Adultism: People, Get Over Your Hatred Of Children

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We’ve come a long way since the days when people would loudly proclaim, “Children should be seen and not heard.” But like old traditions, fond memories and nostalgic ramblings, it looks like we’re embracing the saying once again. Except this time the anger, hostility and vitriol isn’t being spewed from the mouths of parents but rather by folks who don’t want children, don’t like children and who have the audacity to believe – and have no problem asserting – that children have no right to exist at the same time or place as they do! Chills.

Adultism is the systematic unrepentant disregard, privilege, control and discrimination of and against children – by adults. It’s a relatively new term, but one that’s gaining traction in child-centered circles. If the concept itself seems like a bit of a brain-buster, think of it in this way: It’s like racism, except the target/victim is children.

In recent news and in this publication as well, there’s been much discussion, celebration and fanfare over the news that restaurants have garnered the right to ban children from certain areas. Additionally, a similar law has been enacted to restrict wayward children’s movements on airplanes. Unfortunately for children and parents everywhere, every person and their dogma has weighed in on why this is a good thing, while those of us who don’t believe this is a good thing remain in shock and disbelief but haven’t sufficiently put into words why this should be considered a dangerous, precedent-setting fail.

Since the birth of my two children, I have no problems speaking my mind, so permit me to tell you why this line of dangerous thinking begets more and insidious dangerous thinking: Like the abolitionist movement to end Jim Crow segregationist policies of America between the 1880s and the 1960s, which created “Whites Only” restaurants, buses and public spaces, we – the Enlightened Society – have come to learn that the practice of denying access to persons based on what we presume to be their inferior qualities is objectionable, illegal, asshole behavior.

Yes, Virginia, there are “adult spaces” in which grown-up human beings get to do grown-up things apart from the watchful, innocent gaze and presence of children – as there should be. No sane individual is arguing against this. The problem is the ease with which the superior attitudes, bullish temperaments and premeditated hostile environments take over any rational discussion about the “value” of children and what constitutes a child’s place.

There are adults who don’t flinch at flexing or exerting their big-people muscles over children who, let’s face it, are literally at the mercy and whim of whatever tickles the adult’s fancy at the moment. I’ve heard women say, “I don’t want children,” with the kind of disdainful tone and zest they say, “I will not wear red pants despite what mommyrexic Rachel Zoe thinks,” or, “I don’t eat meat.” There’s also the running joke by the narcissistic, self-absorbed auntie who makes the offensive adultist joke about her nieces and nephews as “a form of birth control.” Really?

And so what if you truly don’t want children, you ask? Then please don’t have them. There is no judgment if you don’t. In fact, I applaud and respect your right to put your needs first. But please mind your negative language. Children aren’t disposable throwaways like last week’s trend-item. You remember childhood, don’t you? You used to have one.

Thanks to our youth-media-obsessed culture, child exploitation is one of the many ways in which adultism is able to take flight and spread its dirty little wings. Take, for example, the recent case of 10-year-old child model Thylane Lena-Rose Blondeau. There is great debate as to whether this beautiful young child’s career in fashion is appropriate. I say it isn’t for the simple fact that the child is no longer being viewed by children in children’s publications. (Score a point for innocence lost.) Increasingly, she is being viewed by adults in adult-like situations that are suitable for adult consumption only.

Call me sheltered, but last time I checked, children weren’t lining up to purchase Vogue magazine. In effect, the only people being gratified here are adults. Adultist apologists should remind themselves that children do not go on dates, dress up and practice pouting and come-hither glances to seduce one another. Adults do.

Adultism hungrily promotes, fetishizes and glamorizes the recurring ‘loss of innocence’ narrative. It erases the boundaries of acceptable behaviors to such an extreme that the systematic psychological and emotional abuse of children is seen as an unfortunate by-product of adult narcissism. And we’ve embraced the “don’t look at me” mentality by assuming that somehow [our] children have “asked” for it. We’ve been outraged and numbed to the reverberations and implications of Toddlers & Tiaras and 16 & Pregnant and the idea that child entertainers (and so-called reality stars) are somehow “responsible” for their own self-destruction.

Many moons ago I read a quote from Britney Spears, who mid-career expressed being creeped-out by the adult dads of her fans who brought their children to her concerts. No one picked up on this at the time, but you can sure bet that this is a recurring nightmare and a topic of great emotional distress on her therapist’s couch. More recently, Demi Lovato has taken to the pages of Elle magazine to tell her story post-rehab, and has emerged a provocative “been there, do me” 19-year-old in boob-baring lingerie, unkempt tousled hair, sultry red lips and heels, and that “just fucked” look women’s magazines go for these days. The point, you see, is to visually prep us for what’s to come – that is, before the tabloid media gets their greasy hands on shots of Demi dressing and acting “inappropriately” now that she’s been emancipated from childhood stardom a la Miley Cyrus, Lindsay Lohan and Christina Aguilera before her. Gulp.

Finally, as a parent, I fully embrace the notion that having children is my choice, my blessing, my calling, my gift, my responsibility. However you view it, it’s also yours. Children don’t exist in a vacuum. Children don’t make laws, create policy or commit crimes against humanity. Children do not start wars or religious moments or make culture. But when they grow up from childhood to adulthood, they will. Where my responsibility ends is where your responsibility – the adult who does not “want” children – begins. My child will (hopefully) learn to love, hate, judge and discriminate by virtue of what you, the adult, says and doesn’t say; but virtue of how you, the adult, acts or doesn’t act when my children deign to exist in your environment. Let’s try and co-exist and make the world a better place together, shall we?

(Photo: iStockphoto)