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YFE Week: Maddy Boesen on Addressing Adultism & Being an Ally in Youth-Focused Evaluations, Part 1

Hello, I’m Maddy Boesen from the Research Department at GLSEN (the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network). This post is the first of a two-part series about identifying and redressing adultism in youth-focused evaluation that comes from a series of conversations with my friend and colleague, Mariah Kornbluh of Michigan State University.

What is adultism? Adultism awards power and privileges to adults at the expense of youth. Often this means that adults’ views and opinions are valued above youths’, and/or that adults may act on or make decisions for youth without involving the affected youth.

What does adultism look like in evaluation? Adultism can manifest as systemic exclusion of youth from the evaluation process or as personal biases that devalue youth input. For example: (a) an evaluation design that directly impacts the lives of youth is developed without their input, (b) youth are not informed of their rights as study participants and (c) an evaluation “tokenizes” youth by creating the appearance of youth involvement without genuine incorporation of their input.

Although different levels of youth involvement will be appropriate for different youth-focused evaluations, evaluators can always take steps to reduce adultism.

Hot Tips for Avoiding Adultism as an Evaluator:

  1. Self-Reflexivity: It is important as evaluators that we be critical of our own dynamics with youth, question our assumptions, and ask ourselves if we are truly soliciting youth’s opinions on decisions that directly impact them. Are we engaging youth as leaders or collaborators in our evaluation? Are youth opinions and feedback being incorporated into the evaluation plan? Keeping field notes about the ways in which you do or do not engage youth as equal partners is an excellent way to remain self-critical.
  2. Youth Assent: Youth should be informed about the evaluation process. Evaluators should document assent (the term for minors’ agreement to participate in a study) before proceeding with data collection. Communicating with youth about the overall evaluation process, what this particular evaluation entails for them personally, and how/with whom findings will be shared can ensure that youth are informed participants.
  3. 3.       Create Accountability Systems: Creating feedback loops with participating youth is one way to detect adultist practices. This can include strategies like installing a simple suggestions box, holding meetings to discuss the progress of the evaluation, or administering anonymous feedback surveys on youths’ perceptions of the evaluation.

Rad Resource:

Developed by Creighton University, this resource includes four sessions: (1) introducing adultism, (2) identifying discrimination against youth, (3) naming the privileges of adulthood, and (4) tools to combat adultism.


Stay tuned for Part 2 of this post, in which Mariah Kornbluh will share our thoughts on empowering youth via evaluation.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Youth Focused Evaluation (YFE) TIG Week with our colleagues in the YFE Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our YFE TIG members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

2 thoughts on “YFE Week: Maddy Boesen on Addressing Adultism & Being an Ally in Youth-Focused Evaluations, Part 1”

  1. Emily De La Garza

    I think it’s great that you brought attention to the adultism concept in research with youth. I think that often programs can be put into practice with the “we know what’s good for you” mentality. Because of that, there is the risk of a huge disconnect between the programs’ effectiveness and the overall purpose. By giving youth more responsibility and input into the evaluation process there is the high chance that they will feel more connected to the program thus increasing the effectiveness. Thank you for your contribution!

  2. Pingback: Research with Children | Nick Petten

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