The Effects of Stereotyping Teenagers

By Dr. Aleathea Wiggins
Negative stereotypes affect teen life outcomes.
Negative stereotypes affect teen life outcomes.

Stereotypes have an extremely powerful influence on society. Teens' behavior, attitudes and beliefs about themselves can be negatively affected by stereotypes about teenagers. Teens are often believed to be irresponsible, lazy and even aggressive. These stereotypes can affect factors such as teens' self-image, academic achievement and eating habits. They can also lead to hostility and aggressive behavior.

Negative Self-Image

The media focuses on negative teen behaviors.
The media focuses on negative teen behaviors.

The teen years are generally challenging for most young people. Teenagers usually struggle with identity issues as they transition into adulthood and try to understand the world around them. Teens have different values and lifestyles, due to the generation gap, that cause stereotypes about teens to persist. Moreover, media outlets often portray teenagers in a negative light, which could be detrimental to teen self-image. The media has a tendency to focus on teen crime and violence, instead of the positive contributions that teens are making to society.

Aggression and Hostility

Teens sometimes have difficulty with self-control.
Teens sometimes have difficulty with self-control.

A study about the lasting effects of stereotyping led by Professor Michael Inzlicht from the University of Toronto Scarborough and published in the August 2010 edition of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology indicated that aggressive behavior is most notable in people after they have been in a situation in which they had to face negative stereotypes or prejudice. Negative stereotypes can make it difficult for teenagers to maintain self-control and to make appropriate decisions. The effects of stereotyping sometimes remain even after the situation has changed because people continue to be saddled with the emotional baggage from their experiences.

Health and Well-Being

Ethnic teens are least likely to receive mental health services.
Ethnic teens are least likely to receive mental health services.

Negative stereotyping has been found to affect eating habits. People who suffer stress due to discrimination and stereotyping are more likely to engage in unhealthy eating. Stereotypes can also lead to problems with mental health issues and availability of services. There appear to be even more negative stereotypes aimed at ethnic minority teenagers, and they are often turned over to the juvenile justice system instead of being provided with appropriate mental health services, according to the National Association of Social Workers website.

Lower Academic Achievement

Stereotypes may affect academic achievement.
Stereotypes may affect academic achievement.

Negative stereotypes about intelligence or capability could lead to poor performance on tests. Females tend to score lower on math and science tests when reminded about their gender prior to taking the tests. Similarly, African Americans and Latinos tend to score lower on tests when their race is brought up before taking the test. Stereotyping specific groups of teenagers could affect the educational opportunities made available to them and their academic expectations. In other words, there are real consequences that may affect teen life outcomes resulting from stereotypes.

About the Author

Dr. Aleathea Wiggins is a writer specializing in health, parenting and family issues. She is a former university professor, curriculum facilitator, and teacher. Dr. Wiggins holds advanced degrees and credentials in journalism, education, health and childcare administration. She has worked as a professional writer since 2009.