Home > Inequality and the stereotyping of young people.

Keane, Martin (2006) Inequality and the stereotyping of young people. Drugnet Ireland , Issue 18, Summer 2006 , p. 12.

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Recent research published by the Equality Authority1 highlights the ways in which a selection of teenagers believe they are negatively perceived and treated by adults across Irish society. The report is based on focus group discussions with some 90 teenagers during May and June 2005 and includes the views of young asylum seekers, travellers, people with disabilities and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth. Contact with the young people was facilitated through the National Youth Council of Ireland (NYCI). The report also includes findings from a case study of stereotyping of young people in the Irish media.

The media

The media were most commonly identified by the focus groups as creators of negative stereotypical images of young people by constantly associating them with crime, deviance, disorder and drug and alcohol problems. Empirical findings from the case study of the Irish media supported this view but also highlighted the gender differences in media representations, with young men often portrayed in criminal and deviant terms and young women in terms of victimhood and vulnerability.

The gardaí and the security industry

Evidence of poor relationships with the gardaí, and the view that the gardaí had a poor opinion of young people, dominated several of the focus group discussions. However, some young people reported that their relations with some individual community gardaí were quite positive. Young people reported being treated differently from adults by security personnel in shops and shopping centres in terms of being followed and observed. They felt that security personnel discriminated against them because of their age and their clothes.


With very few exceptions, the young people’s experiences and opinions of politicians and their perceptions of politicians’ attitudes towards young people were negative. Politicians were seen as representing the views of the adult generation and as dismissing young people as unimportant. Young people felt that not having the vote until they were aged 18 rendered them voiceless and unimportant to the politicians.

Teachers and school

The young people felt that they were not being treated equally by their schools or teachers. They gave examples of different rules about the use of mobile phones applying to teachers and to students in the classroom. Young people felt that they did not have a voice in how their schools were being run. They felt that school rules should be negotiated between young people and the school authorities instead of being imposed.

The local community

Young people reported constant ‘hassle’ in public from adults, especially when ‘hanging around’ in groups on their local estates. They accepted that meeting outdoors in groups made them more visible, but explained that they had few alternative places to meet with their peers. Recent research in Scotland by Seaman et al.2 highlights the benefits young people derive from congregating with their peers; for example, the feeling of safety from being part of the ‘gang’ as their friends often provide them with information about the risks and safety precautions required around certain estates.

The importance of the peer group among teenagers is reflected in the quantity of time they spend ‘hanging out’ together and the importance they place on mutual support. Recent research by Lalor and Baird3 among a sample of adolescents in Co Kildare revealed that a favoured activity among respondents was ‘hanging out with friends’, with over half the sample spending between five and fourteen hours per week with friends. Close friends and peers were listed as being key sources of social support that young people turn to when they encounter problems.

Although the views and experiences raised by young people in this research by the Equality Authority cannot be generalised to the wider population of young people, they do provide an opportunity for youth workers, teachers, Garda Juvenile Liaison Officers and other professionals working with young people to reflect on their methods of engagement.  Teachers and Garda Juvenile Liaison Officers often deliver drug education and awareness programmes to young people of a similar age and profile to this group. The perception by young people that they are not respected by such figures has implications for the effectiveness of such programmes. It might be more effective to train young people themselves to deliver drug prevention programmes. This would go some way to creating conditions of negotiation between young people and significant adults in society around a key issue of behavioural change in relation to substance misuse. 

1. Devlin M (2006) Inequality and the stereotyping of young people. Dublin: The Equality Authority.

2. Seaman P, Turner K, Hill M, Stafford A and Walker M (2006) Parenting and children’s resilience in disadvantaged communities. London: National Children’s Bureau.

3. Lalor K and  Baird K (2006) Our views – Anybody listening? Researching the views and needs of young people in Co Kildare. Kildare: Kildare Youth Services.


Item Type:Article
Issue Title:Issue 18, Summer 2006
Date:April 2006
Page Range:p. 12
Publisher:Health Research Board
Volume:Issue 18, Summer 2006
Accession Number:HRB (Available)
Subjects:T Demographic characteristics > Adolescent / youth (teenager / young person)
MA-ML Social science, culture and community > Social position > Social equality and inequality
VA Geographic area > Europe > Ireland

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