abuse tactics

The dangers of “adults are terrible”

Content note: This post is about abuse in a way that may not be obvious from the first paragraph.

I’ve seen adults and teenagers on Tumblr and other places saying things like “adults are terrible” or “never trust adults”. Sometimes it’s a joke, but often people mean it.

I think this is creating a dangerous situation for teenagers. Predators can use that sentiment to isolate teenagers, and to groom them for emotional, physical, or sexual abuse.

If a predator convinces a teenage victim that adults are inherently untrustworthy, they have made it much easier to get away with abuse by making it harder to get outside perspective:

  • If an abuser convinces a teenager not to trust any other adults, they’ve effectively prevented them from asking any other adults for perspective if something feels wrong
  • Which makes it a lot easier for them to convince the teenager that abuse is normal, and that they have to accept abuse in order to get close to anyone
  • It’s much harder to get away with abusing a teenager who can ask other experienced adults “I’m feeling uncomfortable with this. Is this normal? What do you think?”
  • Teenagers who believe that they have nowhere to turn can be very, very vulnerable.

For teenagers, I think this is worth keeping in mind:

  • The adult saying “adults are horrible” is an adult. Saying that doesn’t make them any less of an adult.
  • They want you to think that adults are bad, and they also want you to think that *they* are good
  • So what they’re really saying, usually, is “trust me, but don’t listen to any other adults”.
  • That would only be warranted if they were somehow the only good adult in the world. And they’re *not*.
  • There are a lot of good adults in the world. Adults who can be good friends to teenagers will not want to be the only adult in your life.
  • People who try to isolate you are not good friends.

There are a lot of horrible adults in the world, but adulthood is not horrible in and of itself. Being an adult just means that you made it to a particular age, and that you’ve hopefully learned certain things about the world. When an adult who spends a lot of time with teenagers also goes on and on about how bad adults are, it’s usually a bad sign.

Tl;dr There are a lot of bad adults in the world, and also a lot of good adults. Some adults try to convince teenagers that good adults are very rare. Those adults are dangerous, and it’s important not to tolerate that kind of attitude towards teenagers.

You are not alone

If you are being hurt by a person, they’re likely trying to convince you that no one else could possibly understand your relationship.

If you’re being hurt by your family, they’re likely trying to convince you that no one else could possibly understand your family.

If you are being hurt by a community, they’re likely trying to convince you that no one from outside the community can possibly understand.

It’s not true. You are not alone. There are others outside your relationship, family, and community, who can relate to what you’re going through and who can help.

Some aspects of your relationship, family, or community are unique. Some of them are probably unusual, positive, and hard for outsiders to understand. But that is not the barrier that those who are hurting you want you to think it is. It is not insurmountable.

People do not have to understand absolutely everything in order to relate to your experiences in important ways.

You can make connections with others, and a lot of things you have experienced will be very, very similar. Some aspects of abuse are universal. Others are very common. (One very common aspect of abuse is that there is often something about the relationship that is positive, unusual, and secret or hard to describe.). 

The people who you can relate to may be very different from you in a lot of ways. They may be a different age, ethnicity, religion, race, gender, or culture than you. Maybe they are disabled and you aren’t. Maybe their disability is different, or more severe, than yours. Maybe the particular horrors they faced took a different shape. That matters, but it’s not the only thing that matters.

It is ok to relate to the experiences of people who are very different from you. It is not appropriation. (It is not ok to pretend that your experiences are identical; but it’s completely possible to relate without doing that.) Don’t let anyone tell you to only listen to people who are just like you. We all need each other.

People may be trying to isolate you, but you are not alone. Other people can and do understand and care about the ways in which you are getting hurt.