Ever since I entered my teenage years, I became surrounded by adults and media informing me that I have stepped into my period of mood swings, rebellion, and laziness. From teachers at school assuming that we are simply indifferent and unmotivated about learning, to movies highlighting high schoolers as promiscuous and ill-tempered, society always expects the worst from teenagers. Though there are many examples of teens who have persevered to reach their goals and are leaders in their respective fields, the negative stereotypes about teenagers never change. Such negative stereotyping has a significant impact on how young adults perceive themselves and their behavior.
The Inescapable Labels
One of the biggest misconceptions about being a teen is that you must fit into a pre-designed label. These labels are one of the biggest cliches presented in TV shows and movies, portraying teens as people who are emotionally and mentally limited to certain roles. For example, the media is filled with high schoolers portrayed as either the ‘jock’, the ‘nerd’, or the ‘cheerleader’. The ‘jock’ is someone who is fit, good looking, and exudes toxic masculinity. The ‘nerd’ is someone who is smart and over achieving, yet socially awkward and unathletic. And the ‘cheerleader’ is the popular and most beautiful girl in school who everyone has a crush on. By exposing young teens to such categorization, it promotes them to identify themselves with a single label, boxing them into a fake personality. The article, “Media Influence on Drive for Thinness and Drive for Muscularity,” by Pritchard and Cramblitt explains how such misrepresentations of teens have massive impacts on their body image as well. Many of the teenagers presented in popular series are played by actors who are in their 20s. For example, the popular Netflix series, Riverdale, centers around high school sophomores but the actors playing the 15-year-old characters were between 19-24 years of age. KJ Appa who plays Archie in Riverdale is now a 24-year-old playing a character who is around 17-18 years old in season 4, but is known for his very fit body and toned muscles. Obviously, the actors will have bodies that are more mature than those of actual teenagers, as high school is the period of time where many people experience changes in their hormones and body. Going through puberty and dealing with body changes can be uncomfortable for many, and the casting causes many youths to feel the need to lose weight quickly or to build muscles. We see firsthand how pressured young people are to look older and mature. We have young girls who are 10-12 years old putting on makeup to look like they are 16, and young boys striving to build up their muscles. Many young children put themselves through diets and extreme weight loss programs so that they can have the same figure of actors on TV. The drive to be either more feminine or masculine caused by unrealistic portrayals of teenagers creates unhealthy body-image and self-confidence issues in young people.
“Teenagers are lazy”
Perhaps one of the most common assumptions made about teens is that they are lazy and unmotivated. Media likes to talk about how teens are ‘good for nothing’ and are only interested in staying up at night and sleeping in. According to an article by Mayo Clinic, teenagers need between 8-10 hours of sleep to be at their maximum level of attentiveness. However, that is not possible due to schoolwork, sports, extracurriculars and part-time jobs. Most teens only get around 6-7 hours of sleep, causing them to be tired and lethargic during the day. It is also important to understand that too little sleep can be a sign of depression. Sometimes when people are going through high levels of stress, they can find it difficult to fall asleep at night. Recognizing how sleep patterns are affected by emotions and mental health can mitigate the incorrect assumption of laziness in teenagers.
“Teenagers are always moody”
From 14 to 18 is the time where you make big decisions in life. From choosing what to do with your future, to thinking about who you are, many important choices need to be made. This can be an emotional part of one’s life because it’s essentially the transition from childhood to adulthood. An example that instantly popped into my mind is Rodrick from the popular book series, ‘Diary of A Wimpy Kid’. Rodrick was always viewed as the troubled and reckless teen that did not want to follow any rules. Looking back at the book, though he did antagonize his younger brother and initially came across as a menace, he was trying to find himself and was dealing with his own insecurities. He just wanted to follow his passion of music and be accepted by his family for he was. Growing up is not easy so having some trouble here and there is normal, regardless of the time period. It’s time we normalize the fact that everyone goes through hardships in life. It’s not as if adults have their life put together perfectly, so expecting the same from teenager is unfair.