Myths fostered in the media about teenagers and pre teens

If you have been reading my blog for a long time, you probably have figured out that I am really interested in young teens/ pre teens as I work in education and volunteer at a local rural school in El Salvador with young pre teen girls.

At any rate, I have no qualms reading teen books or watching teen shows . I figure, I need to really know what kind of stuff teens are exposed to because it sure ain’t like what when I was younger.

But some things DON’T change and it’s a good idea to sit back and analyze what are the stereotypes/ paradigms that are being perpetuated on film , television and in books when they are directed towards youth.  If you read my post on race stereotypes in the media , I talked a little about how we sell myths as truths in the media and perpetuate it for the ultimate goal of consumerism.  Here are a couple of myths / stereotypes that are seen in the media :


The Beauty Myth

Most of the time , teens are overtly concerned about their appearance. It’s not done in an obvious way , most of the time they aren’t talking about clothes all the time. However, the way they dress and how they look are a key component of their personality.

Every single character is beautiful. They don’t have zits, they aren’t awkward looking and in fact they don’t look like teenagers.  They are also most of the time white, or “white looking” ( straight hair, straight nose , wide eyes). A lot of them are wealthy, have an endless wardrobe and are very much consumed on popularity and how things look even when supposedly they’re not.

Why the media does this : What better way to teach kids that the only thing they should be concerned about is buying stuff? Get them while they are young and gullible, perpetuate the idea that money buys happiness, beauty and popularity.  Focus on individualism and bloated sense of self.

Myth number two : The Bitch

There is almost always a girl who is a mean girl. She wants the man, the popularity, is sneaky and up to no good. The main protagonist has to spend a huge amount of energy plotting revenge, self defense or something or the other. In other words, she isn’t a human being she is in the plot to create drama. This creates a sense of otherness, a feeling that there  are cliques, social status and people are divided in us vs. them. 
It also fosters an unhealthy sense of competition, of a feeling that you cannot work together and find goodness in everyone. It makes the world black and white.

Why they do this : To create drama, and also it is much simpler to make someone a bitch than to really find a healthy balance.

Myth number three : Sexuality and Relationships

I mentioned that they always seem more mature than they should be . They usually don’t question their identity or who they are. They act like they are 25 and not 14. That’s because in television and film they are played by adults and in books they are written by adults. They are a nostalgic idealized version of what teens should be.  Teens aren’t the ones writing the story. We have no idea what they REALLY are feeling because we don’t allow them to have a voice of their own. We are writing it for them because we want to have a version that makes sense, that would fit into a sense of consumerism.

There is also a very real blase attitude about sex. Most of the teens have sex like they are chewing bubble gum. Very few of them have reservations about doing it, and if they are they are dubbed a prude , a religious freak or isolated freak.  This is all at the ripe old age of 14/15 where technically it shouldn’t be a given that someone had sex. On Mtv, in the show awkward the main girl Jenna asks the guy she slept with how many sex partners he has had. ( uh… they’re 15!! Why would anyone assume that he would be experienced at that point???)

We have become so numb to blatant sexuality that the lack of this, the idea of chastity is such a foreign concept that we really think of it as against nature.  What’s more,  there are no direct consequences for their actions.

Why they do this : This goes back to the fifties, in rebel without a cause. There is actual research that showed that teens were more likely to consume more and go to see something if it had a lot of sex , drugs and alcohol.  The rest as they say is history…Myth Number four LOLA

You only live once. The idea is that, when you’re young you have to take advantage of your youth and get  wasted, drunk, and just be reckless.  Anyone who isn’t like this is again, a prude and doesn’t know how to live. Usually someone has to show them how to LOLA .


Myth number five : The Rebel

No one understands them, they need to rebel they have to go away from what society expects them. Parents are douches who just don’t know anything.  Youth is a time of recklessness…. not of doing good

Youth are a burden, but can’t change anything around them.

By being consumed in this world of popularity, beauty , etc they are not even considering that they can change their environment for the better. None of them engage in service or try to do better in the world. None of them talk about spirituality or try to change their neighborhood. If they do, it’s done in such a corny , unrealistic and sappy way that turns people off. If they do , it’s in such a saintly way that no one could possibly live up to that standard.

Myth six : Teens aren’t religious or spiritual.

I don’t think I can think of very many examples of teens who are religious . ( Probably a walk to remember is the only thing that comes to mind) Religion isn’t cool, and it inhibits your behavior.  According to the media, it only is a means for fanaticism, judgement, repression of your true self. It is never a means for growth, faith, adquiring positive values in your life. It never is their decision but imposed by parents who are douches and don’t understand you.

Myth Seven : Youth Love and Not Caring

Teens are only concerned about love and relationships and their inner circle. No one’s pain is important to them. They aren’t concerned about issues like the environment or the world. If they are concerned it’s in a naive and misguided way ( think cher in clueless) or in a very judgemental and bossy angle .  They don’t care because they can’t do anything about it, it’s not their problem it’s someone else’s.

Breaking the paradigm

How about thinking that youth are capable beings who are the best equipped to make significant change in their communities and in themselves? How about they become empowered to grow spiritually and intellectually by fostering their innate talents? How about thinking that about what they want to do when they grow up and to start from the age of 12 to try and work towards those goals? How about instead of having parents be their enemies they are their allies for growth and betterment? What if instead of thinking about themselves they care about the world around them? What if instead of focusing so much on how they look they focused on becoming better people?

I would watch that… wouldn’t you? I bet if there were more stuff in the media like that, it would help to break down these paradigms into something new and entirely different of what teens should be.


A letter to all those who have been bullied

Hey. Look I wanted to talk to you to tell you that I have been through what you have been through. Maybe not in the same way, because in my time it was easier in the sense that I could go home and the bullying would supposedly stop… but today you can’t really escape it with phones and facebook and gadgets.

First off, I wanted to tell you something. I am glad I was bullied. It made me a better person. A stronger person…and oddly it taught me the capacity for forgiveness and love. But I can’t lie and say it didn’t leave any scars because it did. I am also going to tell you that first off nothing lasts forever and secondly, most people won’t even remember how much they hurt you so you can have a choice not to let it get to you or to hold unto it forever.

I knew on some level that I was different… in a good way . I wasn’t always stuck on appearances and good looks and boyfriends. I cared about the world, I wrote poetry and cared deeply.  But sometimes people fear difference. You aren’t what everyone else wants you to be and that’s hard , and it comes with a certain level of pain.

Don’t let people take that away from you. You are amazing, because you are a creature of God and you have a capacity to love others. Don’t concentrate on what other people think because you will NEVER live up to their expectations.

First, I am going to tell you I was bullied roughly from the age of five up to around 15 years old. I never fit in anywhere and it took me a long time to feel at ease anywhere. I was a nomad, I lived in El Salvador but I was Scottish and American and had another religion and did not really fit into the mould of rich kid in a private school.

Before I came to the El Salvador at the age of five my friends threw mud at me , pushed me off a wall and basically made fun of me. I let them, because I didn’t want to hurt them. By third grade a boy had punched me in the stomache, by fifth grade boys would be disgusted by being around me. At age 12, when I grew boobs I had boys follow me home. Girls would stop talking to me ashamed that they were my friend. I got pushed into the pool every single year. My sports stuff would get stolen.  When I was 10, I tried going into gymnastics and I was so excited that I got a friend who finally didn’t tease me but then someone told her about me I guess so they made fun of me. I tried everything to fit in and my 14 when i changed schools I tried a new persona the Valley Girl and tried to fit in that way. It was a small school and everyone ignored me . I got spit sandwiches. It was miserable most of the time.

But I was lucky. I had a couple of friends who stood by me and was always there for me.  And I began to rely on God and serve others and I realized that while I suffered so did a lot of people and I could change things for the better.

It made me feel less alone, it got me through my parent’s divorce and my dad’s drug addiction . I began to accept that I would never be the person people wanted me to be

I won’t say it gets better because I still have a problem with bullies. But the important thing is I chose for it not to consume my life. I chose to love those who did me harm, and to forgive because ultimately they don’t even remember the harm they did me. They probably don’t remember my name in a few years. What matters to me is to help reach out to youth today and give them the opportunity to love others, to stand tall. There are literally thousands , millions of kids who are being bullied everyday. It isn’t their fault either and in fact if I am going to blame anyone I am going to say it isn’t just the bully. It’s the school system which fosters competition and insane standards of perfection that no one can live up to. It’s our mental health system which does not link up to what is going on with education and thus ignores signs and refuses to take action. It’s the movies we watch which cater to a theme of popularity and our culture of consumption… in other words, the world needs to change and unfortunately the cracks in the system can be seen with this instance of bullying.
So if you are being bullied, don’t think it’s your fault. At times the daisy gets drowned in the sidewalk, the sunflower can shy away from the sun and sometimes people lash out over things that have nothing to do with you.
Serving others is what saved me. Knowing that if the system sucks, I am not going to be bitter about it. Stand tall, hopefully you will get some justice with teachers and headmasters but either way live your life on your terms.
Ask yourself : What am I good at? What are the qualities that I want to foster in myself? What do I want to do when I grow up? Who do I want to surround myself by which will be positive and encouraging influence? How can I help others?
I am not going to lie, you are always going to have some trust issues, but I am proud of those scars. And you know what? Ten years from now, when you are out in the real world those people who were so important , the people who you thought their opinion could mean life or death just don’t matter anymore. You see that they are human and flawed.
It takes courage to get up everyday and know that whatever people throw at you, it won’t deter you from finding the great specialness of who you are. Stand tall, and discover who you are and you will see, someday you might have an answer to that question.