I have read, structural adultism rages across our communities, and includes banks, courts, police, schools, nonprofits, churches, mosques, synagogues, and all levels of governments. I would summarize the effects of structural adultism as:

  • Compulsory education
  • Access to contraceptives
  • Legalized corporal punishment
  • Curfew laws
  • Anti-youth loitering policies
  • Criminalization and demonization of youth via media
  • Voting age
  • Age of candidacy
  • Access to healthcare
  • Typecasting of youth by police
  • The Draft

Total institutions, which are the organizations in our society which dominate the entire being of a person, include the military, prisons, schools, and hospitals. Young people are affected by total institutions more than any other social group.

Ultimately, the normalization and legitimization of historical, cultural, structural and interpersonal dynamics that routinely advantage adults while producing cumulative and chronic adverse outcomes for young people is best summarized as structural adultism.

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Attitudinal Adultism

Students in the SoundOut Summer Camp in Seattle

Attitudinal adultism, also called internalized adultism, is the deeply personal attitude of children, youth and adults that is biased towards adults.

Adultism informs our society’s conception of adulthood through our cultures, structures, and attitudes.

In his booklet called, Adults as Allies, [PDF] Barry Checkoway of the University of Michigan School of Social Work writes that

adultism causes youth to “question their own legitimacy, doubt their ability to make a difference…” and perpetuate a “culture of silence” among young people.

In his article called “Understanding Adultism A Key to Developing Positive Youth-Adult Relationships”, John Bell expands on that assessment, with a series of examples of what internalized adultism looks like. I summarize and expand on them as:

  • Adults envying the “personhood” of young people
  • Adults discounting or underestimating the ability of young people
  • Young people seeking constant approval from adults
  • Young people denying solidarity with their age-similar peers
  • Peer-to-peer violence
  • Corporal punishment
  • Sexual abuse
  • Verbal abuse
  • Forced religious attendance
  • Home curfew rules
Adultism is 1) Bias towards adults; 2) Addiction to adults; 3) Discrimination against youth

Exploring Internalized Adultism

What makes internalized adultism so terrible is that it is so pervasive. Everywhere we look, every time we see adults and children and youth interacting, it is there. Stores, daycares, schools, restaurants, playgrounds, city halls… Internalized adultism is so pervasive that I often hear myself in the middle of saying something adultist to my own child before I catch myself and stop.

Unfortunately, adultism is supported by a scaffolding in our society that does nothing more than reinforce and extend the effects of adultism on children and youth. In workshops, The Freechild Project defines adultism as bias towards adults. This definition is supported by the attitudes, behaviors, and practices that many individuals – young and older – take against young people.

Internalized adultism is the way that children and youth use adultism against other children and youth. Being a “tattle tale” or a bully are obvious ways this happens; more subtle ways include what Alfie Kohn calls “parroting,” when young people repeat what adults say in their own language simply to gain that adults’ acceptance.

Another way is much more popular, and I believe, a lot more harmful. What students call “cliques” are social groups that form in community settings throughout young peoples’ lives, including schools and community centers. Sociologists sometimes call cliques “youth subcultures,” but I believe that labeling is adultist itself. Cliques are internalized adultism because they are prescribed to happen by adults through mass marketing and commercialism. Shortly thereafter, youth start to believe these negative stereotypes of themselves, suddenly joining through language, clothes, music, attitudes, and behaviors that were prescribed for them by whatever adult-driven mass media brought them there originally.

The reason I say cliques as a form of internalized adultism are so harmful are the social and economic impacts of cliques throughout society. In every community where I have worked intensively — including African American, middle class white, low-income Latino, rural, and urban — cliques have had their place among young people. In some areas they were gang-related; in others, popularity-driven; in still others, they were motivated by clubs or athletics or other stuff.

In sociology these are sometimes called “ingroups” and “outgroups.” Ingroup bias drives young people to oppress one another, both by alienating some at the expense of others, and reinforcing membership through clothing, music, and attitude. The first two suck, particularly because they support the last. It is that last affect – attitude – that is the kicker. The attitudes of ingroups inform how we behave all of our lives. Our consumer behaviors, our social norms, our cultural acceptance – those are all evidence of our attitudes when we are young. Even if our attitudes change drastically as we mature, they are still respondent to our exposures when we are young.

Ingroups also inform both why young people perpetuate adultism towards other children and youth, and why young people become adults who perpetuate adultism towards children and youth. What a vicious, ugly cycle.

(I will admit that in itself may be an adultist view, particularly because I allude to young people not making conscious decisions about joining cliques. However, that is not what I’m saying; instead, I am saying that what they are joining was prescribed by adults, and is not youth-driven itself. I do not believe that there is any “authentic” youth culture in America today. Instead, this country is so media saturated that we have lost authenticity, and any so-called youth-driven culture today is merely a response to some other adult-driven cultural assignment. That is a sucky situation.)

Adultism drives us to do many things. In order to stop it, we have to train adults to identify and fight their own behavior, and to challenge the adultist behavior of their peers. At the same time we need to facilitate learning experiences for young people to identify adultism, challenge it among their peers, and effectively challenge it among the adults in their lives. Only then will true social progress in the war against adultism (and ephebiphobia) be made.

ALL Adults Are Adultist.

Challenging Internalized Adultism

The tendency of being dismissive or disregarding of adultism by both young people and adults reflects one of the core, unspoken strategies inherent in the dominant relationships between children, youth and adults in our society.

Taking in that discrimination so deeply that it silences a child or youth is one effect; encouraging a young person to lambast themselves or their peers or younger people is another. This internalization disables young people from being able to form a positive identity based in their age, and further promotes the inability of young people to become effective agents for social change throughout our society.

Much needs to be written about identifying internalized adultism and drawing out its causes and effects on their lives of both young people and adults. I have found very little literature that does this in a sophisticated enough way to warrant response. In the meantime, I would suggest the following questions can be essential for challenging internalized adultism. They are good for any age, and only need to be adjusted for each individual’s usage.

  • What has been or is good about being a young person?
  • What makes me proud of being young?
  • What are children and youth people really like?
  • What has been difficult about being young?
  • What do I want other young people to know about me?
  • Specifically, how have I been hurt by other young people?
  • When do I remember standing up against the mistreatment of one young person by another?
  • When do I remember being strongly supported by another young person?
  • When do I remember that another child or youth (unrelated) really stood up for me?
  • When do I remember acting on some feeling of internalized adultism?
  • When do I remember resisting and refusing to act on this basis?

  We must examine these questions for their outcomes in our own lives and the lives of those around us, simply because they begin to allow us to go further.  In order to effectively challenge adultism we each have to examine its effects throughout our own lives. This is one attempt to encourage each of us to do that.

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Introduction to Adultism

Adultism is 1) Bias towards adults; 2) Addiction to adults; 3) Discrimination against youth

Definition of Adultism

There are three parts to the complete definition of adultism, from Adam Fletcher’s book Facing Adultism:

  • Adultism is favoring adults by dismissing young people.
  • It is also the addiction to the attitudes, ideas, beliefs, and actions of adults.
  • Because adultism is bias towards adults, it inherently and obviously leads to discrimination against children and youth.
ALL Adults Are Adultist.

Where Adultism Happens

It is a major factor in how society is organized: By assuming children and youth do not have anything of substance or value to add to the majority of social activities, adults keep their power intact. Adultism happens in government, education, social services, religious communities, and families. It is present in our laws, legal practices, economic activities, and the ways we share our cultures.

adultismaffectsprogramoutcomes

Why Adultism Happens

Adultism happens because adults think there is value to it. Adults believe adults sometimes act more responsibly and capably than young people. However, adults often act as if children and youth are never responsible and never capable. That is when adultism becomes a problem problem.

adultismaffectsprogramfunding

What Adultism Does

Adultism does many things:

  • Adultism ignores, silences, neglects, and punishes children and youth simply because they are not adults. Every young person experiences adultism from the day they are born until the day the world around them recognizes them as an adult. Every adult in our society today has experienced adultism.

Because of this unconscious sharing of the same experiences, adults often perpetuate adultism without knowing it. In some cases, young people themselves perpetuate adultism.

adultismaffectsyouthprogramdesign

The Outcomes of Adultism

The outcomes of adultism are severe.

  • Seeing and treating young people as weak, helpless and less intelligent than adults impresses inability in the hearts and minds of youth into adulthood.
  • Adultism often makes verbal, physical, and emotional abuse towards young people seem “okay”.
  • Adultism can make other negative opinions about people seem okay, so that young people see racism, sexism, homophobia, and other forms of discrimination being “okay”.

Adultism is a major concept in the organization of society. Adultism prevails in every sector, including government, education, social services, and families. The defeat of adultism is often seen as a bad thing, as adults are mostly capable only of seeing their own abilities as those that are truly needed to the function and well-being of our world.

Because of the long history and broad realities of adultism and its pervasive nature in our societies, essentially all people are affected by adultism. The resulting internalized oppression and distress is severe. For example, adultism forces us to treat young people as weak, helpless and less intelligent than adults. For a lot of people, there is verbal, physical, and sexual abuse. Adultism forces children and youth to accept all other oppressions that exist in the society.

adultismaffectsadultattitudes

Stopping Adultism

The most important thing anyone can do to stop adultism is to address how they perpetuate it, no matter whether they are an adult or a young person. Internalized adultism forces children and youth to unconsciously cause adultism to keep happening. External adultism is obvious throughout our society. Seeing our role in those internal and external things is a key to stopping adultism.

After we explore our personal attitudes and roles, we can face adultism in many other ways, too. There are three places adultism can show up throughout our lives:

If we are committed to facing adultism, we will look in those three areas of our own lives to see where adultism exists, what it does, how it appears, and why it matters. Then we can decide real, individualized steps each one of us can take to stop adultism.

IfightAdultism

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Youth Political Action Institute

The Freechild Project is excited to announce the availability of our Youth Political Action Institute. Designed to inspire, inform and empower young people ages 12 to 18, Freechild facilitates online workshops with powerful, positive and practical lessons that will change the lives of youth in your community!

Our institute covers five areas:

  • Motivation — Why is it absolutely essential for YOU to take action?!?
  • Knowledge-Sharing — You know what you know; now share it with others!
  • Skill-Building — Developing the POWER to create change is critical.
  • Action Planning — Learning how to DO SOMETHING takes commitment!
  • Reflection — Its not enough to just do stuff. You should learn about action with us.

Call The Freechild Project today to discuss costs, availability and more at (360) 489-9680 or email info@freechild.org.

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Youth and International Development

SoundOut Student Voice Team in Seattle

After millennia of European domination, nations around the world are emerging in healthy, powerful ways. International development is slowly coming to focus on the whole planet, including young people.  Youth and international development are tied together, addressing a variety of issues including extreme poverty and hunger; universal education; gender equality and women’s empowerment; ending child mortality; improving maternal health; ending HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases; ensuring environmental sustainability; and developing a global commitment to human empowerment. Youth are partnering with adults to lead these movements today and towards the future.

When we’re talking about youth participation, we’re talking about challenging longstanding practices that hinder young people participating at all levels. So when we hear our leaders talking about young people getting involved, we actually would like to see them follow that through with concrete suggestions, such as a quote on all decision making boards for young people. — Jacque Koroi

 

Ways Youth can Change the World through International Development

Youth as Decision-Makers — Whether they’re focusing on economics, hunger or other issues, young decision-makers can be major contributors to international development through decision-making. Becoming active, involved and full members of boards and decision-making committees in international NGO and international specialized agencies can empower and engage young people in changing the world.

Youth as Movement Leaders — Working on their own or as partners with adults, young people can lead movements focused on the United Nations Millennium Development Goals or any international development issues that matter to them. Working across the Internet, using social media, texting or on the ground in local communities, youth can change the world as movement leaders.

Youth Media Makers — Learning about the issues that matter to them and taking action to inform others, children and youth can create and promote a variety of media, including print, online and video. Sharing messages and building consensus, youth media makers can create new approaches and foster new support for international development.

 

Things Youth Need to Change the World through International Development

Opportunities — Creating, building, sustaining or recreating opportunities for youth involvement in international development can be vital for engaging youth. Opportunities can be systemic, educational, cultural, social, religious, or otherwise.

Education — Working with adults as allies or on their own, children and youth can learn the essential knowledge they need to take action for international development. Whether they’re promoting NGOs becoming involved in their local communities and nations, or working for those NGOs to building youth involvement or youth activism, young people can change the world by learning about international development.

Inspiration — With so many traditional messages focusing on “act local, think global”, it’s important for young people to get inspired to take on international development. As integral leaders over the last twenty years, young people have taken action, changed policies, and helped millions of people around the world. Sharing these stories and building interest matters.

 

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Youth and Government

Freechild Project youth in New Hampshire

Democracy demands active, involved and engaged citizens taking almost-constant action to make societies better places. Counting as more than 25% of the human population, children and youth are routinely, consistently and constantly left out of governments at all levels today. However, growing numbers of local, state, national and international government bodies are engaging young people. Bringing together youth and government can transform societies and change the world in countless ways.

“Words like ”freedom,’ ‘justice,’ ‘democracy” are not common concepts; on the contrary, they are rare. People are not born knowing what these are. It takes enormous and, above all, individual effort to arrive at the respect for other people that these words imply.”— James Baldwin

 

Ways Youth can Change the World through the Government

Youth as Policy-Makers — Empowering young people to participate as full-fledged policy-makers includes providing educating nontraditional youth leaders, providing substantive opportunities for action, and training adults as allies throughout the process. Through meaningful youth involvement, young people can transform systems, empower communities and infuse adult-driven institutions with youth power.

Community Youth Development — When young people are systemically involved throughout their communities, applying powerful skills and knowledge along the way, they can shift governments into action and encourage powerful transformation. Community youth development can also build the capacities of children and youth, their peers, families and others to change the world, too!

Service Learning — Combining meaningful service with real classroom learning goals can give students substantive opportunities to improve government services, engage more people in democratic processes, and ensure people stay informed and empowered through action. Service learning can teach students vital knowledge and build their skills to change the world. When infused in government, it can be more real than ever!

 

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

 

Things Youth Need to Change the World through the Government

Opportunities — There must be substantial and inclusive opportunities for young people of all ages to affect governance. This can happen at the neighborhood level through community associations; at the village, town or city level by getting youth on board, creating positions for youth as city council members, or lowering the local voting age; at the county and parish level by creating youth action boards and lowering the voting age; at the state and provincial levels in many ways, including youth as staff and youth empowerment activities; and on the federal and international levels. These must be fully empowered, fully trained and focused on youth mainstreaming.

Training — Young people need high quality, practical training on the ways government operates, what difference it makes and why it matters to be involved. Focused on skill development, training can include communication, problem-solving, and critical thinking. Emphasizing knowledge-sharing, training can focus on democratic purpose, government functions and interacting with the public.

Inspiration — Young people need to know what government is, what government does and most importantly, how government operates. Without pedantic traditional classroom teaching styles, they should learn function, purpose, operation and outcomes, as well as how to successfully advocate for what matters most to them, their families and their communities.

 

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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 + Social Change through Youth Mediators

Freechild Project youth in São Paulo, Brazil.

Engaging youth as mediators teaches young people to understand conflict within themselves and others. Discovering how they influence conflict, how to self-manage conflict, and how to identify strategies for calmness and clarity is enhanced by learning listening and speaking skills and how to understand other peoples’ point of view. Youth mediators can help other youth, younger students, and adults to have important conversations in order to become clearer themselves, understand each other’s perspectives, and make decisions about next steps. Youth can change the world as mediators when they apply these skills throughout their lives, including at home, in school, and throughout their communities.

You can’t shake hands with a clenched fist. — Indira Gandhi

Ways for Youth + Social Change through Youth Mediation

Youth-Led Programs — Young people can learn the deep parts of conflict resolution, become program designers and managers, and lead their own efforts to promote mediation in their schools and communities. Young people transform relationships when they move past struggle and towards interdependence and community-building.

Youth Courts — Youth courts are powerful tools for young people to develop their own capacity for problem-solving and mediation. Through jurisdiction and official proceedings, youth can reduce recidivism, promote conflict resolution and build communities instead of tearing them apart like traditional juvenile justice programs have.

Youth Managing Adult Staff — When young people participate in hiring, training, supervising and evaluating adult staff, they balance the perceptions of power within organizations and throughout communities. This acts towards mediation by empowering those who are taught, watched and facilitated by adults with the ability to rectify their challenges with adults, laying a substantive foundation for youth/adult partnerships.

Needs for Youth + Social Change through Youth Mediation

Education — Comprehensive youth mediation programs should include education for youth and adults on how to: Identify goals and outcomes; Identify and engage stakeholders, Create a team to plan and develop the program, Develop systems including referral, intake, mediation coordination; and Train students to become mediators and providing continuing education. Programs should also receive on-going technical assistance. Youth mediator programs should have immediately positive impact on conflict and be sustainable.

Opportunities — Young people need substantial opportunities to be mediators in the places they spend the most time, including at home, in schools and throughout their communities. They also need real adult allies who stand with them for mediation, and support from government agencies, law enforcement and others.

Youth/Adult Partnerships — Real youth/adult partnerships engage young people and adults in equitable relationships that can build the power, purpose and potential of youth mediators. Through transparency, communication, mutual investment and meaningful involvement, young people and adults can transform community culture for the better.

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