Have you ever heard of the word "ephebiphobia?" I hadn't until I ran into it when I was looking for information on the subject of youth rights. It means the fear and loathing of adolescents and it results in an "irrational, exaggerated, and sensational characterization of young people"
Coined by Kirk Astroth, a 4-H outreach agent in Montana, today ephebiphobia is recognized as a major issue in youth engagement throughout society. Sociologists, government agencies, educators, and youth advocacy organizations use the word to describe any loathing, paranoia, or fear of young people or of that time of life called "youth".
This reminded me of a piece of curriculum content we cover in the Youth Work Institute's Culturally Responsive Youth Work Matters course on adultism. In this piece, we focus on adultism and internalized adultism -- how young people are discriminated against in adult-defined institutions and how young people sometimes internalize this mistreatment against themselves or other youth. The essence of adultism is disrespect of the young.
The other day I was talking with a county social worker who wants me to speak to his staff about adultism at an upcoming meeting. When he brought the topic up to his supervisor for her approval, she responded that adultism isn't as bad as the other "isms" and it wouldn't be a very interesting topic. Hmm.
John Bell addressed this issue in a 1995 article called Understanding adultism: A key to developing positive youth and adult relationships"). Bell believes that racism, sexism, all the other isms reinforce each other in American culture, but the phenomenon of being disrespected simply because one is young is an ism that crosses many cultures around the globe. That is what makes this problem so complex. It's everywhere and we have all experienced it in one way or another because we have all have been young. The feeling of "less than" has been normalized. It feels like that's just the way things are.
So, now I want to ask the following question about a current issue that has been troubling me for some time.
Here in Minnesota, does the Anoka-Hennepin School District's controversial Sexual Orientation Curriculum Policy, a.k.a. the "neutrality policy" on the issue of bullying have anything to do with ephebiphobia or adultism in some way? The policy requires adult staff members to remain neutral on issues involving student sexual orientation. The new alternative policy, called Controversial Topics Curriculum policy, states that discussion of controversial topics in class is helpful, but forbids staff members from taking sides with youth, even when bullying is going on.
What does controversial mean? Is it controversial to be gay? Do either of these adult-created policies and/or rules protect, nurture, and support all youth? Do they create an atmosphere of respect and care for all young people? Is adultism at work here? What do you think?
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