So often I hear adults commenting on today’s youth in a negative manner: too much technology, lazy, playing with silly toys, disrespectful, revealing clothing, selfish, entitled, the list goes on and on. Youth hear these negative stereotypes constantly, and it definitely has an impact on their own views of themselves and others around them. Stereotypes can create a self-fulfilling prophecy for youth, because if they believe that everyone sees them in a negative light, then what is the point for them trying to show the good they can do? Growing up is hard enough, but feeling like nobody sees anything good about you can be debilitating for the youth we work with.
I can see every day how youth today are different from when I grew up, but it is not something to judge them about. Many of our youth have grown up through difficult times and have worries that their parents and grandparents did not have to worry about at such a young age. They are much more aware of what is going on in their homes and in the world due to media and technology, which gives them a voice. They have conversations about what they want to change, they’re passionate for the causes they support. They’re empathetic to other youth because they have shared similar experiences.
Like in all aspects in life, we must begin to focus on the positives in our youth instead of pointing out the things we perceive to be negative. Saying things like, “you’re too young to understand” and “you don’t know what real life is like” and “you have it easy now, wait until you’re an adult” just tell our youth that their voice and what they have to say doesn’t matter. As adults, we must instead take things youth have to say seriously, and be there for them through their difficult times, no matter how trivial we believe them to be. Instead of influencing youth to feel how we believe they should feel, we should support them and allow them to explore their feelings so that they can learn those life lessons on their own.
What can adults working with youth do to avoid perpetuating these stereotypes?
- Provide comfort and support. Understand that just because it is not a big deal to you, doesn’t mean it isn’t a big deal to them.
- Empower them. Help them understand that stereotypes aren’t always true, and they have the power to prove them wrong every day.
- Celebrate differences. Talk openly about how society has changed, how things are different now, and how that can impact youth. Validate their experiences.
- Find similarities. Our current youth are not all that different from youth of the past. It can help youth to not feel “othered” by finding connections between their experiences and the experiences of their parents or grandparents.
- Be curious. Ask youth what they enjoy, why they enjoy it, what bothers them, etc. It is better to hear it straight from the source rather than getting messages from others who may have biased viewpoints.
If you’d like more information on how stereotypes can affect youth, please read the following articles: