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How Adolescence is Portrayed in the Media

Adolescence has become a term used by the media to mean ‘a phase the young undesirable members of society go through’; this has led to the true meaning of the word becoming confused or even replaced in everyday conversation. This new media-generated definition has helped in giving teenagers/adolescents a bad image and reputation but just how far from the truth actually is the media? Are modern adolescents really the rebellious, anti-social teens they are portrayed to be or is it just biased, over exaggeration of the media in order to sell a good story and scare the public? First it would best to start from the beginning and find the true definition of adolescence.

Adolescence comes from the Latin term adolescentia meaning ‘to grow up’ and so it should really be used to mean the phase in which children begin to mature and develop into their adult phase (either manhood or womanhood for boys and girls respectively). It is throughout this period that the youth goes through a complex period of social, psychological and biological change (usually described as puberty), they developed a tendency to shun previous parental influence in order to seek out guidance from their peer groups as a way to express themselves as mature adults and as an opportunity to learn about things their parents would condemn (drugs, pornography, alcohol .etc). This change of the location of influence creates confusion in what is right and wrong so adolescents become unaware that what others perceive as anti-social behaviour is actually not acceptable, although there is much debate around this subject.

The media at present (especially in the news) has used this teenage confusion between right and wrong as a way of generating public fear and selling a good story to the general public at the expense of the majority of adolescents who have nothing to do with the rising number (if the statistical information is anything to go by) of anti-social teenagers. The media will often report adolescents has being obsessed with or addicted pornography making claims that up to one in four regularly use the internet to view such material, they will also make claims about adolescents using other forms of modern gadgetry and technology to enhance their anti-social ways; examples including using mobiles for ‘happy slapping’, MP3 players as a enticement for mugging and playstations (or x-boxes and other game consoles) as teachers for violence. There is very little positive media portrayal of adolescence within the media and most of it seems to emerge around the time of exam results when the media focuses on the few who manage to excel at school and achieve good grades, however this is soon replaced by reports of exams getting easier and claims that young people are getting ‘dumber’ as the years go on; this year the news has recently reported on university students having to be given lessons on how to right essays due to the lack of literary skills. These negative articles in the news over cloud the sparse pockets of positive portrayal that adolescents truly deserve as it is really only a minority that cause the anti-social behaviour the media is so keen to use.
It is not only in the news, which is aimed at an adult audience, that uses a negative portrayal but also artists in the music scene aimed at the adolescent audience will also use a negative view of adolescents throughout their material as a way to sell their material. The group My Chemical Romance during their song ‘Teenagers’ show adolescents as aggressive and intimidating members of society with the lyrics “Teenagers scare the living shit outta me”. The solo artist Lily Allen also uses less subtle lyrics to get across that adolescents are anti-social in a number of tracks; in the song ‘LDN’ she sings about life in inner city London and uses the lyrics “When a kid came along to offer a hand but before she had time to accept it, hits ‘er o’er the head. Doesn’t care if she’s dead cos he’s got all ‘er jewellery an’ wallet”; suggesting that mugging is a serious issue with inner city adolescents (again if the statistical data and media is anything to go by then there is a rising problem of youth crime including mugging). In another track, Alfie, Lily Allen suggests that adolescent boys have a problem with drug abuse since the song contains the lyrics “My little brother’s in his bedroom smoking weed” and within the same verse “’He can’t be bothered cos he’s high on THC”. In the second verse she moves off the idea of drug abusing adolescents to follow a new path of what is still negative portrayal. She claims that adolescents are lazy, graffiti-artists with the lines “I can’t just sit back and watch you waste your life away”, “Get off your lazy arse” and “Surely there’s some walls out there that you can go and spray”.

So the media as a whole uses adolescence as a dumping ground for bad behavioural issues such as pornography, drug abuse, vandalism, mugging .etc as a way to improve profit and sales despite the statistical evidence that in reality it is actually only a small minority of the adolescent population that is truly responsible for all this anti-social behaviour that seems to sell so well thanks to a bit of over exaggeration and impressive vocabulary by the media. This over exaggeration of the negative has led to the majority of hard-working, honest and well behaved adolescents becoming labelled and shunned in modern society, which may hinder a healthy social development since they will be treated as social outcasts by the adult and younger population highly limiting the opportunity for social interaction and moral guidance. If this is the case then this could encourage adolescents to be anti-social members of society due the fact that they are receiving no moral guidance or social opportunity creating moral confusion and a generation of people only able to communicate with and copy the behaviour of the adolescent population.

Reference:
BBC news 24 podcasts, downloaded from http://www.bbc.co.uk
Daily Star (various issues)
Daily Star Sunday (various issues)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/adolescent
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/6336509.stm
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/6070378.stm
Lily Allen, Alright Still, Regal records
My Chemical Romance, The Black Parade, Reprise records
News of the world (various issues)
The Sun (various issues)

Further reading:
Elizabeth A. Goodburn & David A. Ross, A Picture of Health: A Review & Annotated Bibliography of the Health of Young People in Developing Countries”, published by World Health Organization & UNICEF
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/6302209.stm
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/6209308.stm
http://www.etr.org/recapp/theroies/adolescentdevelopment/developmenttheories.htm

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