“Hoodie”, “louts”, “heartless”, “evil”, “frightening”, “scum”, “monsters”, “inhuman” and “threatening”. These are just some of the words that have been used in the past to describe youth in the UK. Figures show that young people, mainly boys, have been described in national and regional papers as “yobs” (591 times), followed by “thugs” (254 times), “sick” (119 times) and “feral” (96 times). The UK media are full of negative connotations describing young people; the question is has it got any better in 2014?
It can be safe to say that the portrayal of young people in the UK is mostly negative. Young people have been described as violent yobs that only seem to care about their street status. Young people are seen as benefit scroungers, and incapable of complying with social norms of everyday life. A report in 2009 by the National Youth Agency and the National Children’s Bureau found that the media’s coverage of young people in Britain was mainly negative. When asked, 39 per cent of young people felt that almost all stories covered about young people were negative, and another 39 per cent stated that up to three quarters of all stories labelled youth with negative references.
A report by the Youth Media Agency in 2011 found that 76 per cent of people who were asked, said that media reporting on young people was negative. The 2011 summer riots have further fuelled the media’s negative social stigma. The fact of the matter is that the average age of a London rioter was 27 years old. However due to riots taking place in other cities such as Manchester and Birmingham rather than being confined to London, the average age of a rioter decreased to under 25. This average age statistic was published in the August 2011 Riots: A Statistical Summary which can be viewed on the parliament website and forms the basis of why young people have been particularly blamed with the instigation and continuation of the summer riots.
The spotlight then was firmly placed on the UK’s young people. Teenagers aged as young as 15 were put on trial and convicted for offenses such as burglary. But 25.9 per cent of people who took part in the riots were aged 25+ the eldest person to be convicted was 58 years old. However most of the news that was broadcasted was solely directed against young people.
Teachers similarly believed that the UK media present teenagers in a highly negative light. According to teachers surveyed in the Youth Media Agency report, terms most frequently used by the media to describe teenagers were “lacking respect” (68 per cent), “lazy” (58 per cent), “anti-social” (54 per cent), “lacking direction” (53 per cent) and “apathetic” (48 per cent). Only three per cent of teachers thought the media portrayed young people as either “empathetic”, “engaged”, “community-minded” or “enthusiastic”. This is staggering, since schoolteachers who spend most of their lives teaching and moulding young people, are far more likely to have an overall balanced view on the whole than a news corporation.
This negative fixation is not only harming younger people’s relationship with the older generations, it is also having a negative effect on the labour market. Sounds kind of ironic really. The media reports that the younger generations are “lazy” and “benefit scroungers” people who have never worked a day in their life due to the idea of “welfare dependency”. But then they are also described as “scum”… Negative stereotypes such as these must have an impact on employers and put them off from hiring young people.
A report released by Demos a leading public think tank in February 2014 analyses just how negative the media are and its impact on youth employability. Four out of five teenagers (85 per cent) considered that negative media coverage harmed their opportunities for employment, and one in four teenagers felt strongly that this was the case. So we have a media that is blaming young people for not being employed because they are (and yes there is some level of generalisation) lazy but then are labelled as gangsters and monsters… Is it surprising then that young people find it hard to get employed? This depiction drawn by the media makes people think that a young person will probably more than likely mug their boss on their way home from work, if they ever got a job that is.
However there seems to be some light at the end of the tunnel for 16-24 year-olds in this country. The report by Demos found that 80 per cent of young people and two-thirds of their teachers believe this generation is more concerned with social issues than teenagers in previous decades, thus turning the misconception of the disengaged teenager on its head. The reality is that more young people are volunteering in the community, and the most common words used by teachers to describe them in the survey were “caring”, “hard-working” and “enthusiastic”.
The media’s relentless coverage of young people, describing them as gangsters, thieves, binge drinkers and lethargic individuals may not be entirely true. The media needs to start being less negative and more positive when it comes to young people. Money needs to be spent on progressive programs to further help young people develop the right skills they need to enter into a job. People need to start trusting the younger generations, help mould them to be the best that they can be and prepare them for the roles that they will soon have to start playing in society. But even in 2014 young people are portrayed negatively. Just going on the Sun’s website proves this where you are immediately bombarded with “Vile sex acts boast” and “Sleazy pub crawl”. Until the media stops attaching such negative stigma to young people regardless of the findings by Demos stated previously, there seems to be little hope for young people to be able to gain respect from their elders and the general public as a whole.