Teen Stereotypes: Breaking Out of the Box

By Rachael Schirato

Let’s face it. Being a teenager is hard. We have numerous expectations to live up to and even more rules to follow.  No one wants to be the girl to get pregnant, the golden boy whom’s future goes out the window after Homecoming weekend, the drug addict who is forced to drop out, or the rebel who is constantly engaging in fights with rival schools. We are constantly fighting the above stereotypes, yet these continue to rule our lives. The truth is we are always under the strict scrutiny of adults.Teens are often unfairly stereotyped, discrediting our accomplishments and encouraging misbehavior. With three AP classes, countless extra curriculars, a part time job, and juggling a social life, it doesn’t take much to push us over the edge.

Adults often argue that teens are a collection of generalized stereotypes: rebellious, lazy, unappreciative, self-centered, deceiving, ignorant, and egotistical. But why? According to the Search Institute, an organization dedicated to improving the lives of the young, people’s opinions are commonly formed through experiences, allowing for quick generalization of a particular group based on a single outlier. In any case, it is unfair to judge an entire group of people based on one person. It may be cliche, but not everyone is the same and will make the same choices. Teenagers are notorious for making mistakes and while we will continue to make mistakes, these allow us to grow through experience.  As we get older, the mistakes will become far fewer. The point is that mistakes allows us to grow and we wouldn’t be human without them.

The  systematic stereotyping of teenagers may seem harmless or just another thing we have to deal with, but it has detrimental effects on our development. Feeling as if we must conform to a certain standard keeps us trapped. The mentality that there is a certain way we must act and look is constantly hanging over us. If we were to step outside of this box, we are immediately thrown into one labeled “just another rebellious teen” or “a troubled kid”. There is always the expectation to be good or successful in life, but these stereotypes put the pressure on us to always be perfect. This holds to be true, even in the case of the “perfect teenager”: the one with straight A’s and the hardest classes, the one who spends free time with family, is respectful, morally correct, and would stay out of conflict. Though this may be a desired image, we rarely fit perfectly into this. It is simply wrong to put labels on teenagers who do not conform to this image, especially when no one does.

There are numerous examples of teenagers who go above and beyond what is expected. Teenagers who aren’t dropping out, are staying out of fights, aren’t getting pregnant, and aren’t ruining their future.  Look at Bethany Mota, who started a fashion company, Alex Shapiro, who used photography for inspiration, Ajia Mayrock, who encourages anti- bullying through writing, and Katlyn Grasso, who inspires girls to become leaders. Stereotypes undermine our accomplishments and encourage misbehavior. Next time you see a group of teenagers at the movies or out to eat, consider what their accomplishments will be, not what they’ll be doing later that night.