Stereotypes and Prejudices Regarding Adolescents
Stereotypes and prejudices regarding adolescents are a great risk factor in the formation of a child's identity – one of the main tasks during this developmental stage.
The use of stereotypes and prejudices regarding adolescents is very common, which makes it a very dangerous risk factor.
Comprehending our society and the context within which we find ourselves can be a difficult and complex task. For this reason, people create a series of stereotypes and prejudices that help explain and simplify social reality.
Stereotypes vs. prejudices
It’s known that stereotypes and prejudices are a reflection of our culture and historical context. As stated above, they arise in order to simplify society and adjust to social norms. However, what’s the difference between the two? And which of the two is most harmful?
On the one hand, stereotypes are a set of beliefs that attribute certain characteristics to the members of a group. In other words, stereotypes are a simplified mental image of a group in society.
In principle, stereotypes don’t necessarily have to be negative or harmful. For example, the beliefs that “men are strong” or “women are sensitive.”
However, even these stereotypes, which aren’t initially negative, can set the stage for discrimination. This is even if they aren’t based on true logic, because they’re a socially constructed affirmation.
In fact, according to psychologist Gordon Allport, stereotypes are exaggerated beliefs that serve to justify and rationalize behavior in general. This includes the justification and rationalization of actions against people and social groups.
On the other hand, prejudices are attitudes that are created and learned from stereotype images. In other words, they’re character judgements that are without foundation and essentially negative, derived from stereotypes.
Prejudices serve as a negative and derogatory evaluation or valuation towards a person that belongs to a group. They can also, of course, be directed towards the group as a whole. Therefore, prejudices manifest a negative emotional predisposition based on stereotyped beliefs and negative attributes.
Lastly, mentioning discrimination is inevitable. Discrimination is a socially extended behavior towards stereotyped people or groups. This behavior is stable over time and, on occasion, culturally acceptable.
John Dovidio, professor of psychology and social studies at the University of Delaware, defines discrimination. According to Dovidio, discrimination is a negative behavior directed towards members of an out-group against which prejudice is held.
The motives for discrimination can be diverse. Individuals may discriminate on the basis of ethnicity, sexual orientation, political ideology, gender, etc.
In a high school, for example, teens may experience discrimination simply because they come from a rural environment, rather than an urban one, like the rest of his or her classmates.
What is the image that we have of adolescents?
Adolescence is an age group that is also the subject of a series of stereotypes. These stereotypes may come from the distorted memories that adults have of adolescence. They may also be the result of all of the literary and cinematographic production that promotes a concrete image of adolescence.
The research of pedagogues and psychologists Hoffman, Paris and Hall sheds some light on this subject. According to their findings, there are three great myths that exist regarding adolescence.
- #1: Intense emotional instability is a marker of the adolescent phase: However, the three researchers demonstrate that, despite hormonal and biological changes, the level of instability that appears during adolescence is similar to that of other developmental stages.
- #2: The disorders that appear during this stage only last as long as adolescence does, and disappear during adulthood: According to Hoffman, Paris and Hall, while some phobias and behaviors like drug abuse appear during adulthood, those youth that develop these disorders will likely maintain them as adults.
- #3: Adolescence is a period of conflict with parents or other adults in general, product of generational conflict: According to the researchers, teens and their parents are usually in agreement regarding fundamental aspects. What’s more, most teens want to maintain a caring and affectionate relationship with their parents.
“Adolescence is a new birth, for the higher and more completely human traits are born.”
–G. Stanley Hall–
How do stereotypes and prejudices influence adolescence?
Stereotypes and prejudices regarding adolescents are very dangerous. They put the main task of this developmental stage – the forging of one’s identity – at risk.
The abusive use of stereotypes and prejudices can lead to social labeling. If teens constantly receive negative comments and opinions from their environment about themselves, the results can be devastating. Adolescents may end up accepting the labels as true, and acting accordingly.
Teens who constantly hear that they’re irresponsible or lazy will likely come to believe that about themselves. As a result, they’ll adjust their behaviors and expectations regarding themselves to a lower standard. For example, they may settle for getting bad grades, and not aspire to be hardworking or responsible at school, or other areas of life.
In conclusion, stereotypes, prejudices, labels and their consequences are a serious risk factor for teens. During adolescence, teens find themselves in the process of finding their identities. Therefore, any type of social influence they receive from their surroundings will contribute to the identity they form.