Examples of Youth Culture: Trends of the Past & Today

The term youth culture refers to the ways that teenagers conduct their lives. Youth culture can pertain to interests, styles, behaviors, music, beliefs, vocabulary, clothes, sports and dating. The concept behind youth culture is that adolescents are a subculture with norms, mores, behaviors, and values that differ from the main culture of older generations within society.

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Common Youth Culture Examples

Actions and attitudes attributed largely to the youth of a particular time period can be described as youth culture. There are many examples of youth culture and subcultures in society.

Personal Appearance

Personal appearance is one of the most visible indicators of teen culture. Looking at how young people dress and groom themselves is a powerful indicator of the current state of youth culture.

  • Twenty-first century youth seem to have a “less is more mindset,” focusing on low maintenance hairstyles and minimal makeup, if any. Fashions tend to be casual with modern youth.
  • The preppy culture of the 1980s was much more high maintenance, with youth emphasizing perfect makeup and spending hours with curling irons and hot rollers.
  • Preppy clothing of the 1980s was very traditional and status focused, with branded (Izod and Ralph Laurent) polo and button down shirts being popular for girls and boys alike.
  • Youth who identified with the punk rock and grunge movements sought non-conforming hairstyles ranging from brightly colored or spiky hair to shaved heads or mohawks.
  • In the turbulent 1960s, a desire for civil rights and freedom from tyranny impacted fashion. Short skirts and fringed jackets were popular among hippies and freedom fighters alike.

Entertainment Preferences

Youth culture can also be seen in terms of the type of entertainment that is popular among young people.

  • Modern youth tend to connect with peers digitally, spending hours interacting with friends via social media sites, whereas previous generations spent hours talking on the phone.
  • Video games have become important to many teens. Teens today often spend hours playing online games, forming bonds with gamers that they get to know in the virtual world.
  • Even before online gaming, video games were a part of youth culture. Youth of the 1980s and 1990s had game consoles for their televisions and spent time at arcades.
  • Youth tend to follow music groups that speak to the issues with which they relate, such as Nirvana in the 1990s and The Beatles in the 1960s.
  • As kids move into adolescence, their entertainment preferences often change. For example, youth may start to prefer comic books over novels and children’s stories.

Challenging Norms

Each generation of youth tends to engage in a bit of rebellion against societal norms established by previous generations.

  • For modern teens, environmental responsibility is a major emphasis, Many teens commit to minimizing their environmental impact and speak out to encourage others to do so.
  • Youth in the 21st century tend to be quicker to speak out and mobilize against injustice and in favor of inclusiveness than previous generations.
  • Behavior that is contrary to what is perceived to be accepted and expected by parents, such as drinking, smoking and drugs, has been part of youth culture for many decades.
  • Teens often engage in bold language choices in order to set themselves apart. This can manifest as either excessive cursing or heavy usage of esoteric "cool" buzz words.
  • For rebellious youth, behaviors such as cutting school or even low-grade criminal activity can be an attempt to assert independence and non-conformity.
  • As teens start to develop their own worldview, it’s common for them to exhibit attitude or behavioral changes toward things like school, religion or family.

Fitting in With Peers

For each generation of youth, peer pressure can have a very powerful impact on behavior. Youth sometimes change their perceptions or behaviors as a way of fitting in with other people in their age group.

  • Youth of the 21st century seem to be less interested in forming exclusive dating relationships than teens of previous generations, in which going steady was the norm.
  • Youth who spend time with friends from wealthier backgrounds may start to prefer more expensive goods (phones, backpacks, shoes) similar to what their friends have.
  • Teens who identify with youth culture may start to refuse to go to certain “uncool” establishments with their family in order to appear more acceptable to peers.
  • Depending on the behaviors of their peer group members, youth may change the way they treat others, either by showing greater kindness or perhaps more aloofness.
  • The desire to fit in can also impact teens’ academic performance. Making similar grades to one's peers is a way that teens can conform to the expectations of their peer groups.

Understanding Youth Culture

Specifically defining what youth culture is can be a bit difficult because it is a moving target. Each generation will have its own unique youth culture that is reflective of youth’s lives and the times, though it's important to avoid stereotyping people based on their generation. There are many groups within any culture, with different preferences, ideas and goals.

  • Psychologists such as Erik Erikson theorize that the primary goal in the developmental stage of adolescence is to answer the question, "Who am I?" This being the case, it is natural to assume that in determining one's identity, one would seek others within the same age group to grow and learn together and understand the social norms and values of society.
  • Theorists such as Frank Fasick agree that adolescents are in a confused state and that identity development happens during this time as they exert independence from parents and have a greater reliance on their peer groups.

Development of Youth Culture

Youth culture truly developed in the 20th century when it became more common for adolescents to gather together than in past centuries. Prior to this time, many adolescents spent a majority of time with adults or child siblings. Compulsory schooling and other societal changes made the joint socialization of adolescents more prevalent.

To better understand youth culture, consider exploring culture in a larger context. Start by reviewing some examples of culture overall, which will provide a different perspective than focusing on a particular age group. From there, you may also want to explore some subculture examples.

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