Adultism, a term known to us in the youth rights movement, has been getting a bit of attention lately. Used, like ageism, to describe discrimination against youth (or an addiction to the attitudes, ideas, beliefs, and actions of adults), the term was included in a list of inclusive terminology by the University of Missouri. With the recent protests at Mizzou, the campus has received increased scrutiny from all those who feel recent student protests are a result of youth being too coddled, closed-minded and babied. One site, the Daily Caller, noticed the inclusive terminology guide and wrote about it.

Making extensive use of scare quotes the article intended to poke fun at terms such as safe space, cultural appropriation and minoritized. The term used in the headline however, and attracting the most derision from the article (and on Twitter) was adultism.

Just remember folks, first they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win. These articles are a sign that they are laughing at us. Don’t lose heart, that’s progress! The attention this is getting for the ideas of youth rights and age discrimination are good for the cause, despite the dismissive tone. NYRA very much thanks the University of Missouri for including ageism & adultism in their list of inclusive terms.

Unfortunately, despite being a glossary and defining each term, most of the opponents don’t yet understand it. Kevin Jackson at says:

It’s clear that university students have become babies. College used to be a right of passage into adulthood, when a child left the nest. Now however, college provides young adults the opportunities to revert to being children.

Uhh, actually those who are upholding ageism & adultism (i.e. the status quo) are the ones trying to keep young adults as children and babies. Those of us who use the terms ageism & adultism are the ones fighting for adult rights & equality for youth.

Kevin Jackson follows that up with: “Adultism?! Remember in the old days when we were told to “Respect your elders.”” And adds: “Awesome. Being an adult now sounds like child abuse?”

Oh, I see. It looks like they are defining “being an adult” as “discriminating against young people”. As if the two are synonymous. Of course that isn’t so far off the mark. This idea matches up very well with Sven Bonnichsen’s description of adulthood as a membership organization in Age Lines:

I find it extremely useful to think about “adults” as if it is an organization. It’s more massive and less orderly than organizations we’re used to thinking about, but the metaphor holds up remarkably well. An organization has leaders; given that youth are excluded from running for office, “leaders” here is synonymous with the U.S. government. An organization has members; these are all the adults who passively enjoy rights conferred upon them by the government. [As the advertisement for American Express credit card used to say, “membership has its privileges”.] An organization has membership criteria that exclude non-members; in this case, youth are non-members…

Organizations often have mission statements. If “adults” had one, what would it be? To some extent all-adult government arises because most youth aren’t up to the job of running the state, in which case, the “purpose” of the organization would not directly address youth or age. However, given that youth are specifically excluded from participating in democratic decision-making, and the history of youth being treated like property, I would argue that the mission statement could be articulated as “to control youth”. Others might argue that the intentions of adults are beneficent in current society, so “to protect and serve” would be a better fit. However, even if that were the intended goal, the means to this end is total control.

With all the terms in the Mizzou guide it is no wonder that the term folks are most threatened by is adultism. The purpose behind adulthood is to oppress youth. Consciously or not, they recognize that the privileges of being white, male and straight are being chipped away at, and the last remaining privilege they have is the privilege of adulthood. The forces of adulthood look prepared to kick and scream and throw a tantrum over holding onto their privilege. Maybe its time for adults to grow up and be happy with equal treatment.

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