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Estimated reading: 12 minutes
  • Adultcentrism invalidates the realities of children.
  • Among the consequences of adultcentrism are the distancing of children and reducing the communication to a superficial level.
  • Needs, emotions, and decision-making are important and valid at any age.
  • Best practices for adultcentrism include active listening, acknowledging children’s needs and management of emotions.


Every person has their own reality that they construct through their experiences, connections, feelings, and thoughts. While adults may be under the impression that they understand the world better due to their age and life experience, what happens is that they only understand it differently than children and teens.

Children have a different perception of the world and can have a different set of values than adults, which is why they would perceive the world around them (and the situations occurring inside of it) in a different way. This does not mean that they lack understanding or that their perception is incomplete or not valid. Involving children in the decision-making process and listening to their needs and emotions is important at any age.

5.4.2. DEVELOPMENT OF THE TOPIC What is adultcentrism?

Adultcentrism is the idea that an adult is inherently superior to younger people knowing how to deal better with a situation strictly because of the age difference. It is a process that involves systematically ignoring, oppressing, or belittling people because they are younger (Psychology Spot, 2021).

This assumes that children cannot reach a level of understanding or maturity that is high enough to be able to equally contribute to the conversation and/or decision-making. Adultcentrism is a form of egocentrism transformed into an assumption based on age.

The realities, power of decision and contexts of children are completely placed aside because of that age difference. Although nobody contests that adults have a different range of experiences and/or knowledge and that children and teens need guidance, adultcentrism can damage the communication between adults and children, regardless of whether it is in a family or in a school context. It creates a hierarchy by placing adults on a higher position and automatically starting the conversation from the assumption that they have more experience and knowledge and therefore their word will weigh more in the decision-making process. This is transmitting the message that the children involved will never reach a level of equality with them.

Moreover, it is said that adults will always be right in a discussion with children because of the age difference and the prejudice they have around the understanding level of the children. Consequences of adultcentrism

When seeing that they do not have the same starting point in a conversation with adults, children might start acting in a certain way in order to impress those adults and to gain more of their respect in the hope that they will reach that state of equality. If they notice that whatever they are doing does not bring them closer to that, there is a risk that they will slowly pull away from the connection with the adults and will start losing interest knowing that whatever happens, their word won’t carry the same value as that of their counterparts.

When this phenomenon occurs frequently and becomes part of the teaching style of parents and/or educators, it can have psychological consequences into the adult life of the children affected by it.

Some of those consequences can be:

  • Being more submissive

When children are in a continuous context of being shown that their opinions, thoughts, and needs are not as important as the ones of the adults around them, they might get used to adopting a submissive attitude and allow others to pressure them. This is going to have a lifelong impact on them as they will most probably unconsciously use this kind of approach in other interactions too.

  • Increased vulnerability to oppression

When their needs and feelings are constantly ignored or placed in a second position of priority, children might grow up learning that it is okay to put somebody else’s needs above their own, making them more vulnerable to psychological abuse. However, children who grow up in an adult centric environment can also end up at the opposite end and become the adults who practice this kind of behaviour.

  • Weaker self-confidence

Adultcentrism can generate an increasing negative self-concept for children, which can lead to weaker self-confidence (Psychology Spot, 2021). How to avoid adultcentrism

If you want to avoid adultcentrism, here are a few things that you could pay attention to:

  • Be aware of the language you use

Instead of saying that children cannot understand something, try to use language that they can understand and to find ways to explain the situation to them. The levels of understanding vary from superficial to more in depth, so there is no such thing as children who do not understand but rather adults who cannot explain.

  • Be aware of the labels you place

Take a moment and acknowledge the prejudice that you might have and the labels you place on people, for example that younger people have less knowledge in certain subjects than older ones do. The levels of maturity and understanding do not come with age but with experience. Try to be aware of that next time when you talk to children.

  • Reflect on your behaviour Children are the present, not the future

If you treat children from a position of power or authority under the assumption that adults can bring more to the table, those children will at some point stop trying to prove themselves in front of adults. This might push them to perceive adults as unapproachable.

There is a common saying that children are the future of our planet, but according to the Global Fund for Children, they are not the future; they are the present. It is important to acknowledge the reality of children and to give them the space to share that reality so they can learn how to better shape it (Global Fund for Children, 2020). Adults could offer more space to children so that they can better understand values, contexts and mindset of children and youth. By doing this, they will validate the children’s reality and teach them that their word matters and that they should advocate for themselves in the outside world too.


A father has a fight with his 15 years old daughter over the person his daughter is dating. The dad saw a message from the person in question on his daughter´s phone and because he did not like what he read, he started fighting with her, telling her that the person she was dating was not good enough for her. In the middle of throwing angry comments at each other and defending their points of view, suddenly the dad just stops talking and walks away, ignoring his daughter. He took the comments personally and disregarded the reality of his daughter, thinking that she is only a teenager and that she does not know as much as him and his spouse do. He gives his daughter the silent treatment for the next few days, without addressing her any word or even looking at her. The daughter assumed that her dad did not like one of the comments that were exchanged during the tensioned discussion and tries to talk to him to reopen the conversation. The dad continues to ignore his daughter and to keep the silent treatment towards her. However, he keeps talking to his other child and to his spouse in front of his daughter.

This situation is a clear example of exclusion, because the father is excluding his 15 years old daughter both from his life as well as from the family interactions, which is showing the daughter that she is being punished for her behaviour. With this kind of treatment, the daughter will only be confused and might develop negative feelings towards herself, trying to figure out what it was that she did wrongly.

In this case, the father’s approach was not based on finding a solution or reaching an agreement, it was based on an emotional reaction for a behaviour that he did not agree with, making it a form of control over his daughter.

A suitable way to approach this conflict could be to take some time off to cool down when the discussion gets really heated. In this way, both parties get a chance to calm down and think things more logically rather than based on emotions. After thinking about it, they can each express their point of view and find agreements that would help both of them feel heard. For example, the dad would agree to respect his daughter’s privacy and not look into her phone and the daughter can agree to keep his father updated about how her relationship evolves (while still respecting her own privacy).

5.4.3. BEST PRACTICES Active listening & acknowledging needs

A good practice is to actively listen to your children and the needs that they are trying to communicate to you. Try to avoid listening just so you can respond. Active listening means offering your full attention to them by paying attention to the verbal and non-verbal communication (body language).

Avoid interrupting, making assumptions or judging them. Instead, you could try to look them in the eyes and show them that you are there for whatever they need. When responding, you can show interest by repeating the message in your own words or asking questions to make sure you understand the message they wanted to transmit. Try to empathise with them, to place yourself into their shoes and see the situation from their perspective. It can also be helpful to ask them if they would like advice or if they just want somebody to listen to them. In this way, you avoid giving unnecessary opinions or advice and focus on what your child actually needs from you. By doing this and asking how you can contribute/help them in that situation, you are showing them that you are acknowledging their needs (instead of assuming what they could be) and making them feel heard.

When seeing that you are interested in what they have to share, their courage and will to share more might increase and the trust connection between you and them might grow. Processing your emotions

Before helping others to acknowledge and regulate their emotions, it is crucial that we are aware of our emotions and how we can safely express and process them, so they won’t control us and our reactions.

As an adult, children and teens take you as an example and if they see that you cannot express your emotions in healthy ways, they might not feel the need to do so on their own. On the other hand, you can lead by example and implement a few strategies for processing emotions in your daily life. If you do at least couple of deep inhales and exhales, this short activity can help activate parasympathetic nervous system which can help your body to relax.

A few strategies for this can be:

  • Deep breathing

Whenever you feel high intensity emotions (both pleasurable and difficult) it can be really difficult to listen to people or to process your own thoughts and emotions. Try to stop from whatever you are doing and take a few deep breaths. You can count when you inhale, hold and exhale the air or you can do it based on feeling. This short activity will help you regulate your mind, which will then give signals to your body functions (for example heart beating) and regulate them too.

  • Practice mindfulness activities

Taking a few minutes out of your day to meditate and be present in those minutes can help increase your focus and regulate your emotions. By practising it daily you can reach a better understanding of your feelings and also a better control over them.

  • Accept your emotions

Labelling your emotions as negative or bad only brings different feelings, such as guilt or shame with it. This is only adding to your emotional charge instead of helping you cope with it. What you can do is acknowledge the feeling that you have and the fact that every feeling is temporary and that at some point it will change. In this way, you will be able to process the emotions you have without giving them power over your actions or holding onto them. Acknowledge them and try to learn something from that experience, regardless of if that something is how to better manage it in the future or understanding where it came from.

If you want children to be able to manage their emotions, support them by managing your own.


Global Fund for Children (2020). Youth are the present, not the future. Retrieved from https://globalfundforchildren.org/story/youth-are-the-present-not-the-future/.

Psychology Spot (2021). Adultcentrism: What is it and how does it affect children? Retrieved from https://psychology-spot.com/adultcentrism-adultism-examples/.

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