Flicking through the tabloids and broadsheets, watching prime-time TV news and trailing through web content, I realise that we have a problem – a big one. The youth of today are suffering from age discrimination. Stamped with the "hoodies" or "chav" label and thought of as an unruly, disrespectful and dangerous bunch, we are simultaneously marginalised and stigmatised, turned into a blurry, menacing entity that does not reflect our lives.
I am lucky enough to be in my final year of university with an abundance of work experience under my belt, and will soon enter the big bad world of work. But an acquaintance is very different – she hated school yet left with a good amount of GCSEs. She had the brains and the beauty but she didn't have the work ethic, the drive and determination, to take her to where I am now. She is classified as a Neet (not in employment, education or training)
, which at the end of last year made up 15.6% of those aged 16-24. Statistically, she is just another teenager who has dropped out of school, and has done nothing productive or constructive with her life. She might also well be the exception, and not the rule. But there is a media-made assumption that the vast majority of us are like her – uninterested, disconnected and uneducated. In reality, 85% of 18-year-olds
were in education, employment or training in 2009 – an encouraging statistic.
While it is true that some individuals conform to the stereotypical youth image and make it somewhat worse for others, we are still vastly misrepresented. However, it is not necessarily about the way news is constructed, but about the news selection process itself. Why print a story about a young person's individual success when one can print more popular stories of grim teen failures?
I am not oblivious to what the public wants; after all, for a lot of journalists "bad news is good news". But good news for whom? Surely not for teenagers, who have little or no power to speak out in their defence. In 2004 a survey by Ipsos Mori proved just this, as it suggested that a staggering 71% of articles from a range of tabloid, broadsheet and local papers involving young people were negative in tone, and a third were crime-oriented. And if journalism is all about fair and objective reporting, then why do we never see the views of young people represented in stories about them?
Not all young people have Asbos or are in gangs. In fact, very few do: according to figures from the Metropolitan police, the total number of people in London accused of serious youth violence in 2009 was 1,336 – just 0.07% of an under-20 population of 1,868,457. Youth crime has always been around, we just hear about it a lot more now. Cases are individualised and heightened to their maximum, inciting nothing but fear.
A research programme carried out by the National Foundation for Educational Research in 2008 concluded: "It is surprising that more is not done to ascertain the reality of youth crime, given the apparent levels of public concern, as well as the time and resources given to addressing what is commonly perceived to be a growing problem. The fact is that overall crime levels are not rising (a fact supported by both the British Crime Survey and official crime statistics)." Not only do we need more precise definitions and measurements of youth crime but also better distribution of data to ensure the public is given accurate and logical information before they make judgments.
Even though the media's role and impact on the issue should not be dismissed, I suppose this argument is aimed at people who rely on news to be informed and form their own opinions. They should be recognising the positive contributions that young people make in communities, and listening to their concerns too. The public's perceptions need to change. A more open-minded approach to individuals would hopefully stimulate less fear amongst others.
• The Youth Tell Us series has been commissioned by Comment is free in conjunction with You Press Partnerships, a youth-led social enterprise that promotes and explores the opinions of young people through media partnerships.
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