Looking Beyond Negative Stereotypes of Young People

Looking Beyond Negative Stereotypes of Young People

Young businessman holding sign Looking for a job

Considering the still fragile state of youth employment in the UK it is no surprise that job prospects are high on the mind of young people today.

When society is concerned over the impact of irresponsible portrayals of sex on young people to the extent, it makes headlines and sparks debate, why does the media not recognise the potential impact of their own negative coverage? The impact of “image pressure” coming from media representations, for example, has been widely discussed, along with the potentially devastating effects of cyberbullying.

According to a new report by Demos, an analysis of six UK newspapers over the past 10 years found that the words most often linked with “teenagers”, “youth” and “young people” were “binge-drinking”, “yobs” and “crime”. It also said four in five teens felt they are unfairly represented in the media and, of these, 85% said this is affecting their chances of getting a job.  Yet this is nothing new, Dr. Abigail Wills argues in her own analysis of anti-social youth in Britain throughout history. All generations have ‘ardently believed that an unprecedented “crisis” in youth behaviour is taking place’ when in fact there is no evidence to suggest that youth are becoming more immoral, whether this be comic books or ‘video nasties’. Today concerns primarily deal with ‘the decline in mutual respect and social cohesion, the dominance of anti-social behaviour, materialism and the cult of celebrity. While these concerns do have some basis, to judge all young people by these representations is unfair. Demos based their own conclusions on a survey of more than 1,000 people aged 14 to 17 supported by the National Citizen Service, though it is important to note they did not investigate the views of employers themselves.

Demos’ results also indicate that British teenagers are more likely to connect with inspirational leaders and celebrities who use their fame to promote good causes. It may come as a surprise to some but Nelson Mandela was by far the most cited individual, followed by Barack Obama and David Beckham while nearly two-thirds of them did not cite any celebrities at all. Overall, the majority of celebrities cited were those who have used their fame to back worthwhile social causes.

As a result of bypassing traditional outlets through smartphones or laptops, which is second nature to this generation would appear to be an unknown or at best, confusing concept for some commentators. One only needs to look at the complex challenge cyber bullying presents to teachers and parents to see this. Subsequently, to label younger generations as lazy, apathetic and self-centred – the so called ‘Generation Me’ – as commentators like Jean Twenge have done in the media, says more about themselves than young people. Moreover, it only serves to widen this gap between interest in social issues and traditional politics. Ultimately, however, it is the responsibility of both younger and older people to respond to this perception by recognising positive efforts and encouraging friends or peers to make an equal impact as them.

One positive step Demos suggests is volunteering. Certainly, my own experience of volunteering has helped to increase my own confidence and motivation. For those young people who would dismiss volunteering they should recognise it as an opportunity to build skills that will help them compete in an increasingly competitive and tough workplace by encouraging social mixing and cohesion. Furthermore, it can transform their views of other groups in society, leading to friendships with people they would not have otherwise engaged with. Interestingly, as the Independent (P. 26) reported on the 3rd March, Ofsted has planned its own drive for improvements in careers advice, including providing destination data on pupils, following a report by inspectors which found that three out of four schools had not been delivering an adequate service.

In their report Minister David Willets is cited as arguing that politicians need to find a way to speak directly to young people about the issues they care about. An effective approach undertaken by Evening Standard was to give young people a platform and voice on media and social issues. It has run a number of campaigns aimed at helping young people to succeed such as the Dispossessed Fund and Ladder for London campaigns. The lesson we can learn here is that unbalanced representations of young people is counter-productive but above all it is important to engage in their concerns rather than judge them from the outside.

This blog was written by 99% Campaign team member Maxwell Dean

This blog was written by 99% Campaign team member Maxwell Dean

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