Definition: A stereotype is “…a fixed, over generalized belief about a particular group or class of people.” (Cardwell, 1996).
For decades teenagers have been labeled jocks, nerds, preps and punks, being judged on the clothes they wear and the clicks they’re in, but stereotyping isn’t usually productive or beneficial to a teen’s mental and emotional development.
Stereotyping can be done by anyone, but once the stereotype is put in place, the individual might assume they have to measure up to certain standards. Stereotyping puts a teen in a box, making little room for growth beyond society’s limited labels and often unjustified expectations. What happened to the whole –‘Don’t judge a book by a cover’? Stereotypes result in a poor self-image. Teens who are labeled weird, asocial, awkward, hyperactive or unpopular might suffer from isolation and rejection, feeling like misfits in their high schools or neighborhoods, yet the biggest issue concerns the inability to be your own person, to be able to make your own decisions. Even attractive, popular students can suffer from stereotyping when they feel that they can’t live up to their parents’ or peers’ athletic, academic or social expectations.
Teen stereotyping often pits one group against another, resulting in discriminatory behavior. Those of a particular race might get teased or called rude and disrespectful nicknames by those of another race. Despite the fact that stereotyping enables us to respond rapidly to situations because we may have had a similar experience before, it makes generalizations.
By stereotyping we infer that a person has a whole range of characteristics and abilities that we assume all members of that group have. Stereotypes lead to social categorization, which is one of the reasons for prejudice attitudes (i.e. “them” and “us” mentality) which leads to in-groups and out-groups. Most stereotypes probably tend to convey a negative impression. Positive examples would include judges (the phrase “sober as a judge” would suggest this is a stereotype with a very respectable set of characteristics), overweight people (who are often seen as “jolly”) and television news readers (usually seen as highly dependable, respectable and impartial).
Yet despite these negative stereotypes that single the ‘original’ from the crowd, the worst ones seem to be targeted at the teenagers. Yes, there is the general opinion that all teenagers have a “Watch out! – I am from the evil and hated generation” reputation, but, in reality, just like everyone else, we’re all trying to make our way own in this world, a way which doesn’t breaking the law and spending the majority of our lives behind bars. Believe it or not, not every single teenager goes around beating up people and smashing up cars. Can people seriously claim that today’s youth are that much worse than the mods and rockers of the former generation?
Who else is getting sick of walking into a shop and having the shop assistant glare at you, occasionally follow you around with the assumption that you might shop-lift? Or the adults you walk buy crossing the road to avoid you with the assumption that you might stir up trouble? Are all teenagers loud, obnoxious, rebellious, out of control, and up to no good? Obviously not, there is no way that every single teenager in the world could fit that description. And yet, society still labels every teenager in the world by a description very similar to that. The few teenagers that live a life similar to that have managed to destroy the image of every teenager that happens to be a good kid. It seems that hardworking, determined, and honest teenagers don’t have a place in the world.
Society needs to look past these stereotypes and just let them go. You don’t know what kind of person someone is until you give them a chance.