I often see people in NYRA’s Facecbook group say they are surprised or disappointed that some political leader or group they like is ageist. There is nothing surprising about it. Everyone is ageist.

They aren’t ageist because they are bad people or irrational or hate kids, they just don’t know that there is any other way to be. Youth rights may seem self apparent to us, but it isn’t. The vast majority of people out there have never once thought about young people as independent people who should be given the same rights and respect as adults. They just haven’t.

It is like if you were out mowing your lawn and someone got mad at you for mutilating the poor grass plants. Plants have rights too, they’d say. You would dismiss this person as a loon. Not because you hate plants, but because you have never encountered such a concept before. Mowing your lawn is a completely normal, accepted part of life. Just like the idea that adults should be in control of their kids.

People we encounter who are ageist are not choosing to be ageist in spite of the many good arguments in favor of youth rights, they’ve just never heard them. That is our responsibility to share those arguments with them. We can’t expect all the ageists in the world (i.e. everyone) to just decide to pick up a John Holt book. It is up to us to promote our point of view and ‘show them the light’.

And like the plant guy, if we just say “stop mowing your lawn, plants have rights!” we can’t expect them to suddenly reverse course and become a youth rights true believer. They need to hear good, reasonable arguments, and hear them several times, before they come around. Completely changing someone’s world view is very difficult.

We rightly draw parallels to movements against racism, sexism and homophobia, but too often we think we are analogous to those movements today. If someone is racist today it is because they choose to be in the face of much awareness about racism. We are right to be upset with them and call them out. Likewise with other forms of discrimination. Youth rights just isn’t there yet.

Put yourself in the shoes of a women’s rights activist in 1800. For all of human history women had been subservient to and controlled by men. There weren’t debates about whether that was right or just, it seemed as natural and obvious as mowing your grass. When our founding fathers wrote “all men are created equal” they didn’t intentionally exclude women, the idea never crossed their mind. 200 years later things are different, but damn it took 200 years to get here. Youth rights has been around for like 40. We’ve got a long way to go, and it is up to us (ALL of us) to get us there.


  1. yeah, that’s totally right, but there are some strategies that are now available that other people back then, didn’t have. like lgbtq was a thing for like 50 years so we have some advantages they didn’t. BTW I’m 12

  2. Youth rights has been around for 40 years? Not quite. The idea of treating youths as children is only very recent, following the Industrial Revolution and especially WWII. Throughout most of history, teens were essentially seen as adults. They worked alongside adults, they weren’t subject to labor restrictions, they joined the military, and they had families.

    But I agree that it will take a long time to actually get this message across. Most people in our society (those aged 70 and under) were born and raised in an environment where teens attend school and are treated as children. Of course, the older ones (Boomers) may note that today’s teens are more monitored, but that is simply because the restrictions have gotten worse.

    If most people have grown up in a society where teens are required to attend school and are restricted from driving, work, marriage, and other things, they think it’s normal. They don’t see any other alternative. Most people aren’t really critical thinkers; they just go with the flow.

    We can find this in several other areas. In China, foot-binding on females was practiced for centuries. In the 19th Century, 50% of females had bound feet. Why did 50% of parents agree to maim and brutally injure their daughters? Simply because society did so, and there was huge social pressure.

    Anyways, great article.

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