Essay:Adultism

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Looking back into history, we see that adult society has viewed youth as the property of their parents -- property that parents are entitled to control as they see fit. This is a history that continues into the present day. Standards of what's acceptable treatment have improved; yet the essence of youth being dealt with as if they are property remains...
—Sven Bonnichsen[1]

Adultism (or ageism, although this refers to the elderly as well) is discrimination against youth.

Laws[edit]

Inability to leave parents[edit]

Just as with women in the 19th century, the laws of every country in the world openly discriminate against youth. For example, youth are generally required to follow their parents' rules and parents are given an almost unlimited degree of latitude in determining what these rules will be. Although to many people, this doesn't sound so bad and is just considered to be a normal part of growing up, or living together, it must be remembered that the law also forbids youth from leaving their parents' custody, and in most countries, it is completely legal for parents to hit their youth for practically any reason they please.[2]

Even if the law against youth leaving their parents didn't exist, other laws compound the difficulty of doing so. For example, child labor laws make it difficult for youth to be able to be financially independent, as do the compulsory education, curfew and contractual capacity laws. Not to mention that the government usually has a minimum age for collecting welfare, leaving many youth who have left home despite all of these barriers homeless or in other bad situations.

There are laws against child abuse, but it seems that beating youth isn't considered abusive, even though doing the same thing to anyone else would be considered a crime.[3]

In some areas (such as some states in America), there exist emancipation procedures through which youth can apply for a court order to become independent and separated from their parents. In other places, such as Australia, emancipation is not an option.

Inability to vote and stand for office[edit]

With youth making up around 20% of the population of most countries in the world, one of the primary reasons that these laws don't get changed is that politicians don't have to listen to the opinions of youth - and in fact, with the existence of such horrors as parents' rights groups, caring about what youth think may actually hurt their chances of being elected, rather than help them.

There have been several youth who have decided to stand for office despite not being the legal age. For example, 17-year old Elijah Manley stood in the 2016 Green primaries (and actually received several delegates) despite the constitutional minimum age of 35. However, it is interesting to note that US senator Henry Clay was 29 when he was elected, despite the constitutional requirement that senators be 30.

Drinking age[edit]

Laws on the drinking age vary wildly across the world, with some countries making it a crime for youth to drink, and others just making it a crime to sell alcohol to youth, and there are often exceptions (e.g. if they are with their parents).

America is one of the strictest in the world on this, setting the age at 21, excluding the Muslim countries where the age is infinity.

In preventing youth from actually drinking, though, these laws are practically useless - prohibition didn't work for adults, so why should it work for youth? Because there is no known force in the universe, that will separate college students from alcohol. In fact, some scientists believe that this is the fifth fundamental force of the universe.

The religious connection[edit]

Honour thy father and thy mother
—Exodus 20:12, Fifth Commandment

The Bible is really into having children obey their parents. Really into it. To the extent that parents of a "stubborn and rebellious son" were allowed to drag him to the elders and have him stoned to death.[4] This greatly disturbed the writers of the Talmud, who applied creative legal reasoning to effectively mean that the punishment could never be applied.[5][6] Rabbi Judah and Rabbi Simeon said that no child was ever stoned to death for disobeying their parents, and God just put this section in the Bible as something for us to study. This position is weakened by Rabbi Jonathan's assertion that "I saw him and sat on his grave".[7]

But while (most) Jews today do not make a habit of stoning their children to death (no matter how much they may wish to), some on the religious right have taken inspiration from the Bible to write books on how to make obedient children.[8] For example, James Dobson, leader of Focus on the Family, wrote a book called The New Dare to Discipline, which recommends, among other things, that youth as young as 18 months old should be spanked with a paddle, and that spanking should be hard enough that they cry, but if they cry for too long, they should be spanked again.[9] Another particularly adultist Christian parenting book is To Train Up a Child.

Education[edit]

"Bullying"[edit]

Schools often trivialise assault by calling it "bullying". When students are assaulted, schools are often reluctant to punish the perpetrators, or if they do, any punishment will be so insignificant that it will not stop the perpetrator from doing the same thing again. If a teacher assaulted another teacher, for example, the attacking teacher would be fired and the teacher who was attacked would thus be able to feel safe from future attacks. Student victims, on the other hand, are required to confront their attackers every day.

Even worse, some schools have policies which say that if a student is attacked, and they fight back, they will be punished, even if it is in self-defense. Not surprisingly, these policies fail terribly - aside from the whole victim blaming issue, a student being attacked will see no reason to show restraint when defending themselves if the punishment will be the same either way.

Arguing with adultists[edit]

This section details some common arguments you might hear when arguing with adultists.

You want to lower the X age? Do you want *babies* to be able to do X?[edit]

This is a slippery slope argument. People who propose changing the voting age from 18 to 16, for example, are generally not suggesting that babies should be able to vote.

Well, the X age has to be set somewhere, so we should just keep it where it is.[edit]

Firstly, for almost everything, an age isn't necessary. Consider that, for most people, ability, intelligence or something other than age is the reason that they want age limits to exist. For example, people who want a driving age want to make sure that unskilled people don't make the roads dangerous, and people who want a gambling age want to make sure that people know and understand the dangers of what they are getting involved with.

As long as it is possible to measure the quality that you are actually concerned about, then it is possible to institute a licensing system. This has the advantage that adults who are, for example, unable to demonstrate that they understand the dangers of alcohol, would be unable to drink, and youth who were able to demonstrate that they understood the dangers would be.

Secondly, even if you believe that there should be an age for some things, then it means that that age should be as low as you believe to be safely possible. For example, there are many countries where the voting age is 16 (e.g. Scotland, Austria, Brazil) that haven't collapsed because of this, and there is no reason to think that if the voting age were to be changed to 16 in the United States anything particularly bad would happen. In contrast, the current system takes away the voting rights of millions of people for whom there is no reason that they shouldn't be able to vote. If you would be outraged if all of Wyoming was suddenly unable to vote, then you should be equally outraged at the voting age not being 16.

To suggest that the X age should stay what it is "just because" is an appeal to tradition.

But oppressing children is part of my culture![edit]

And many cultures are oppressive of LGBT people, but this doesn't make it right. This argument is often used for corporal punishment of children, often sounding something like "African-Americans are more likely to spank their children, so if you try to make spanking illegal, then you're being racist". It is true that African-Americans do spank their children more than non-African-Americans do,[10] but this is beside the point. Culture is continually changing, and if your culture violates human rights, it's time for it to change.

What youth rights isn't[edit]

Youth rights isn't about trying to remove the age of consent[edit]

Despite what online pedophile activists might tell you, most youth rights supporters don't want to change the age of consent. This makes even more sense when you realise that many people in the youth rights community have been abused as children and don't actually view child abuse as a good thing.

For those who can't see why abolishing the age of consent is a terrible, terrible idea, consider that youth suffer a massive power difference to adults. It's analogous to saying that labor unions should fight for employees' rights to consent to being sexually harassed by their employers. It's obvious to everyone that the consent isn't meaningful and having this "right" would actually harm the employee in practice.

Of the extreme minority of people who do support removing the age of consent, it is worth noting that practically all of them are adults.

Youth rights isn't about removing parents' obligation to feed their children[edit]

Libertarian author Murray Rothbard writes that in a perfect libertarian society, youth would be legally treated as equal to adults. Which sounds like an attempt to stand up for youth rights and fight adultism until you realise that this would remove all obligations of the parent to care for the child: "The parent therefore may not murder or mutilate his child, and the law properly outlaws a parent from doing so. But the parent should have the legal right not to feed the child, i.e., to allow it to die."

But don't worry, he tells us that this probably wouldn't happen much because there would be a "free baby market", where people could buy and sell rights to youth, just as they would cars, or celery.

While a large part of the criticism of his idea can be put down to a criticism of libertarianism (if youth were eligible for welfare payments, then they would be able to become independent of their parents' support much earlier than they can now), it is an unfortunate reality that for the first few years of their life (the exact time differing between youth), youth would be unable to support themselves without adult assistance, so some form of obligation on parents to provide for their youth is still required.

See also[edit]

Footnotes[edit]