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July 22, 2005

Youth Liberation Simplified

[NOTE: This document was added to the blog on September 6, 2005]

Youth Liberation has many voices. Its activists have differences of opinion: different theories about why adults oppress young people, and about how to better young people's lives. In this essay, however, rather than working to distinguish the different branches of YL thought, I want to focus on what unifies us. In the simplest possible terms, I hope to say what it is that binds Youth Liberationists together.

In my opinion, what YL activists have in common is a sense of anger and injustice at the way that many adults and adult-written laws treat youth. There are three essential things that offend us:

  1. unfairness
  2. force
  3. disrespect

Let me now discuss each of these in a bit more depth.


YL supporters feel strongly that artificial age lines are unfair. It's wrong to deny young people rights based purely upon calendar age -- and it's wrong to deny them rights based on the average abilities of the group, not taking individual competence into account.

It should be recognized that artificial age-lines are attempts at dealing with several different categories of issues. These include:

  • providing youth advantages not available to adults (e.g. compulsory education)
  • guaranteeing competence for public safety (e.g. for driving)
  • culpability for misdeeds (e.g. making contracts, juvenile courts)
  • keeping youth away from vice (e.g. smoking, drinking)
  • protecting youth from exploitation (e.g. child labor and age of consent laws)
  • preventing youth crime (e.g. curfews, limiting sales of spray-paint)

YL has not necessarily generated better solutions than those that exist for each of these issues. Still, wherever possible, we prefer equal access to rights, or age-blind tests of ability.


We don't like youth being forced to do things against their will. We object to coercion in the form of emotional pressure, verbal harassment, hitting / spanking, and various punishments that "take away privileges". We object to youth being put in positions where they are given no choices, and thus coerced by a lack of options.

We prefer consensus between youth and adults where possible. In cases where youth are members of a large institution (e.g. a school), we feel youth should be able to formally participate in decision-making processes, and in ways that give their voices / votes real weight.

We also stake out a variety of areas where youth should always have the final say -- because the matter in question concerns their own body, their own property, or their life path. We want youth to be able to escape people who use force against them -- particularly parents and teachers -- immediately, and on their own volition.


We object to the idea that youth are inherently flawed or beneath adults. We object to the idea that any contemporary generation of youth is qualitatively worse than the ones that preceded it. We object to negative generalizations about young people, and to mocking the things associated with youth (e.g. fashions, music). We assert that bigotry against youth exists and is morally unacceptable.

We are concerned both with increasing youth pride in those things that make them different from adults -- and increasing the perception of how similar youth and adult abilities and psyches actually are.

We challenge adults' sense of superiority over youth, encouraging them instead to embrace humility and empathy.

Posted by Sven at July 22, 2005 12:00 PM


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