Adultification – More than a Child can Handle

I’ve been building up to this post for a while. The Child Q case was one of those instances that really shook me. Anti-racist work is hard. There are particular instances that knock you for six. And this was one of those times.

But, this work is bigger than me. And this case has opened up many important conversations about an extremely significant type of racism that we all need to understand if we’re going to drive change.

Adultification bias is defined as “a form of racial prejudice where children of minority groups are treated as being more mature than they actually are.” In other words, the world sees Black kids as older than they really are.

Why does this happen?

You can’t deny that whether me mean to or not, we can often think of Black children as “cool”. “Sassy”. “Streetwise”. “Smart.” “Resilient.”

Of course no two children are the same, but the human brain likes to put people into boxes. So what is it that lends us to adultification? Is it the way Black children carry themselves? Their stature? The cadence of their voice? The things we assume they’ve had to go through? Is it the way Black children are portrayed in the media, film and music industry?

It’s a whole load of unconscious bias and assumption.

What is also very difficult to acknowledge is the colourism that accompanies adultification. The darker the skin tone the stronger the prejudice. It’s horrible but it’s true. And I’m very aware of my own privilege in being a light skinned mixed race woman. If I had been born a few shades darker, my life experience may have been very different.

Why does it matter?

It might be easy to think it’s not too much of a big deal. But once you start letting the implications unravel, it doesn’t take long to realise that adultification has a colossal impact in racial inequality.

Individually, an adultified child is less likely to be cared for. If they’re struggling emotionally, being bullied at school, have safeguarding needs, adults are less likely to look out for them. They’re less likely to have things explained to them, it’s assumed they should already know. And if their behaviour doesn’t meet the socially accepted standard, they’re more likely to be reprimanded more severely. This soon puts them at a disadvantage academically and socially. They’re less likely to enjoy school, to succeed, and to develop trusted relationships with their teachers. And so it continues.

Let’s look at a different angle – the legal system. An adultified young person is more likely to be suspected of committing a crime. Of being arrested. Of being treated as an adult in police care (the Child Q case is a terrible example of this). Of being looked on more harshly by a judge. Of being imprisoned. Of being treated more harshly in prison…..the circle goes on and on and on…ever increasing.

Scary isn’t it?

We’ve just outlined one of the most powerful and dangerous contributors to systemic racism. And this isn’t just theory. It’s real life. Black and ethnic minority children are more likely to be arrested than white children. They suffer school exclusions more commonly. The implications have life long consequences.

So what can we do about it?

One of the most common questions I hear is “But what can little old me do? I’m just one person.”

It comes back to the key skills I outlined in my previous blog “The Big Five “.

The first thing we can do is be aware of it. Think about your thoughts and actions in everyday life. Once we practice self-awareness we can begin to change ourselves and others. Think about how you perceive Black children and young adults. What standards are you holding them to? Are you taking the time to give them the best chance of success?

Secondly – have the conversations. Talk about what you’ve learnt with others. Inspire others to think about their own behaviour. Have the confidence to challenge others’ behaviour and encourage others to do the same.

As always – keep learning. Keep talking. Keep spreading the word.

And for everyone thinking that these small actions won’t make any change. Keep the faith. They will. Because you’ll have a conversation with a friend or colleague, who’ll have a conversation with their friend or colleague, who will be a teacher, a lawyer, a judge, a policy maker….it all starts with awareness, understanding and doing our bit.

If you’re keen to make a contribution to the system more immediately, there are many organisations out there lobbying for policy change. Check them out, share their content, donate if you can afford to:

The Black Policy Institute

The Race Equality Foundation

Show Racism The Red Card

Thanks for reading. Thanks for taking the steps towards anti-racism with me. Let’s keep talking.

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