Negative stereotypes 'hurting teenage job prospects'

Students celebrating their A-Level results Many teenagers think they are too rarely portrayed positively in the media

More than two thirds of 14-17-year-olds believe negative portrayals of teenagers in the media are affecting their job prospects, a survey suggests.

About 80% of teenagers questioned also believed they were more engaged with social issues than their predecessors.

The think tank, Demos, which commissioned the survey, said the findings "shatter misconceptions of disengaged teenagers".

More than 1,000 14-17-year-olds from England and Northern Ireland took part.

Demos said false stereotyping of young people in the media and wider society was having a negative effect on both their self-esteem and employment opportunities.

'Yobs' and 'crime'

It said four in five teens felt they were unfairly represented in the media and, of these a vast majority - 85% - said this was affecting their chances of getting a job.

Demos said its survey tested "attitudes and perceptions" of teenagers. It did not investigate the views of employers.

It said it had also analysed six UK newspapers over the past 10 years and found that the words most commonly associated with "teenagers", "youth" and "young people" were "binge-drinking", "yobs" and "crime".

Tom Daley Young Olympians are an example of young people portrayed positively, says the Society of Editors

Last month, McKinsey management consultants reached a different conclusion, blaming high levels of youth unemployment across Europe on a skills shortage rather than a lack of jobs or any reluctance to employ young people.

It said 27% of employers had left "entry-level" jobs unfilled because they could not find people with the necessary skills.

The European commissioner for education and youth, Androulla Vassiliou, said there was a mismatch between what education systems were delivering and what employers needed.

Case study

Becky Brunskill

Becky Brunskill, 18, member of Youth Parliament for Liverpool, says:

"At the moment, teenagers feel like they're in the minority really. They are always the ones to get bad press. The young people out there are doing good things for the community, but there's always the stabbing, the hoodie or gun crime that's always on the news. But we're not all like that, it's only a few.

"We need to show businesses and the media that young people are passionate and want to get involved and make a change. There is always negative press. You see on the news, say five times out of the seven days that it's on there's a bad story about young people, so maybe they're a bit put off because maybe they think we'll bring trouble to their business. But we won't.

"Working for the National Citizen Service, the Youth Parliament and the British Youth Council, I'm a much more confident person and I want to go into a business and give them my skills that I've got."

In a recent opinion piece, City & Guilds Group chief executive Chris Jones gave a similar assessment, saying most employers believed young people did not understand what businesses were looking for.

Asked if youth unemployment was down to structural change in the labour market and a skills shortage rather than negative portrayals in the media, the author of the Demos report, Jonathan Birdwell, said: "Those are absolutely valid points and important factors to consider.

"But there is this perception that they [teenagers] are negatively portrayed. Those messages have an impact on how they perceive their job opportunities.

"The fact that these perceptions are so widespread among young people has to have an impact."

Bob Satchwell, executive director of the Society of Editors, said young people "should remember that news media generally reports bad news because bad news is the unusual stuff".

He said if teenagers looked at media coverage more widely they would see "a much more balanced picture" with prominent positive reporting of high-achieving young people including A-level students, Olympic athletes and footballers, as well as young soldiers who had served the UK abroad.

No political engagement

The Demos survey also asked teenagers about social issues and found that 80% of those asked believed they were more concerned with social issues than previous generations of young people.

Socially engaged teenagers

  • 87% believe social media is effective in driving change
  • 38% have signed a petition online
  • 29% have used Facebook or Twitter to raise awareness of a cause
  • 19% have donated money online

Source: Demos

In a parallel survey for Demos by SchoolZone, two thirds of UK teachers agreed that teenagers today were more socially engaged than their own generations had been.

But the survey suggested social engagement did not translate into direct political engagement.

Only 10% of teens questioned saw politicians as agents of positive change, while 60% said they saw charities and social enterprises in that way.

"Teenagers are motivated to make a difference in their community but the approach they take is radically different to previous generations," said Mr Birdwell.

In the survey, 87% of teenagers said social media was an effective way to give momentum to social issues.

Mr Birdwell said: "They do not rely on politicians and others to solve the world's problems, but instead roll up their sleeves and power up their laptop and smartphone to get things done through crowd-sourced collaboration.

"They value bottom-up social action over top-down politics, and social enterprise over government bureaucracy.

"The next generation could be the most active citizens we have seen in a generation."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 799.

    Life is tough, and it was when I left school 30 years ago too.

    Whether young people are being negatively portrayed by the media or not, giving them a victim mentality with these kind of reports is hardly going to equip them with the tools of success either.

  • rate this

    Comment number 741.

    There is little wrong with kids that a real dose of 'proper work' ie paid & full time. cannot cure. While employers only want ready made workers, trained and with experience, the youngsters get a raw deal. More real apprenticeships which did not make them redundant as soon as they reach the age for an adult wage and realistic expectations by employers would be of enormous benefit.

  • rate this

    Comment number 722.

    In my profession I deal with employee/employer relations - often on sensitive issues. The ones that whinge and moan, and are rude, and expect their employer to bend over backwards for them are ALWAYS middle aged. Youngsters rarely have any preconceptions, prejudices or expectations, and are almost invariably courteous. I can't fathom it, even as I write this, but it's true.

  • rate this

    Comment number 679.

    I would suggest that the media in general portray "negative" stories more than "positive" ones. Therefore if you were to check any noun with any similar negative adjective, you would find some degree of correlation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 193.

    'Our youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for their elders and love chatter in place of exercise; they no longer rise when elders enter the room; they contradict their parents, chatter before company; gobble up their food and tyrannize their teachers' - Aristophanes C 400 BC

    People have complained about teenagers since the dawn of time.


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