top of page

Historical and Societal Roots of Adultism!


Historical and Societal Roots of Adultism!

Adultism, a concept often overshadowed by more widely recognized forms of discrimination, is a pervasive force that shapes our societies and influences our perceptions of power dynamics. This blog embarks on an in-depth journey into adultism's historical and cultural origins, shedding light on its profound influence and impact on how we relate to young people in contemporary society.

In the following blog, we will unravel the intricate tapestry of adultism, tracing its beginnings to ancient civilizations, its reinforcement through the Middle Ages, and the winds of change brought by the Enlightenment. The Industrial Revolution and the 20th century left indelible marks on adultism, leading us to the modern era, where we see a growing acknowledgment of its existence and the efforts to challenge its underlying assumptions.

Join us as we delve into the pages of history to unearth the roots of adultism, revealing the complex interplay of beliefs and practices that have persisted through the ages. Together, we'll work towards a more equitable world for young people by understanding and addressing this often-overlooked form of discrimination.



History to Unearth the Roots of Adultism

Defining Adultism

In the complex tapestry of societal dynamics, adultism is a pervasive but often unnoticed form of discrimination. It is crucial to clearly define this term to understand its historical and societal roots better. Adultism is the belief system and practice where adults are inherently considered superior to children and youth, solely based on age. This assumption grants adults the authority to decide for young people without their input or consent.

Throughout history, this notion has perpetuated the idea that adults monopolize wisdom, experience, and moral authority. From ancient civilizations to the Middle Ages and even into the 20th century, adultism has been deeply ingrained in societies.

However, as we progress into the modern era, there is a growing recognition of the need to challenge these assumptions and empower young people to have a say in their lives. By defining adultism, we pave the way for a more equitable and just society where the rights and voices of young people are acknowledged and respected.


Ancient Beliefs: The Seeds of Adultism

In our quest to understand adultism's historical and cultural origins, we must journey back to ancient civilizations where the seeds of this discriminatory ideology were sown.


Unearthing the Foundations of Adultism

The roots of adultism can be traced to ancient societies that regarded wisdom and knowledge as the exclusive domain of adults. In these early civilizations, age was not just a number but the determiner of authority and decision-making power.

In ancient Greece, for example, adults were viewed as the repositories of wisdom, and this perception laid the groundwork for adultism. The education of young boys in ancient Greece was not focused on nurturing their individuality but rather on molding them into obedient citizens who would unquestioningly follow the orders of their elders. The respect for age was often held in higher esteem than young individuals' inherent rights and autonomy.


Adultism in the Ancient World

This ancient reverence for the authority of adults was not exclusive to Greece. Many other ancient cultures held similar beliefs. In these societies, children and youth were considered subservient to the adult population, with their voices and opinions often dismissed or ignored.

The influence of adultism permeated educational systems and familial and societal structures. Young people were expected to comply with the wishes and directives of their adult guardians, with little room for dissent or independent thought. The young were often regarded as passive recipients of knowledge and guidance, reinforcing the deeply ingrained notion that adults were inherently wiser and more virtuous.

The concept of adultism in these ancient societies was so deeply rooted that it became a fundamental building block of social structures. It affected the rights and roles of young people and the power dynamics within communities.

As we examine these early beliefs and practices, it becomes clear that the foundations of adultism were laid long ago, shaping not only the societies of their time but also influencing the modern adultism that persists in various forms today.


The Middle Ages: Reinforcing Adultism

During the Middle Ages, adultism was firmly entrenched in the social fabric, profoundly influencing how young people were perceived and treated. From the 5th to the 15th century, this era was characterized by feudal societies and the dominance of religious institutions, which significantly reinforced adultist beliefs.


Feudal Societies and Adultism

Feudalism, a dominant societal structure of the Middle Ages, was a hierarchical system where landownership equated to power and control. Young people had little to no voice in this arrangement. They were often regarded as little more than property or subjects bound by the authority of their feudal lords.

Children and youth in feudal societies were expected to show unwavering obedience to their elders. Their role was primarily to serve and follow the commands of those in power, reinforcing the adultist notion that adults were inherently superior, wiser, and more capable.


Religious Influence

Religion played a central role in people's lives during the Middle Ages, further bolstering adultism. The church and its teachings were intertwined with the concept of adult authority. Children were taught to obey their parents unquestioningly as part of their religious duty.

This religious authority served to deepen the adultist beliefs of the time. It perpetuated the idea that youth should unquestionably follow the guidance and commands of their adult counterparts, as adults were seen as the vessels of virtue, morality, and spiritual wisdom.

The unquestioned supremacy of adults marked the Middle Ages, and young people were marginalized, largely devoid of rights and agency. They were expected to play their predetermined roles within the feudal and religious systems without question, further entrenching the notion that adultism was an inherent and unquestionable part of society.

It's important to note that the Middle Ages were a product of their time, with societal structures and beliefs that have evolved significantly since. However, the influence of adultism during this period left a lasting mark on how young people were perceived and treated in subsequent centuries, making it crucial to understand this historical context to address and dismantle adultism in the modern world.



The Enlightenment: Beginning of Change

During the Enlightenment period, which spanned the 17th and 18th centuries, significant shifts in philosophical and intellectual thought challenged long-standing beliefs about adultism and the role of young people in society. This era marked the beginning of a profound change in how people perceived the capabilities and rights of children and youth.


Challenging Traditional Views

One of the primary drivers of change during the Enlightenment was questioning traditional beliefs that placed adults as the sole bearers of wisdom and knowledge. Influential philosophers like John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau played pivotal roles in reshaping the discourse on youth and their potential.


The Blank Slate Theory

John Locke's influential concept of the "blank slate" suggested that children were born with open minds, ready to be shaped by their experiences. This theory contradicted the prevailing notion that children were essentially empty vessels awaiting the infusion of adult knowledge.

Locke's idea implied that young people should be nurtured and educated rather than merely disciplined and controlled. It laid the groundwork for a more participatory and inclusive approach to child-rearing and education.


Rousseau's Embrace of Childhood Innocence

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, another luminary of the Enlightenment, contributed to transforming attitudes toward youth. He emphasized the idea of "childhood innocence," asserting that children were naturally good, free from sin, and should be protected from harmful influences.

Rousseau's perspective added a moral dimension to the changing discourse, challenging the harsh, punitive methods of child-rearing that were prevalent in his time. His philosophy supported that children should be allowed to develop and flourish in a nurturing and supportive environment rather than under authoritarian control.


Impact on Education and Parenting

The Enlightenment's ideas on childhood profoundly impacted educational philosophies and parenting practices. Educational reformers began to incorporate these new ideas into their pedagogical approaches, focusing on nurturing the potential of each child. The emphasis shifted from rote learning and discipline to encouraging critical thinking, exploration, and self-expression.

Parenting practices also evolved, with a growing recognition that children needed love, care, and guidance rather than strict obedience. The Enlightenment played a significant role in the modern concept of childhood, where children were seen as individuals with rights, needs, and unique potential.


Legacy of the Enlightenment

While the Enlightenment marked a turning point in the history of adultism, it was only the beginning of a broader cultural and societal shift. The ideas of Locke and Rousseau laid the foundation for subsequent movements advocating for children's rights and the dismantling of adultism.

The Enlightenment's emphasis on reason, individualism, and the potential for positive change impacted how society viewed young people. It sowed the seeds of youth empowerment, nurturing a belief that children and youth should actively participate in shaping their lives and the world around them.


Industrial Revolution: The Changing Family Dynamics

The Industrial Revolution, a period of profound technological and economic transformation that began in the late 18th century, brought about significant changes in various aspects of society. One of the areas deeply affected by this revolution was family dynamics, and it played a role in both reinforcing traditional adultism and sowing the seeds of change.


Emergence of Child Labor

The Industrial Revolution marked a pivotal moment in human history, shifting the center of economic activity from agrarian, family-based production to factories and industries. As adults flocked to urban centers to find factory employment, the dynamics within families were dramatically altered.

The most noticeable change was the emergence of child labor. Children were seen as a valuable source of labor, particularly in industries that demanded nimble fingers and small stature. Their role within the family shifted from solely receiving care and guidance to becoming economic contributors. This shift in the monetary value of children played a dual role in shaping family dynamics.

On one hand, children were now seen as essential contributors to the family's economic survival. This shift in perception indicated the changing times and was instrumental in breaking away from the traditional notion of children as passive dependents. In this sense, the Industrial Revolution can be seen as an early challenge to the established adultist beliefs.

However, the other side of the coin was less optimistic. The use of child labor in harsh working conditions often deprived them of their childhood and education. They were exposed to dangerous and exploitative environments, paradoxically reinforcing certain adultist beliefs. Children were seen as physically capable, yet their emotional and intellectual needs were frequently neglected. The industrial working conditions painted a grim picture of young people's well-being and safety.


The Changing Role of Parents

In this rapidly changing economic landscape, parents also experienced a significant shift in their roles. While traditional family structures had parents as their children's primary caregivers and educators, the demands of the Industrial Revolution often forced both parents into the workforce, leaving children to fend for themselves.

While driven by economic necessity, this change further disrupted the traditional adultist paradigm. The age-old belief that parents were the sole providers of knowledge, guidance, and decision-making was challenged. Without parents, children had to learn to navigate the adult world independently, often fending for themselves and relying on peers and other community members for support and guidance.



20th Century: Shaping Modern Adultism

The 20th century marked a pivotal period in the evolution of adultism, as it laid the foundation for the adultism we see in modern society. While this era saw significant progress in child rights and education, it also demonstrated that adultism remained deeply entrenched in various aspects of society.


Education and Adultism

One of the critical areas where adultism persisted during the 20th century was in the realm of education. Although this period substantially improved access to education and child labor laws, the educational system still exhibited signs of adultism.


Traditional Classroom Structure

The traditional classroom structure, characterized by rows of desks facing the teacher, epitomized the adultist belief that knowledge was to be dispensed from adults to children. It reinforced the idea that young people should be passive recipients of knowledge rather than active participants in their learning process. Students were expected to absorb information without question, and their contributions were often limited to conforming to prescribed curricula.


Lack of Student Agency

Students often had limited control over their educational experiences. Decision-making power primarily resided with teachers and administrators. This lack of student agency further perpetuated the notion that young people could not make meaningful educational decisions.


Adult-Centered Curriculum

The curriculum of the time was primarily adult-centered, with little consideration for students' interests, experiences, and diverse perspectives. This approach failed to recognize that young people could actively shape their learning experiences.


Media and Adultism

In addition to education, the media played a significant role in reinforcing adultism during the 20th century. It was a time when youth were often portrayed in a particular manner, cementing adultist stereotypes.


Youth as Irresponsible

In advertising and popular culture, young people were frequently depicted as impulsive and irresponsible. These portrayals reinforced the idea that they needed constant guidance and control from adults.


Lack of Youth Representation

Young voices and perspectives were underrepresented in politics, media, and entertainment. This lack of representation suggested that young people could not contribute to meaningful discussions and decisions.


Consumerism and Youth

The emergence of consumer culture further emphasized youth as passive consumers rather than active agents in society. The idea that young people were primarily consumers, not contributors, reflected the adultist belief that they were not ready for meaningful responsibilities.

Despite these manifestations of adultism, the 20th century also saw the beginnings of change and reform. The civil rights movement, the women's rights movement, and advocacy for child labor laws highlighted the importance of addressing inequality and discrimination, including adultism, in society.

While adultism continued to persist, the 20th century sowed the seeds of change and laid the groundwork for the progress that would be made in subsequent decades. Acknowledging these historical roots of adultism is crucial in understanding the challenges faced by young people and in working towards a more equitable and inclusive society.


Modern Day: Addressing Adultism

In the 21st century, societies have started to recognize the deep-seated problems associated with adultism and have begun to take steps toward addressing them. This section explores the various ways contemporary efforts are challenging and combating the age-based discrimination that has persisted throughout history.


Recognizing Adultism

The first crucial step in addressing adultism is acknowledging its existence. Increasingly, individuals and organizations are drawing attention to how young people have been marginalized, discriminated against, and often treated as if their opinions and experiences are less valuable than those of adults.

By recognizing adultism, we create a foundation for building change. The understanding that young people are not merely passive recipients of adult knowledge but active contributors to society is fundamental to this shift.


Youth Activism and Advocacy

One of the most powerful mechanisms for addressing adultism in the modern era is the rise of youth activism and advocacy. Young people have emerged as leaders in challenging adult policies, demanding equitable treatment, and advocating for changes that reflect their perspectives and needs.

Greta Thunberg, a Swedish environmental activist, exemplifies this movement. Her passionate and vocal stance on climate change has rallied young people worldwide, creating a powerful force for change. Similarly, the March for Our Lives movement in the United States, led by survivors of the Parkland school shooting, illustrates how young activists can influence policy change and challenge adult's attitudes toward issues like gun violence.


Youth Participation and Inclusivity

Another significant development in addressing adultism is promoting youth participation and inclusivity. Schools, institutions, and governments increasingly recognize the importance of involving young people in decisions that affect their lives. This recognition represents a shift from the traditional adultist notion that young people should be passive recipients of knowledge and guidance.

Many modern schools encourage students to participate in decision-making, from curriculum development to disciplinary policies. This active engagement not only empowers young people but also ensures that their unique perspectives are considered.


Changing Media Representations

The media plays a substantial role in shaping societal attitudes, including those related to adultism. In recent years, there has been a notable shift in the portrayal of young people in media. Positive representations of youth, achievements, and societal contributions are becoming more prevalent.

Young voices are amplified through various media platforms, and their efforts are celebrated. This challenges the negative stereotypes often associated with young people and inspires them to play a more active role in their communities and beyond.


Legal Reforms

Another avenue for addressing adultism is through legal reforms. Laws and policies that discriminate against young people or infringe upon their rights are being challenged and changed. Legal efforts to protect and uphold the rights of young people have gained momentum in various countries.

These reforms may encompass voting rights, employment regulations, and youth justice. They aim to ensure that young people are treated with the same respect and fairness as adults, dismantling the age-based discrimination that has persisted throughout history.


End Thought:

Our exploration of adultism's historical and societal origins unveils a story of evolution and resistance. From ancient civilizations that unquestioningly upheld the authority of adults to the Enlightenment's challenge to these norms, and from the harsh realities of child labor during the Industrial Revolution to the progress made in child rights and education in the 20th century, we have seen adultism manifest in varying forms.

In today's world, the picture is complex. While adultism remains a significant influence on how we interact with young people, there is a growing recognition of its existence and a rising tide of youth activism and advocacy. Movements led by inspiring individuals like Greta Thunberg and those standing against gun violence through initiatives like the March for Our Lives underscore the power of youth voices in challenging the status quo.

As we conclude our journey into the roots of adultism, it becomes clear that acknowledging the past is the first step toward dismantling this profoundly ingrained form of discrimination. By doing so, we can foster a more equitable society where young people are seen as active participants, with their voices and perspectives valued, thus paving the way for a future where adultism's influence is progressively diminished.


Share It to Make a Difference. Sign Up Now!

Comments


Be the First to Expand Your
Intellectual Horizon!

bottom of page