A type of specific phobia oriented against young people and adolescents in general.
Adolescence is one of the most important life stages, a process of transformation and maturation both at a biological and cognitive level that takes us from childhood to adulthood. It is a difficult stage for those who live it, full of new experiences and the search for their own identity.
But in general it is not difficult only for the adolescent, but also for the adults around them: the behavior and way of thinking of adolescents, the change of roles and a possible but habitual rebellion towards authority make that they often exist small conflicts.
Although it can be a complex stage for most people, it ends up passing without invalidating anyone’s day to day. Yet some people feel genuine dread, on an irrational level, when exposed to contact with adolescents. This is what happens in ephebiphobia, a condition that we are going to talk about next.
Ephebiphobia: what is it?
It receives the name of ephebiphobia or ephebophobia to the specific phobia of adolescents and young people. It is a true although unusual phobia, which would be considered of a specific type although it has a strong link with social phobia. Although technically ephebiphobia would have to refer to adolescents, since its conception it has referred not only to that age but also to young people up to 35 years of age.
As a specific phobia that it is, it supposes the emergence of a powerful panic before a specific stimulus or situation, in this case adolescents.
Said fear appears in an irrational and exaggerated way in relation to the possible risk posed by the presence of the feared, and the mere idea of exposing oneself to it generates such a level of anxiety that an anxiety attack can occur, appearing physical symptoms such as tachycardia , hyperventilation, tremors, hyperhidrosis and even the belief that you are dying, losing control of your own body or even sanity. In addition, this fear and anxiety are so strong that they lead the person to make active efforts to avoid as much as possible the stimulus they fear or situations or stimuli that may have been associated with it.
It is also worth mentioning that in addition to fear itself, at a social level it is also sometimes called ephebiphobia or ephebophobia to the tendency to think badly about youth and adolescence and their way of acting today, or to hate, despise, undervalue and feeling rejection of youth without any cause, also in a way that is often irrational and biased by stereotypes and prejudices (similarly, for example, to what happens with homophobia or transphobia).
Thus, not only does it have an effect at the individual level for those who suffer it, but it can also lead to the development of discriminatory and even belligerent attitudes with people in this vital stage.
Ephebiphobia is undoubtedly a type of phobia that greatly affects the person who suffers it, and not only that person, but can also have social and community implications.
And it is that someone who has a phobia or hatred of young people and adolescents will tend to avoid them and everything that is associated with them. Thus, they will tend to avoid crowds and situations in which there is an influx of young people, such as areas with institutes, educational institutions or entertainment venues such as discos.
Personal relationships can also be avoided not only with adolescents and young people but with people who associate with people of these ages, such as families with teenage children. To an extreme degree, and especially if the reaction is panic, it is possible to become isolated and have difficulties even going outside, although it is much less frequent.
As we have said, there is also a social impact, although in this aspect the reaction of hatred, contempt and depreciation towards this sector of the population is fundamentally relevant: the achievements, contributions and ideas proposed by young people can be ignored and discarded regardless of their merits, and can lead to a reaction of rejection and discrimination towards young people on a social, professional and even academic level.
They can be given fewer opportunities and left out of relevant decisions regardless of their ability. The fact that this discrimination is captured by young people themselves also means that they have less interest in getting to participate at a social level, something that in the long run and with an increasingly aging population can even be dangerous for the community.
Possible causes of fear of adolescents
The causes of ephebiphobia are not completely known, although it is considered that there is not a single cause but a series of factors that can influence its appearance.
To begin with, the phobia can appear by conditioning: it is possible that the person with ephebiphobia has suffered some aversive experience starring or associated with adolescence or youth. Thus, among the different causes we could find, for example, suffering from bullying during adolescence or the suffering of some type of abuse by a minor or a young person.
Another of the great possible causes of this phobia is found in the acquisition of a vicarious or learned conditioning at the sociocultural level. And it is that negative stereotypes of youth have often been internalized, both by the family environment and at a social level: young people are considered uncontrolled, little responsible and far-sighted, violent and prone to risk and lack of respect and to excess.
These prejudices are generalized and spread to all youth, provoking aversive reactions to their presence. In addition, the media also participated in this fact, frequently and until relatively recently perpetuating stereotypes and the belief that young people are inexperienced beings, interested only in themselves or as something that must have a chance in the future but not now. (sometimes for commercial interest).
Likewise, behind ephebophilia may be behind the fear and rejection of social change and generational change, of losing the position and role held up to now in pursuit of the new generations.
Treatment of this phobia
Treating ephebiphobia is possible, as with all other phobias. To begin with, exposure therapy is one of the most effective in the treatment of this type of problem : the person has to gradually expose himself to what he fears, so that little by little the anxiety decreases and can move towards situations that generate a higher level of anxiety.
When it comes to stereotypes, exposure can also help reduce them: mere exposure to prejudiced groups can often make us able to connect with them and learn that preconceptions are not applicable in all cases .
Relaxation techniques are also very useful to reduce basic anxiety and discomfort.
Another aspect that must be worked on, and in fact in great depth, is the cognitive one. Understanding what generates discomfort, fear or displeasure, why it generates it and what meaning it has for the subject can help to work it, in such a way that it can contribute to modify beliefs and ways of approaching reality in such a way that make it more adaptive and realistic. Likewise, psychoeducation and participation in joint activities with the feared population, as well as work with members of the environment who may be young or adolescents and whose relationship with the subject may be deteriorated (for example, children or nephews) may be useful. .
- Astroth, KA (1994). Beyond Ephebiphobia: Problem Adults or Problem Youth ?. Developing Public Library Resources for Young Adults. Florida Department of State, Division of Library Information Services, Tallahassee.