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.