Fear of Youth

The fear of youth is called ephebiphobia. Initially referred to as the “fear and loathing of teenagers,” today this social condition is regarded as the “inaccurate, overstated and sensational depiction of young people” in various settings across the globe. There are individuals in society who are hesitant and refuse to go near young people, to the point where they veer away, campaign against, and hard sell against anything that would benefit the youth, with the notion that such actions will keep young people away from them.

The term ephebiphobia came from the Greek word éphēbo, meaning youth and phóbosmeaning fear. The origin of this term is ascribed to an article written by Kirk Astroth, which was later published in Phi Delta Kappan. Other accounts said that the term was coined about 10 years ago to capture the social panic that has stricken media, politicians, and even learning institutions. In general, it was basedon negative conventions as well as negative childhood experiences, and has been stereotyped and preserved by the way media portrays today’s youth. Ephebiphobia is currently used by sociologists, social psychologists, government agencies and youth advocacy groups that characterize ephebiphobia as an aberrant and irrational fear of youth or adolescence.

Ephebiphobia actually forms part of a series of age-related fears that include:

  • Pediaphobia or the fear of infants and/or young children
  • Ephebiphobia or the fear of youth
  • Gerontophobia or the fear of elders

There are other similar terms that have been used as synonymous to ephebiphobia. For instance, paedophobia has earned popular acceptance across Europe and has been used to describe the foregoing “fear of youth.” Another term that has been proposed isHebephobia, from the Greek word hḗbē, meaning “youth or puberty.” Other terms include ageism, which denotes social discrimination based on one’s age; and adultism or the inclination towards adults that is biased against children and the youth.

This phenomenon, along with the fear of crime and street culture, is believed to have existed in Western culture for quite some time. Certain events bolster this claim; ancient Greece and Venice are said to have struggled with public policy due to their fear of youth. Niccolo Machiavelli is believed to have envisaged that a fear of youth is what really kept Florence from maintaining a standing army.

The onset of American Puritanism was viewed as dependent on a fear of youth, who were perceived as epitomizing enlightenment and adventure. As such, young people were then seen as vulnerable to decadent morality. The Industrial Revolution also prompted popular media in North America and Western Europe to perpetuate the fear of children and youth in an attempt to advance the industrialization of schooling, and to eliminate the presence of young people from the workplace at a time their labor was deemed unnecessary as a result of mechanization and the advent of new labor.

Concern for mal de jeunesse was claimed to have stricken post-World War II France when they crafted policies that revealed their fear of youth. At that time, youth policies centered on sending French teenagers to either summer camps or in reformatories, while the rest enjoyed total freedom. Likewise, the United States military recognized the surge in number of young people in the Deep South and viewed it as a threat to national security. Analysts later proposed that the upsurge in the popular culture’s fear of youth may be imputed to certain defense policies that have been devised in response to that threat.

The public fear of youth further intensified in the 1990s due to the increased youth access to guns, the emergence of youth gangs and their eventual links to illegal drug cartels, typecasting of urban youth, political and academic pandering, as well as a series of high-profile school shootings that triggered a media frenzy. Moreover, in an issue of Seattle Weekly, fear of youth was particularly cited as the major factor behind Seattle’s Teen Dance Ordinance that eventually went down the drain. Even the administration of British Prime Minister Tony Blair instituted the Anti-Social Behaviour Order in 1998, which has also been directly associated toephebiphobia.

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