Module 2: perspectives on working with young people: facilitator's guide

2.3 Portrayal of young people in the media

Page last updated: 2004

Everyone will have different values and beliefs about the way young people are expected to behave. However, it is important to remember that there is a difference between personal opinion and fact.

The media is one of the most significant influences in shaping people's opinions about young people. Unfortunately, the media's representation of young people is not always a positive one. This can have a major impact on the way that society and individuals begin to perceive and treat young people.

Brainstorm/group activity
Print media and portrayal of young people
Portrayal of young people in the media

Brainstorm/group activity

Question - Name some places that young people are portrayed and talked about in the public arena.

Possible answers include:
    • the movies
    • television
    • print media
    • the Internet
    • books
    • art
    • music.

Print media and portrayal of young people

In a recent study Howard Sercombe examined the print media's portrayal of young people. He found that in approximately 2,500 newspaper articles related to young people, 64 percent were about juvenile crime. In articles related to young aboriginal people, 83 percent were about crime (Sercombe, 2001).

The Australian Law Reform Commission and Human Rights Equal Opportunity Commission (1997) found that around 80 percent of young people it surveyed believe the media never, or only sometimes presented young people in a positive way. The same number believe that young people are never, or only sometimes, portrayed truthfully.

These examples illustrate the fact that the media rarely portrays an accurate picture of the diversity of young people who are often depicted as being either 'high achieving' or 'problematic'. When working with young people it is important that you think about whether your beliefs about them are based on fact or opinion.Top of page

Portrayal of young people in the media

Task - group activity

Provide learners with a range of articles from newspapers, magazines (any other forms of printed media that are youth-related).

Divide learners into small groups and give each group a different article/magazine. On butcher's paper each group is to write down the general theme of the article and the image it paints of young people.

Ask the group to consider is it consistent with research findings that indicate young people are portrayed as either very good or very bad in the media?

Feedback from small groups into the large group.

The following prompt questions can assist the discussion:

Question - How have the media portrayed issues such as:
    • the death of a Limp Biskit fan at the Big Day Out in Sydney?
    • controversial rapper – Eminem?
    • gang rapes by Lebanese young men in Sydney? OR
    • some other youth-related issue?

Question - What kind of impact do these issues have on the lives of young people?

Question - What can you do to challenge the way young people are represented?

Answer - Possible answers include:
    • writing press releases that positively portray young people
    • discussing the issue in Internet chat rooms
    • writing letters to the editor.


Overhead transparency

  • Our own experiences of adolescence can be a source of information
  • Every young person's experience of adolescence is unique
  • Be aware that our community can sometimes hold very narrow views about young people
  • You can have a role in demystifying myths, influencing media and community attitudes and advocating for young people.