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The Self-image of Teenage Girls

Women in Journalism Event September 2007

It may be unfashionable to say this but I think the younger generation are great

It may be unfashionable to say this but I think the younger generation are great. As a mother of four, I know I might be biased but the more young people I meet, the more I am convinced our world is in safe hands.

The teenagers who attended the Women in Journalism event - many of whom had travelled hundreds of miles to be there - confirmed my views of our young people. They were passionate, articulate, confident and frequently funny.

But what also came across loud and clear was that they felt it was hard being a modern teenager. While there might be more opportunities than ever, they felt themselves under more pressure to excel - whether it's how well they do in their exams or how they look.

And as well as talking eloquently about their lives and the pressures they were under, there was consensus, too, at the negative picture of teenagers that the media painted.

They felt there was too much concentration on the bad rather than the good and that too few stories actually quoted young people or included their perspectives accurately in the debate. And there was a worrying consensus that the media reinforced unrealistic attitudes to beauty and body shapes.

The summit was primarily about teenage girls but plenty of boys made the effort to attend and express their views as well. The young women talked about the pressure they feel to diet and look good; others, including young men, called for more honesty from the press, and an end to passing off airbrushed images as reality.

One girl told the conference that she'd spent the summer on endless diets to look good on the beach and had ended up losing lots of weight but feeling dreadful. She wanted more coverage aimed at teens about good nutrition, rather than just shedding calories.

The teens said they often felt stigmatised and misrepresented by the media. But as one summit speaker pointed out, the new media gives today's teenagers huge power to set the terms of debate themselves. It's an opportunity I am sure they will increasingly take. As Tuesday's summit showed, if you give young people the chance, they have a lot to say that's worth hearing.