When the idea of a white suburban teenager is shown through the eyes of the Media, there are many different things that come to mind. Some may picture the ‘American Dream’ with a white picket fence, a golden retriever running around, and a family of four with a son and a daughter. On the other hand, white middle class teenagers from the suburbs tend to be presented as spoiled, stuck up, and unfriendly kids who always get their way. There is also the idea that suburban teenagers have a lot of money and have never known the struggle of trying to make ends meet. This is a problem because a large majority of the population in the United States live or have lived in a suburban neighborhood. These stereotypes can cause people to shy away and perhaps cause a decline in the long-time American suburban lifestyle .The purpose of this essay is to discuss the stereotypes of white middle class teenagers from the suburbs that are largely presented in the Media.
Being from the suburbs myself, I grew up surrounded by these stereotypes that people love to mock. I think it’s important to understand the history and true definition of a suburb. Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a suburb as “a town or area where people live in houses near a larger city”. The end of World War II caused a huge increase in population. People needed more housing. Housing in bigger cities was too expensive. Living outside the city brought a cheaper and safer way of life. Suburbs seemed like a perfect idea for the traditional American Family. After the growth, many suburban neighborhoods resembled a picture very similar to the one below. It makes sense that parents would want to raise their children in a safe and stable environment. Suburbs are usually very clean and have minimal crime rates.
Through the years, living in Suburbia has become a very common and even average thing. As of the year 2000, half of the population of the United States lived in a suburb according to Geography.about.com. An article, written by Leigh Gallagher for Time.com is called “The End of the Suburbs”. Gallagher discusses Today’s suburb. She states, “Rather, the housing crisis of recent years has concealed something deeper and more profound happening to what we have come to know as American suburbia. Simply speaking, more and more Americans don’t want to live there anymore”(Gallagher, 1). She also makes a great point about what suburbs used to stand for, and what they could possibly be turning into in present times. “The American suburb used to evoke a certain way of life, one of tranquil, tree-lined streets, soccer leagues and center hall colonials. Today’s suburb is more likely to evoke endless sprawl, a punishing commute, and McMansions (Gallagher, 1).
There are many television shows and movies that take place in this type of setting and were created to portray and even make fun of suburbanites. The television show, Modern Family was created in 2009 on ABC and is a perfect example of a suburban family. The show is about a family living in suburban Los Angeles. It captures their lives in a comical way. There is a typical dad character who is goofy and tries to be ‘the cool dad’ when interacting with his kids. The mom, while funny as well, she is the more uptight one in the family. She is the enforcer of rules. As for the children, there is an older sister who is going through a hormonal teenager phase. The other sister is more of a typical brainiac. Finally, the younger brother is also a goofball like his father and represents a more innocent character. All of the problems in the show are never life or death. I believe that this carries over to what people imagine life in the suburbs is really like. When watching the show, you’ll notice that the house itself and the neighborhood is always in pristine condition with the latest décor. The mother in the show drives a mini van, another common idea of suburban life. Solutions to any problems that occur usually involve buying something new or going on a trip to get ice cream. A few anomalies on the show are the fact that there is also a married gay couple and a character that is Spanish-speaking. When people think of suburban life, they imagine everything being the same. Most of the time, it is expected that people from the suburbs are white. This is obviously not always the case, but this is how the Media portrays it to be.
Another example of life in the suburbs is a Disney Channel Movie called Stuck in the Suburbs. It was made in 2004 and was catered towards a younger audience between the ages of 9 and 14. The whole idea of the movie is about not wanting to be like everyone else. The plot of the movie is about two girls that are bored with their every day lives. Things get exciting when a pop singer makes a visit to the town they live in. The characters in the movie have very American names such as Brittany, Natasha, and Jordan. Similar to Modern Family, the houses all look the same and are each equipped with their own mini vans. The girls are dressed in very colorful and stylish clothing. I think the creators of this movie wanted to appeal to teenage girls by making the style of the movie upbeat and possibly trying to send a message that is relatable. One of the characters in the movie, Natasha, has lived in other places besides the suburbs. She is also shown as a character who is different and did not grow up familiar with conforming to suburb life.
Some of these stereotypes are little bit ridiculous to someone like myself who has grown up in this environment. The Media makes things out to be bigger than what they really are. A common movie that a good majority of teenage girls have seen is Mean Girls. The movie symbolizes a lot of themes about girls and what not. However it also shows life in the suburbs and discusses people trying to fit in the way they are expected to. The ‘popular’ group in the movie, has a lot of money. They are made out to be spoiled brats that have their parents pay for everything. It also shows that if you don’t have money or you don’t wear a certain type of clothing, you will be seen as uncool and ugly. On the other hand, the characters that do have money and wear the best clothes are made to be caddy and mean. I think movies like this especially, have fueled the idea that the white middle class suburban teenagers are negative people.
My personal experience growing up, my parents had the typical ‘American Dream’ I discussed earlier. My brother and I usually got everything we wanted. Money was rarely an issue when I was little. I could relate to these movies and TV shows without questioning them. I could walk down the street without worrying about, for the most part anything bad happening to me. When I got to high school, I became more aware of the negative stereotypes. My parents got divorced and we virtually had no money. I no longer lived in a 3,000 square foot home, but a 800 square foot apartment. I think a lot of people don’t realize that these images of perfection are sometimes genuine, but most of the time they contain a lot of problems behind them. When people try hard to make everything seem like all is well, they could be hiding darker issues such as alcoholism/addiction, domestic abuse, or relationship problems just to name a few. I think the average white middle class teenager from the suburbs has a lot of pressure to fit into the box that everyone wants them to be in. Most of them are expected to go to college and have a good career after their high school days. Teens in the suburbs are pressured to get good grades and become all-stars in their afterschool activities like football, cheerleading, or orchestra. They’re expected to get married and start a family similar to how their parents might have done it before them. Parents turn their heads to young kids partying and try to think about it not happening. It isn’t always expected that drugs or alcohol are a large problem in suburbs, but most of the time it is.
An article was written about drug use in suburban neighborhoods near Cleveland, Ohio. The article is called “Affluent Suburbs face the harsh glare of drug use” by Call & Post. It states that “More than half of high school students in Westlake, Rocky River, and Bay Village are already abusing drugs or alcohol”. The article also talks about how 56% of teenagers have used prescription pills in a recreational manner. There is even a mention of heroin being an issue in these otherwise upscale and peaceful communities.
The suburbs are an easy target to mock because they are very common in the United States. I think people are entertained by how a group of people can maintain an image of perfection when there are so many underlying issues. While it is sometimes annoying to tell people where I am from and have them immediately ask me if I’m rich, I am still proud to have grown up in the suburbs. I am fortunate to have had the typical ‘American Dream” experience for the most part. There are far worse problems in the world like famine, disease, and lack of education. My hope is that people will make an effort not to judge someone about being from a middle class-suburb. Not everyone is rude or stuck up. Not everyone has trust funds or their parent’s credit cards. We are all just people trying to live in this big world and make a name for ourselves.
Affluent Suburbs Face Harsh Glare of Teen Drug Use. (2012). Call & Post, (All-Ohio edition 1). Retrieved February 22, 2015.
Gallagher, L. (2013, July 31). The End of the Suburbs. Time.
Mean Girls [Motion picture on DVD]. (2004). United States of America: Paramount Pictures.
Modern family [Motion picture]. (2015). 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.
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Stief, C. (n.d.). An Overview of Suburbs. Retrieved February 22, 2015, from http://geography.about.com/od/urbaneconomicgeography/a/suburbs.htm
Stuck in The Suburbs [Motion picture]. (2004). United States of America: Disney Channel.
Suburb. (n.d.). Retrieved February 22, 2015, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/suburb
The Growth of Suburbs. (n.d.). Retrieved February 22, 2015, from http://ushistory1950.weebly.com/the-growth-of-suburbs.html