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Adultism is a term, originating from co-counseling, used to refer to the "oppression of young people through attitudinal, cultural and systematic discrimination against children and youth". It is also used to refer to any bias against young people, and is distinguished from ageism—which is simply prejudice on the grounds of age, not youth particularly. It is seen in co-counseling as the basis for all other oppression and discrimination in society, as well as for most psychological problems.

Adultism refers to "behaviors and attitudes that are based on the assumption that adults are better than young people, and entitled to act upon them without their agreement." It is characterized by "disrespect towards the intelligence, judgment, emotional life, leadership, or physical being of young people." [1]

Implications

Adults may sometimes assume a young person is incapable of performing a task, doing it in their stead. This may result in lost opportunities for the young person to learn or experience the challenge.

Adults may at times blame young people for the challenges they face without taking into account their environments. Young people may internalize this, believing themselves at fault for difficulties that are, in reality, largely out of their control.

Some adults may avoid the company of young people, helping to perpetuate a lack of understanding between generations. As a result, besides the missed opportunities for social fulfillment for both groups, many programs created for youth may be created from the point of view of the adults, causing the young people to feel alienated and misunderstood.

Adults are sometimes condenscending of young people, belittling their abilities or dismissing otherwise socially inappropriate behavior. This is apparent even in some facets of our language, for instance when we say someone is acting "childish", as if certain behavior is to be implicitly expected of children.

According to this view of adultism, young people face systemic oppression by adults in the areas of incarceration, education, and military recruitment.

Several organizations in the United States, most notably Mothers Against Drunk Driving, are often criticized as being adultist. MADD's junk scientific and spin-doctored studies often blame a disproportinate amount of drunk driving and alcohol deaths on young people, while often overlooking similar adult cases, which far outnumber youth cases. MADD was a key proponent of the age 21 law in the United States, and tends to hold a rather black and white view of alcohol consumption; viewing all that drink under the age of 21 as irresponsible and dangerous, while seemingly assuming that anybody over 21 is automatically responsible. This is evident that most of MADD's recent campaigns and pseudoscientific studies have targeted youth alcohol consumption, while ignoring adult alcohol abuse. Due to its perceived adultism, MADD has drawn the ire of most people in the youth rights movement.

Outcomes

Research that has been compiled from two sources (a Cornell University nation-wide study, and a Harvard University study on youth) has shown that social stratification between age groups causes stereotyping and generalization; for instance, the media-perpetuated myth that all adolescents are equally immature, violent and rebellious. Advocates of the concept of adultism contend that this has led to growing number of youth, academics, researchers, and other adults rallying against adultism and ageism, such as organizing education programs, protesting statements, and creating organizations devoted to publicizing the concept and addressing it.

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