Imagine this. It’s your best friend’s birthday, and your group of friends are throwing her a surprise party. Right before she arrives, you realize you don’t have candles and you volunteer to run down to your local Dollar General. A few of your friends join you and you make the journey into town. As you enter the store, you wave to the elderly cashier, and walk straight to the back where the candles are held. After spending a moment of debating on what candles to get, you grab the pack of white basic candles and make a detour to the cooler to grab a water before you check out. You never make it to the cooler because the store manager steps in your way and asks you and your friends to come to the back room. Once in the back room, you are accused again and again of stealing merchandise that you never even went near, and you have to remain in the room until the police arrive.
You miss the arrival of your best friend and most of the party. To add insult to injury, the manager asks you to please refrain from returning to the store, and you never got the candles or water.
If my friends and I had stolen anything, that would be another story. But our only crime was our youth. The elderly cashier assumed that because of our age and amount of time spent out of eye sight that we were shoplifting. It’s quite a common misconception that teenagers always cause mischief. It seems like most adult are just waiting for us to mess up. Whether it’s stealing, drugs, alcohol, getting pregnant, or just royally screwing up, the older generation has little faith in teenagers. There is a song called “Teenagers” by My Chemical Romance, and one of their verses is “They’re gunna clean up your looks with all the lies in the books, to make a citizen out of you, because they sleep with a gun, and keep an eye on you, son, so they can watch all the things you do.”
Adults are so quick to pass judgment on adolescents. If a kid is dressed differently from the norm, he is thought to be “disturbed.” If a girl is seen with only guys, she’s “promiscuous” and is fated for pregnancy. And if a crowd of teens walks into a cheap variety store, they will most definitely steal something.
Many times stereotypes are harmless, more like the butt of jokes. A few people take offense by them, but many are aware that they’re just really for shits and giggles. Stereotypes about teenagers though, can do serious damage and could even ruin a reputation. No matter where you go, everyone looks at you with lower expectations, as if you aren’t capable or willing to do anything great. These stereotypes have come around because people only like to talk about the bad and not the good. It used to be that teenagers were expected to respect their parents and authority, behave themselves, dress normally, and strive to succeed in school. When a teen would accomplish something, nobody talked about it because it was typical. It was when a teenager was rebellious and did something differently than what was anticipated that word got around. Soon enough, stories were everywhere about disobedient adolescents, and eventually that was what became expected of youngsters.
How is it fair that my generation is labeled, when it’s just a minority of the whole that fits the stereotypes? Is it true that I come from a time where people my age are beating each other up, lack in personal maintenance, and are completely unmotivated? No. My fellow peers and I receive no credit, as though we are unworthy. Many studies show that we do tremendously better in school than past generations, but the older generations say it’s because our courses have become easier. Adults aren’t afraid to throw around terms like “couch-potato,” “lazy,” and
“unmotivated,” yet teenagers make 60 percent of their journeys on foot, while adults are at 37 percent.
The National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center conducted a study and discovered that in 2000, only 9 percent of murders where by teenagers, which means ninety-one percent were adults. According to The Bureau of Justice, teenagers and young adults are more prone to be harmed than someone of age, and more likely to be assaulted by someone of age than another teen. In 1998, a third of victims of violent assaults were between the ages of twelve and nineteen and nearly half were under the age of twenty-five.
Many adults believe that all kids do nowadays is drink and get high, but in a survey done by Core Institute in 1993, one third of asked college students said they didn’t approve of alcohol being in and around campus, and ninety percent said they wished drugs would disappear completely. According to the Risk Behavior Survey done by the Center for Disease Control, the number of cigarette smoking and alcohol abusing teens have decreased.
When it comes to teenagers being the whoring generation, more than half of the nation’s young people report being virgins at least until the age of seventeen. (Sex and America’s Teenagers, The Alan Guttmacher Institute, New York, 1994)
Teenagers have become tremendously more responsible, a lot more than given credit for. According to the Risk Behavior Survey done by the Center for Disease Control, the number of teens wearing their seatbelts without an adult present has increased, along with the number of teens involved in drunk driving has decreased. Also, the number of teens having sexual intercourse has decreased, of those who have had sex, the number of partners have decreased, while the number of condom users has increased.
Lastly, even if school itself is not much harder, living in today’s world definitely puts more pressure on kids to succeed. Back in the day, there were more jobs available, and going to college wasn’t always necessary. Now, you must go to college to have a good job, and even then, nothing is guaranteed. Also, there are more testing to make sure all kids are progressing, and more book-keeping. Achievement is being measured and syllabus subjects are becoming more standardized. Parent’s also are pushing kids to do well, making school a very tough place to be.
It’s quite unfortunate that these stereotypes exist, but for me, at least I am a white, middle-class female. When an African American teenager walks into a store, it’s even worse for them. People immediately assume that they are somehow gang related, selling drugs, or in some kind of trouble. They are watched intensely at stores, and many restaurant employees give them looks like they already have started trouble just be entering. In a study done by Zogby International in 2000, 1,264 students were asked what role an ethnic group best portrayed, 31% said African Americans were thought best as gang members. I’ve heard many times my white peers make comments about how African Americans will grow up to be criminals with dysfunctional families in a low income town.
Teens are misunderstood by adults. They have been labeled and are looked down upon. It’s really not fair, especially with all the social stress kids already have to deal with on a daily basis. Teenagers can be good people too, and adults should give them more respect. We’re not all blood-thirsty, horny criminals.
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