Remember When They Said “Suck It Up, Buttercup?”

by Laura Young, Youth Advocate at Umbrella in St. Johnsbury

Adultism. Do you know what that word means or have you heard it used before? I did not before I became an advocate. See, adultism is a form of ageism (ageism is defined as a discrimination against a specific age group). More often than not, ageism is talked about in terms of discrimination against the elderly. In fact, the dictionary makes no mention of the word “adultism”. However, unlike racism, homophobia, gender or disability discrimination (etc.), adultism is a discrimination we all have experienced at some point, and sadly, we all have probably unknowingly acted on this discrimination.

Do you remember what it was like to feel little? To feel ignored? To feel like your opinion wasn’t valued or that you, as a child were of lesser value then an adult? Honestly, I would be surprised if you did not remember that feeling. Adultism is so engrained in our culture it is second nature and pervasive in so many areas of life. Adultism influences even how our bathrooms are constructed (children often can’t reach the sink, nor can they get on the toilet without assistance!)

Do you remember a time you wanted to talk about something that mattered to you and you were told “children are to be seen, not heard?” Do you remember getting hurt-really hurt physically and being told “you’re okay” or “it did not really hurt”? Was there a time where you were forced to participate in an optional activity even though you did not want to simply because your parent enjoyed or appreciated it? Or how about that time that Grandma insisted on kissing you even when you did not want to kiss her?

These are just a few examples of adultism in our culture. Now, I am not saying that children should never have any basic responsibilities, nor am I saying that a child has never made up being sick or hurt before. I am simply saying that as a culture we automatically devalue a child’s ability to choose, to speak, to feel pain and to have the right to their own body etc. Part of our work as caring members of society needs to evaluate how we, individually and as a community, treat children.

So how can we fight against adultism? Here are a few ideas (some ideas have a link to another site to discuss in more detail why each idea is important and how to go about the idea):

  • Let children control their bodies-there have been a lot of articles written on consent with children. It’s important that a child feels that they have ownership of their own body and the choice to say what they are comfortable with and what they aren’t. This can help prevent sexual violence!
  • Let children have as many choices as possible when it is safe for them to do so. In a world where children’s choices are constantly controlled by adults, if they can have the opportunity to choose something, let them! Even if it is something as simple as letting them dress however they want (even if it doesn’t match or look stylish) or choose the flavor of yogurt at the grocery store-it will give them some power to choose!
  • Listen empathetically-Often times kids have a lot to say that they feel passionate about. Take the time to validate their emotions and passions. You’d be surprised how important it is to validate a child’s emotions. It’s so easy to say “it didn’t really hurt” when a child gets a small cut or scratch but remember to you what “isn’t a big deal” is huge for that child!
  • Advocate for child friendly spaces-Do you know of a space which has adapted to be child friendly? Encourage and support that place! There are a lot of places that still are not child friendly. Ask store managers to make changes to make a facility more child friendly. Even something as simple as a step stool to reach a water fountain or a sink to wash their hands helps give a child more access to something that could benefit them.

These are just a few things that you can do to help fight against adultism. There are many other ways that we can challenge society’s perspective on children. Children are a gift and deserve all of our respect and care!