The negative talk about teens that needs to stop

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock 

While generations of hand-wringing adults have always bemoaned the youth of the day, the negative rhetoric about teenagers has never been more inescapable.

For many parents of teens, the days of their own youth a distant memory, unique modern worries are piling up in addition to the time-worn ones experienced by every parent throughout history.

Never before have teens grown up with social media, which has created instant global channels for bad behaviour. Teens are now on a world stage, accessing people through a variety of platforms parents can't keep up with, and participating in online behaviours they wouldn't necessarily be a part of in real life.

Reports of escalating violence, school shootings in the US, initiations, and sexual misconduct can be found about teens just by switching on the tv any old day of the week. Teens are firmly embedded in a perpetual news cycle, tropes about their behaviour recycled over and over.

Teens are - and have always been - the poster children for adults' fears. Where worrying about our youth hasn't changed, what has changed are the channels by which these concerns are aired, and an increase in frequency and intensity. 

So when I saw Barack Obama's tweet applauding young people marching on the streets for US gun reform, it brought home the ways in which adults participate in the narrative that teens are inherently out of control, image and social media obsessed and disinterested in contributing to the greater good.

Emma Gonzalez, the 18-year-old Stoneman Douglas High School student who gave that now-famous speech after the February 14 mass shootings at her Florida high school, said it best when she called out the anti-teen narrative.

"Companies trying to make caricatures of the teenagers these days, saying that all we are self-involved and trend-obsessed and they hush us into submission when our message doesn't reach the ears of the nation, we are prepared to call BS."


I agree with Emma, and whether a person has children or not, recognising and harnessing the power of our teens is everyone's lookout.

Here's how and why I think adults should be advocates of young people, in ways that go far beyond posting updates of their own childrens' achievements.

Our children will thrive under a positive spotlight

I'm not talking about public praise of merit awards and sporting wins. I'm referring to how we can improve young people's lives by perpetuating positive narratives about them.

We are all guilty of airing our worries about the teens of today, who are growing up in a radically different world compared to us. It's normal to have these fears, but balance it out with good stories and thoughts about young people.

Seek out the what they're doing, take an interest in the young movers and shakers of the world, and quit consuming the barrage of media reports about how teens are coming undone. Value their passion and drive.

Balance what you say, and what you consume

Not a day goes by when there isn't some fresh report about the misdemeanours of our 'misguided' youth. Just last night it was the spiralling school assault rates among teens.

Consume reputable media, shut out the rest, and assess how you speak about teens. It natural to be worried where there's cause to be and you should have an outlet for that, talking with friends and family. 

Balance it with positive talk and don't buy into the age-old narratives around wayward youth.

Your lead will influence others

Share your support of young people doing great things. Be vocal about the world's future being in good hands. Be an advocate as much as you can. It's infectious and has the potential to change the thought patterns of others.

Would we rather that the future was in the hands of young people who have been empowered by the adults around them, rather than behaving reactively to being stifled and criticised?

It's not about you

We are increasingly leaving behind a world that has been ransacked of so many wonderful things that can never be reinstated. So many species, old growth forests and environments key to human wellbeing are gone forever in favour of the profiteering interests of multinationals.

Things that once delineated societies and held communities together such as religion, though often problematic, are unravelling.

Our youth needs to find the path that is going to sustain their lives, the planet and future generations. It's truly not about us at this point.

So in the words of Obama, let's let them 'remake the world as it should be.'

Let's tell them, 'We've got your backs.'