Lost Childhood, Lost Opportunities: Addressing the Impact of Childism

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Childhood is a crucial stage of human development, during which individuals form their identities, values, and beliefs. However, an often overlooked and pervasive issue called “childism” has the potential to disrupt the natural progression of a child’s development into early adulthood. In this article, we will explore what childism is, how it affects teens growing into early adulthood, and the long-term consequences of denying them the chance to experience a full and healthy childhood.

“Childism is the hardest form of prejudice to recognise because children are the one group that is naturally subordinate until they reach the age of “consent” ” ~ Lainie Liberti – Seen, Heard & Understood

What Is Childism?

Childism refers to the systemic prejudice and discrimination faced by children and teenagers, based on their age, which can manifest in various ways, from societal stereotypes to unequal treatment. Childism can have profound and lasting effects on teenagers who are in the process of transitioning into early adulthood. Here are some of the most prominent consequences:

Stunted Emotional and Psychological Growth: When children and teenagers are consistently not allowed to express their emotions, thoughts, or opinions, it can lead to emotional repression and self-doubt. This suppression of expression can hinder their ability to develop emotional intelligence and self-awareness, which are essential for navigating the challenges of early adulthood.

Low Self-Esteem and Self-Worth: Constant exposure to childism can make young people feel undervalued and unimportant. This can lead to low self-esteem and a lack of self-worth, making it difficult for them to assert themselves and pursue their goals in early adulthood.

Reduced Resilience: Children and teenagers need the opportunity to learn from their mistakes and setbacks. When they are sheltered from these experiences due to adult intervention, they may struggle to develop the resilience needed to cope with challenges in their early adult life.

Impaired Decision-Making Skills: Childism often leads to a lack of trust in a child’s judgment. As a result, teenagers growing into early adulthood may not have had the chance to develop decision-making skills, making it challenging for them to make important life choices independently.

Limited Empathy and Compassion: If young people are not exposed to empathy and compassion in their childhood, they may struggle to understand and relate to the experiences of others as adults. This can affect their relationships and interactions with their peers and colleagues.

Disempowerment and Dependence: Childism can create a sense of disempowerment, as young people frequently feel dependent on adults for their needs and decisions. This dependence can carry over into early adulthood, hindering their ability to live independently.

When children feel overlooked, unheard, and misunderstood by the adults that they look up to and respect, this teaches them two things. As they grow older, their voice does not matter nor will voicing their own opinions change anything, and lack of trust both in others and themselves. 

These two lessons that they have learned by experiencing childism as they grew into adulthood, can easily lead to them making harmful decisions, not trusting their judgement, and even mental health struggles such as depression and anxiety. 

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Childism is a subtle but pervasive issue that can have far-reaching consequences on teenagers as they transition into early adulthood. It robs young people of the opportunity to develop critical life skills, self-confidence, and a strong sense of self-worth. To address childism and its harmful effects, society must prioritize listening to children, respecting their rights, and providing them with the autonomy to grow, explore, and learn from their experiences. 

From a teens perspective, this is one of the hardest challenges you could give us as we grow and attempt to adapt to adulthood. By rushing this process for us before we are ready, you are simply adding to the enormous load of pressure we are already juggling on our shoulders. Because as well as the immense stress we have been handed in the process of growing up, we are still trying to navigate that very tricky, and scary, grey area that is hidden between becoming an adult and being a kid. Suddenly, we are being handed all of these responsibilities, new information, new expectations and new requirements that are the packaged deal that comes non-negotiable with adulthood. But we only have two hands.

This is not something that we can ignore or pass off as a trivial matter. By acknowledging and dismantling childism, we can better prepare young people for the challenges and opportunities that await them in early adulthood, fostering a generation of confident, empathetic, and self-reliant individuals. And please… think to yourself about this: Why is it so frowned upon for us teens/young adults to hold onto that deep connection we still have with our childhoods? After all, up until this point, it has been the only way we have known how to live. Surely there is no shame in that?

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