A Women in Journalism survey earlier this year studied the language used in the media to describe teenage boys. The most common word used was 'yobs', with 'thugs', 'feral' and 'hoodie' following close behind. More than 60 per cent of media stories about teenage boys were about crime and the vast majority of these showed them in a bad light. Eighty per cent of teenage boys felt that adults were more wary of them than a year ago and they also felt that negative media stories made teenagers suspicious of each other.
This weekend the Guardian published a survey of 1,000 teenage boys which shows that the vast majority of them are 'ambitious, career-minded, home-loving and, above all, happy.' Results showed that '88% of them believed their career prospects were good, and 88% regarded themselves as ambitious; 87% were happy in their family lives, 87% were happy in their social lives, and 81% were happy in their school or work lives.' There was also an article in their Weekend magazine on the 'secret life of teenage boys' which is worth a read along with profiles of teenage boys, include a Christian teenager, Jack Legind. None of this will be news to youth workers who will be used to tackling negative perceptions of teenagers, especially boys, but great to see the issue getting a wider airing and the myths being tackled.
The statistic in the survey that made the biggest impression on me was the fact that 78% of teenage boys said adults had a higher opinion of teenage girls than boys. I grew up in a family of four sisters and attended an all-girls school, while for the last 20 years or so I've lived in an all male household with my husband, sons and a male lodger for a while (although we did have a female snake for a few years!) From my experience teenage boys are far more straight-forward and less complicated than teenage girls although I'm aware that that perhaps makes as many assumptions about girls as boys feel adults make about them. I wonder if media representation is to blame for that statistic as well, or whether this is more to do with their actual experience in schools and at home. But how sad that boys feel undervalued and how important that we counteract that. Take this opportunity to reflect on how you treat boys and girls in your work - the expectations you have of them, the language you use, the stories you tell, the behaviour you reward. Do you value both boys and girls equally and how do you communicate that?