Today’s youth have been told ever since they were very young that teenagers are violent, rude, and compulsive. Young children are still very reliant on adults which creates a deep trust to form between them and a need to conform to those adults’ view of the world. Therefore, when they are exposed to negative teenage stereotypes by adults around them or the media, they can easily accept it as a fact. Thus, when those children become teenagers, they are more likely to feel the need to conform to the stereotypes.
Teens can be very strong, powerful activists and problem solvers. However, constantly putting them down for not having anything worthwhile to say is a loss to society. These stereotypes did not rest well with many teenagers throughout the country. “One youth from Montreal, aged 15, sums up the feelings of many teens: ‘Today’s youths are intelligent but some adults don’t seem to think so. We are people too. Youths are discriminated against and that’s not right. To get through to young people, you have to listen to them, trust them, and respect them. The way I look and the music I listen to does not make me a “bad” person. I am my own person.’ (E., 2011).” Through this, she implies that she had been looked down upon by others due to the way she presents herself and her physical appearance. This is an example of a situation where assumptions are being made before even getting to know anything about her. In addition, the mere fact that this girl decided to speak up against a flaw in our society in an effort to spread awareness about this topic displays a higher maturity than what she claims is expected of her. Thus, this girl, along with many, many more, is an example of a mature individual who commands respect. However, these negative stereotypes cause them to feel bad about who they are as people which is unacceptable.
Many teens try to break these stereotypes by being very conscience of where they go and what they do in public. According to Shanyang Zhao, a professor of sociology at Temple University, “Through both verbal and nonverbal behaviors, others convey to us, either purposefully or unwittingly, their appraisals of our self-presentations, which in turn shape how we view ourselves (Zhao, 2005).” This illustrates how people express how they feel about someone through nonverbal, and thus socially acceptable manners. This causes teens to become more conscious of what they do in public and how their actions may be perceived. For example, they won’t look at their phone in public or steer clear of typical teenage hangout spots. They have no choice but to put all that effort in in order to be given the same respect as any adult receives automatically. Teenagers who suffer from being stereotyped based on their race and age, remain affected negatively today both socially and healthwise.
One form of stereotyping that affects teens is stereotyping based on their race. Each race comes with its own set of different stereotypes. For example, some of these stereotypes include not being intellectual or hardworking. This is extremely difficult for people to experience because it is making them feel bad about something they can not change and have no control over. One’s race is part of their identity; who they are or who they choose to be, meaning, other people’s perception of one’s race is their perception of an aspect of who that specific individual is. This can stay with someone for their whole life because it will cause them to devalue themselves if they buy into the stereotype. Therefore, expressing one’s negative perception of who someone is, not only is insulting the person, but also making them feel bad about their own identity.
According to Corey Columb, a professor in the psychology department at Prairie View A&M University, states, “Across two studies we examined whether exposure to Obama, a positive and counter-stereotypic exemplar, reduced implicit anti-Black evaluative bias and racial stereotyping. Additionally, we evaluated whether reactions to exposure to Obama were moderated by people’s explicit feelings about Obama or their perceptions of his stereotypicality. In Study 2, we extended our scope to evaluate whether a positive but stereotypic Black exemplar, Kobe Bryant, had similar effects as Obama on implicit responses. We found that exposure to either Bryant or Obama, following exposure to negative Black exemplars, caused a reduction in implicit anti-Black evaluative bias and racial stereotyping, relative to a control condition.” Through these findings, one can assume that stereotypes are made based on the type of information a person is presented with about a certain group of people. In addition, we can assume that people start to destroy these negative stereotypes about different races when they receive information and learn more from interracial influencers who shed light on the positive aspects of a certain racial group.
Negative stereotyping occurs when people who do not have experiences with or are not exposed to a certain group of people in their daily lives are shown that group of people in a negative light; usually through means of media. Through that, assumptions are formed, not necessarily based on fact but on media portrayals. The stimulus material, Attitude Towards Muslim Women in the West offers one example of how people are affected by stereotyping and prejudice. This particular passage discusses how the western world viewed muslim women based on media portrayals and the actions of a radical minority. This can be compared to the stereotyping of teenagers, although teens would likely be more dramatically affected. This is because of the emotional and psychological changes they experience at that age. It leads to a stage of insecurity and constant self awareness, making them more reliant on others’ approval as validation. Much like what Corey Columb previously discussed, the journal of social cognition states, “African Americans’ self-concept is susceptible to pervasive cultural stereotypes. However, exposure to in-group exemplars such as Barack Obama as a prominent, admired African American may be accessible enough to attenuate the detrimental effects of stereotypes. In two experiments, African-American adolescent… and adult… participants were provided with information about outstanding successes and societal contributions of Obama as a single in-group exemplar… or multiple in-group exemplars… Then, participants reported the extent to which they associated their self-concept with stereotypes.
The Pilot Experiment supported an ‘Obama effect’—African-American adolescents exhibited less self-stereotyping after exposure to Obama, when compared to those in a control condition. The Main Experiment demonstrated that exposure to Obama or multiple exemplars yielded less self-stereotyping, but only among strongly identified African Americans. Implications for the importance of role models in combating the effect of stigma on the self-concept are discussed (Rivera, 2016).” This demonstrates how teenagers stereotype themselves less often when they have a role model who challenges stereotypes that they suffer from. This can give teenagers more confidence which can help them overcome social anxiety and overall have a better, more positive outlook on life. This could help them succeed in their daily lives simply because they believe they can.
Mental health has been known to affects one’s physical and emotional wellbeing. When someone believes something to be true, they will change to accommodate it. This process may not necessarily be an intentional transition but it occurs subconsciously nonetheless. This is what happens when teens begin to believe the stereotypes being imposed on them. This leads to a lower self esteem and can lead to the development of things like anxiety, depression, and eating disorders. These have become very prominent in our present day society. According to Mental Health America (MHA), 13.2 percent of the United States population identifies as black or african american and 16 percent of that group of people has been diagnosed with a mental illness in the past year alone. From this statistic, one can clearly see that mental health is a very prominent issue. Having that many people being affected within a specific race can lead to the assumption that that common factor is more than just a coincidence.
According to Erin M. Rodriguez, a psychologist, “Externalizing problems during adolescence interfere with positive development and increase risk for other mental health problems, such as depression… Strong interpersonal skills and positive parenting reduce risk for depression… and strong interpersonal skills may be especially protective in the context of high levels of externalizing problems by counteracting other risks conferred by externalizing problems (Rodriguez, 2015).” Much like what Zhao stated, Rodriguez discusses how outside influences can have an effect on teens and specifically how their mental health can be negatively affected. On the other hand, positive outside influences such as the ones Rodriguez mentions, can make teens less prone to depression. These positive influences do not necessarily have to be about the fact that they are teens but can be associated with any aspect of their identity. Teens can experience a boost in self esteem and ultimately improve their mental health and lead better, more positive lives.
One solution to this issue is to create a supportive environment with one’s peers. Gathering a group of friends or classmates that one is comfortable with is very important. These people would be about the same age, and therefore, going through similar problems they can relate to each other on. This creates a form of support group where teenagers can find comfort and acceptance in their personal lives. However, a limitation to this is that not all people would be as supportive as others. An implication to this solution is that the group of teenagers’ frustration with being stereotyped can mold their ‘support’ group into a group where resentment lingers towards those who stereotyped them.
Another solution is to promote self empowerment movements on social media. This would be very effective because social media is a platform where positive thinking and reassurance can thrive. It is also very convenient due to the constantly developing technology that has made it possible to access social media almost anywhere. Through self empowerment movements, teens can find people outside their personal circle who are experiencing similar things and support each other. Having someone you do not know on your side can be very endearing to many people. This is because having an unbiased source tell them that it is not their fault can be much more relieving than someone they know and can not necessarily tell if they are just trying to make them feel better. A limitation to this solution is that promotions would cost money. An implication to this solution is that an excess of self pride my reach a point where it is perceived as arrogance. This can lead to the opposite extreme where they may bring others down; beginning the cycle all over again.
Thus, teenagers are facing ageist and racial stereotyping that is negatively affecting their mental health and social abilities.
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