Also known as ageism, adultism is the discrimination against a person or group based specifically on their age. It is prejudice based on the assumption that youth are inexperienced, ignorant, and troublesome. These assumptions can cause pervasive issues such as setting low expectations and a supposition of failure (AED/Center for Youth Development and Policy Research).
Intolerance towards young people can come in a variety of forms that deny them developmental supports and opportunities. Dysfunctional rescuing limits the opportunities for success when an adult “helps” because it is assumed that the youth isn’t capable of helping oneself; leaves the youth with neither a challenge nor the adult support needed (Camino).
Blaming the victim is stereotyping the youth to fit a certain social, cultural, or economic status without giving a thought to the experiences the individual might have (Camino). The youth is believed to be unskilled or apathetic. In dealing with a conflict situation, it is important to separate the problem from the specific person involved.
Avoidance of contact occurs with a lack of regular social contact and a failure to learn about different communities or groups (Camino). The youth can be overlooked and left behind because the adult doesn’t feel that they know how to properly relate to the youth.
Denial of cultural differences involves an assumption about a youth’s cultural background and the youth is denied the opportunity to bring their own lifestyle into the setting (Camino). Lack of awareness about a youth’s particular experience and misunderstanding of possible economic realities of minority groups is a problem here.
All of these forms of discrimination against youth can be prevented if youth development professionals are made aware of the intolerance and the potential consequences.
How to overcome ageism? Really listen to young people, ask questions, welcome their ideas and provide support (Bell). Respect opinions and differences. Define how your own behavior contributes to a situation. Develop an awareness of your own assumptions. Putting it lightly, adults don’t always know best just because they are older.
Think about that old golden rule we have all learned. Treat others as you would like to be treated.
AED/Center for Youth Development and Policy Research
Bell, John. “Understanding Adultism.” YouthBuild USA, 1995.
Camino, Linda A. “Understanding Intolerance and Multiculturalism: A Challenge for Practitioners, but Also for Researchers.” Journal of Adolescent Research 10.1 (1995).