Module 2: perspectives on working with young people: learner's workbook

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.

One of the major influences on personal opinion is the external information that we receive each day. This information can come from family, friends, personal experience of others and frequently through the media. As one of the most significant influences in shaping people's opinions about young people, the media's representation of young people is unfortunately not always a positive one. This can have a major impact on the way that society and individuals perceive and treat young people.

Task - writing exercise
Portrayal of young people in the print media
Portrayal of young people in the media
Summary

Task - writing exercise

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

Answer - (Write your answer, then check the possible answers page.)

Portrayal of young people in the print media

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 the 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'. However, the reality is that this 'only represents the two ends of the continuum and does not portray the enormous diversity of lives, experiences and cultures which lie in between these extremes' (Western Australian Community Drug Summit, 2001, p. 5). Unfortunately many people's attitudes and beliefs are shaped by the media's portrayal. Thus, when working with young people it is important that you think about whether your beliefs about them are based on fact or opinion.

Young people are often portrayed in the public arena as either anti-conformists, dangerous and inappropriate in their behaviour or as very high achieving. Young people on either end of the continuum are a minority yet this kind of sensationalism impacts the way young people are viewed and consequently valued by society.
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Portrayal of young people in the media

Task - writing exercise

Question - Find four articles from newspapers (or some other form of printed media) that are youth-related. Jot down the general theme of the article and the image it paints of young people. Is it consistent with research findings that indicate young people are portrayed as either very good or very bad in the media?

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 - (Write your answer, then check the possible answers page.)

Summary

  • 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.