Allies to Young People (draft 10.8.21)


Who are allies to young people? We are youth workers, parents, teachers, childcare providers, friends, aunts, uncles, neighbors. We are everyone who's decided to have some kind of caring relationship with a young person.

We know how to have fun. How to laugh hard. How to love well. We're good at hanging out. We're good dancers. We have big hearts. We haven't forgotten important things about being young. We're liberation fighters.


Our job as ally is one of the most important in the world. It’s to stay close to young people and let them know we’re on their side. It requires us to be real and be ourselves. To slow down and listen. To remember how to do things at their pace, in their way. To hold onto a big, correct perspective about the world. To hold out hope that things are possible and that people are good. To communicate to young people that they can make a difference and change things they see around them; and then to back them to do that. In order to back them effectively, we need to do our own counseling work so that we know we can make a difference. Our job is to become experts in young people‘s liberation. It’s not enough just to want young people to have better lives.


It’s great to be alive and to be us, at our exact age (at any age). Anytime we feel otherwise, let’s take that to session. We’re stronger allies to young people if we have friends, laugh with adults, laugh in general. To young people, adulthood looks unappealing because we look so unhappy so much of the time.

To center our lives around anything other than zest reflects a distress. We can try liking being adults, and young people need us to. We spent our childhoods mistreated by adults and mad at them and feeling trapped by them. Then one day, we find, we’re adults. But without having discharged our childhood feelings about adults, we find it hard to like ourselves, or to like or trust other adults.

Understandably, we might feel pulled to do all we can to make sure a young person’s life is better than ours. But that way of thinking is mistaken. It reflects a pattern passed down for many generations. In fact, young people need to see us fight for ourselves, fight against our own discouragement. For us not to do so is to accept limits on ourselves, which confuses young people and makes them feel powerless. Our place is fighting side by side with them, not giving them a hand with their discouragement when we can’t stand looking at our own.  We need to pursue our re-emergence with as much vigor and hope as we fight for theirs.

What if we were to care as passionately about ourselves and other adults as we do about young people? What if we could remember that we love adults without first expecting that they look at us as openly as young people do? And without getting thrown off by how adults show struggles? What if we could look in the mirror and like ourselves, as we sometimes could when younger? We’re still that person.


When we were young, everyone treated as normal the adultism and the everyday oppression we faced. So now it’s hard to look at adultism as a hurt.

It broke our hearts that people were so distant from each other (because they didn’t discharge). We have other heartbreaks about things that shouldn’t have been treated as normal. The horrible numbness adults walked around in had a deadening effect on us. And having our discharge process cut off—that was the biggest hurt.

Most of us in Co-Counseling find specific early incidents to work on. But the everyday life of our younger years can be harder to access. So can things that happened when we were older young people (unless they were big enough or less “everyday”). At some point as children, we stopped feeling outraged and stopped feeling we could change anything. So the early hurts feel not like hurts, but like the way things were.

But everything that happened to us in our childhoods is exactly what will get in the way of our being ourselves as adults, of our being as close as we want to be, and of our loving young people as much as we want to.


Young people’s oppression is based on disrespect. The excuse for treating young people with disrespect is their age, with its physical weakness and assumed lack of experience and knowledge.

How the disrespect shows up includes young people’s

  • being systematically invalidated and lied to;
  • being denied any voice;
  • not being given respectful attention (“Not now, dear. I don’t have time.”);
  • being physically abused;
  • not being given information (“Don’t worry about it. You wouldn’t understand anyway.”);
  • being given misinformation;
  • being denied power;
  • being kept economically dependent;
  • not being afforded rights—parents have complete legal control and may do many things without young people’s consent;
  • not having anyone communicate high expectations—it wears on young people that we don’t notice the real efforts they make toward each other and toward us, and that we think they are “cute.”


Young people are brilliant. They are ahead of us in many ways. If we were to fully discharge whatever keeps us from really paying attention to them, we would notice how brilliantly their minds function all the time.

They are our leaders. Part of our job as adults is to provide them information, guidance, and help with things they don’t yet understand, but the job doesn’t mean not involving their minds. We’re not allies “for their own good.” Being an ally is actually a two-way thing; often, if we pay attention, we learn more from them than they learn from us. Frequently our attention goes to how young people are hard on each other. Instead, we can watch how they talk to each other when they just want to tell each other stories or give each other information. They are a model of how humans should treat each other.


What we’re trying for is to organize to end young people’s oppression. And whenever we try, even the slightest bit, young people get a bigger picture of the world and a more powerful picture of themselves and each other.

It is good if we can be feisty. Young people are naturally so. We can reclaim feistiness as we fight alongside young people for the liberation of every single group. We need to recall the battles we fought when we were younger. All of us were revolutionary fighters then, who every day fought against young people’s oppression. We fought for what was right in our lives, our families, our schools. Sometimes we were able to say outright what was right. Sometimes it was in our minds. Sometimes it was in how we treated people. We were all born with an innate sense of what’s right (and we still have it). Young people fight every day for what’s right, and that is revolutionary.


We know a lot about young people’s oppression and liberation, and young people need to hear from us what we know. Adults also need to hear it from us. Using the expressions “young people’s oppression” and “adultism” is good. We need to talk about these concepts. Explain them. Point out when we see adults running adultism. Help young people get angry about adultism.


Adults are the only group in which every member was first in the oppressed group and then became an oppressor of that group. It broke our hearts to leave behind our young self and be unawarely expected to slip seamlessly into adult society.

A basic requirement of adult society is that we take part in being oppressive to young people. This role is considered normal. It gets no consideration, no attention. In the process of slipping into this role, we start to forget what we were passionate about or mad about when we were younger. We forget what being young was like, and we start feeling distant from what young people go through. We become irritated and un-understanding of their difficulties. This shift is heartbreaking.

That we become oppressors is not our fault. We can heal from this state of affairs through the discharge process, and by fighting to play and to stay connected. We just have to work on these distress patterns the way we do with any other oppression.

Young people need to be mad at us about our oppressive patterns, but if we are mad at ourselves about them, we don’t leave them room to be mad at us. We can apologize without feeling bad.


Just by virtue of being an adult in our society we are adultist—even if we never have contact with young people. We participate in a society that keeps young people down.

Oppressor material is lonely. Anything that makes us feel “better than,” or harsh toward, another group isolates us. Although we often want to be better allies for young people because it’s good for them, in fact our getting rid of our oppressor material will bring us closer to everybody.

Young people’s oppression is no one’s fault. Adults are, however, put in the position of being the its agents. We are not bad (it’s great to be an adult). But we feel horrible about the hard ways we treat young people.

I’ve been working with adults on openly looking at all the oppressive messages that run in our heads—some of which we know are oppressive; some of which even though we know are oppressive we feel justified in (such as when we’re “disciplining” a young person for “being bad”); and some of which we’re unaware of. (An area in which we all need work is how to help young people set limits against their distress without our sounding like they’re bad. None of us is expert at this kind of “no.”)

Lack of resources, for example for parents and teachers, fuels and amplifies oppressor material. If we are tired and alone with young people for a long time without discharge, we are more likely to direct hard things at them than if help is at hand.

Let’s have fun with this material. Admit it openly and get rid of it. Not only for them.


Every connection we have with a young person and every time we fight to show our love makes a difference to them. But we mostly can't tell. At all. When we were younger, we fought all the time to have things be different around us. And we did well. Each of us had an impact on our families, our friends, our schools, and the way the world runs. (Can you imagine a world without young people?) Because of adultism, our efforts as young people were not taken seriously. We were given no credit. Because of this childhood hurt, and because the world is in its current shape and harder to change than we had hoped, we're left feeling that nothing we do makes a difference. That’s not true.


Young people are blamed for the way that adultism, racism, and other oppressions affect them. They are blamed for their reaction to these oppressions. And then given drugs. This injustice is, however, a distraction from the real issue.

The real issue is that the current society is set up to oppress people and discharge is cut off, and because children are small, they experience a particularly harsh version of this set-up.

Parents and teachers and youth workers are thoroughly overworked and exhausted. I talked with two classroom teachers who said that psychiatric drugs helped the children in their classes. I said, “Let’s not say that drugs are good for the children. Let’s say that the teachers can’t function with current class sizes and current lack of resources unless the children are on drugs. Then we will have to see that the problem is with the system and stop blaming it on the children.”


In general, young people need us to back them when they hear hard information and go through hard things. They also need us to then get out of their way so that they can take every action they can think of. Climate change and a collapsing society are the particular reality of the world that they are growing up in, and we can support them.

The young people we are around every day are the people who are going to need to live through these next times. They’re already living them. When I say that to them, a sense of power comes across their faces. I say, “The adults need you.”

I tell young people that they can say to adults: “It’s not working. We’re in really, really big trouble. I want the people I know to keep living. The systems we have in place are not working; so you need to start listening to young people.” I tell the young people that the adults need their big, fresh, creative thinking to redo the whole system so that everyone has enough.

We, of course, must discharge our urgency and discouragement about climate change in order to get our tone right. But we haven’t got time to get it perfect. And we don’t need to. We need to try everything we can think of and apologize for mistakes and keep going. And bring the young people in close. Young people are our leaders around closeness, and they need us to match them and stay with them.


Technology can be great. It can bring lots of connections. People can make new friends. It can give people access to information they never would have had.

It is also is a big part of young people's oppression. It is used to separate people and  keep us distracted from the real things in the world. A lot of social media and of what we find on technology is empty, with no content; yet it keeps us attached to our phones.

Technology can also inform us of happenings in the world that help us move into action. It can let us know about racism and sexism and other oppressions going on and can get people into the streets. People can organize using technology.

It can also overwhelm us and overload us with information and restimulation to the point that we become so discouraged that we cannot act, or feel that nothing can be done. Or it can cause us to act too quickly on how we feel. For example, impromptu fights are easier to start if the relevant people are not next to us, when we feel less connected. Relationships can end quickly on social media.


I will remember that young people want to be close to me and want me to be my real self. I will always remember that every effort I make in a young person’s direction, no matter how small, makes a difference. I will remember to work on my younger years and not blame myself for my difficulties. I will remember that I have every reason to be pleased with myself and enjoy every moment of life. I will fight for young people’s liberation, hold onto my feistiness, not be quiet about what I know. I will show my passion and how much I care about young people openly, and care about, and be as passionate about, other adults as I am about young people. 

Jenny Sazama
International Liberation Reference Person for Allies to Young People


Last modified: 2021-10-08 15:47:44+00