Posted by: njs44 | December 17, 2009


Because I do some Youth Work, I hear about all kinds of interesting projects and views related to young people. Today I came across the concept of Adultism, which is defined as ‘behaviours and attitudes based on the assumption that adults are better than young people’ ( John Bell, from the website article Understanding Adultism at

This article set me thinking about the paradox in my views about young people. On the one hand I agree with much of what John Bell is saying, that young people are discrimitated against and that sometimes their rights are denied them. Young people are often portrayed badly by the media, they are assumed to be up to no good by authorities, they are not given the freedom to choose what to do and when to do it  – a freedom that adults expect to have – and are frequently expected to do things by adults which an adult would not be expected to do. On the other hand, I feel that children need guidance, and advice based on my experience as an adult and that children should be prepared to listen to their elders, not because they are their betters, but because they are that much more experienced in the ways of the world.

Sometimes children misbehave. I think of the Youth Club and how they vandalise things from time to time. Or maybe that is my adult definition of their behaviour and in fact they are being inventive or creative or thinking divergently or whatever. I can imagine that they are thinking ‘what if I use this satsuma as a ping-pong ball? That will make a lovely mess everywhere,’ whereas in fact what they are really thinking is ‘I wonder if a satsuma would fly across the net faster or slower than a ping-pong ball? Let’s conduct empirical research to find out.’

So the question is, how do we encourage creativity and imagination in children without letting them wreck the place? How do we allow children freedom to choose without putting themselves in danger? How do we give children the right balance of support and encouragement to take risks? How do we let them learn from their own mistakes, especially when those mistakes involve other people having to clear up the mess?



  1. wouldn’t it be great if a forum could exist where the subject of this post (the yunguns) could respond and describe their analysis of the same scenarios. with the best will in the world (and i assume your will is the best in this instance), you can only make a wild guess…. as can most adults.

    could you make a post like this in on a facebook wall where many of them hang out and get some serious replies rather than silent stonewalling or derisory put downs

  2. But what does it mean to “behave?” And do we ever describe adults as misbehaving? No, we don’t. When adults kill each other off, which continues to occur as a regular widescale phenomenon, is this behaving? I don’t think so.

    You seem to miss that in fact the adults make most of the messes in the world; it is silly to think children are the ones making messes because adultism, a cultural and institutional and therefore systemic form of oppression, does not give so-called children the power to make messes of the size or consequence that adults can and do.

    When adults screw up the world, it is children who non-consensually inherit the problems and messes thus created.

    Please consider this.

  3. I do indeed consider the messes that adults have made, and are continuing to make, of the world. We all make messes, even if we don’t call it misbehaviour. To err is human, as the saying goes. What you do after you have made a mess is the crucial thing. Do you admit you screwed up, or do you try to hide it? Sadly there is so much at stake for people these days if they admit their error and so the tendency is to hide what you have done. That way no-one learns from their mistakes or from the mistakes of others.

    Thanks for your comment, which gave me more food for thought.

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