Good news; today’s teenagers are less likely to drink, smoke and take drugs than their predecessors, according to statistics from the Department of Health this week. This, it would seem, makes them the most sensible, healthy and fresh-smelling generation for a decade.
But…is it only good news?
I’m probably supposed to rejoice and crack open a can of sparkling mineral water to toast this announcement of Good Behaviour, Goji-berry eating and the death of the teenage hangover. As a mother of two teenagers myself, and with another hot on their heels, (or Converses, in their case) this wholesome living of our Youth should make me feel very happy indeed.
And in some ways, of course, it does. Tequila slammers, nicotine and hallucinogens are not exactly known for increasing life expectancy or improving general health.
But something about this Generation X-tra Clean makes me…uneasy. And it’s this:
Teenagers are supposed to rebel, and do Bad Things. They are trying to find out who they are – and who they are not – by ruffling their greasy Teenfeathers, getting them burned a bit, provoking their parents into an early breakdown, back-combing their hair into oblivion and fumbling about with tongues at school discos after a can of rum-and-Bacardi-and-gin-and-vodka-and-Malibu-and-coke.
This is an entirely natural stage of development from child into fully fledged Older Human, who still tries desperately to fumble about with tongues – though not in school discos any more, unless they want to be arrested – and now has a crippling mortgage and mild incontinence to boot.
Teenagers are supposed to experiment, take risks, and make mistakes. That’s how they learn what’s good, and what leads to a cracking hangover.
And, of course, they are still experimenting.
But instead of doing it grungily behind the bike sheds, on the school bus and down in the local park with a stained copy of Razzle…they are doing it somewhere else.
And, to an ever larger extent, that ‘somewhere’ is online. On phones. On tablets. On all the time.
And this is where some of my unease comes in.
Generation Xtra Clean conducts ever more of its important human ‘interactions’ alone, but with hundreds of people looking in.. They make friends by accepting Friend Requests. They express their personalities through following carefully-selected Instagram accounts; measure their self-worth in ‘likes’; see thousands of eye-wateringly sexual images a day on their phones if they want to, instead of by passing one well-thumbed top-shelf mag around the dining room in exchange for a KitKat (oh, just me then); and instead of a quick punch-up in the playground they have teenage scraps by silently but pointedly ‘unfriend’ing each other.
Yeah, take THAT you bastard! Click.
It all seems terribly measured, clinical and oddly unnatural to me.
So if I’m supposed to find this sober, controlled and ‘safe’ form of teenage living ‘better’ than the days when I staggered home from the pub in Oxford and played a game of ‘Try To Make My Pupils Look Normal So Dad Can’t See I’m Pissed’, usually before falling over into a plant pot, then I’m afraid I’m going to really struggle.
For me there is something cleanly dirty about hands-on, down-and-messy Old Skool teenage Badness and experimentation.
I would rather my children downed a can of Heineken with their mates in the park occasionally than spent two hours Snap-chatting posed Selfies of themselves in their rooms, with their doors closed, while watching the Great British Bake-Off on repeat.
I would rather they threw up at a friend’s party and thus learned about alcohol tolerance, and that Campari and Special Brew don’t mix and hangovers are bloody awful and mean you stink the next day, than spent an hour staring at Photoshopped images of Cara Delevingne online, and loathing themselves.
I would (almost) rather they had a smoke and snogged a sweaty, pubescent zit-incubator so hard the two of them had to have their braces separated by the fire brigade, than sat alone in Cyberspace playing computer games with people they don’t know, and listening to music whose key message is ‘Don’t I look hot? Please like my Instagrammed bare arse.’
It’s all just so…boring, apart from anything else. And if teenagers become so boring that they bore the adults who bore them (work with me here…) we’re all in trouble.
I don’t want my children to smoke, drink or take drugs. Really, I don’t. At all.
And I’m glad if teenagers really are living more healthily, in some ways.
But I think I would rather see them doing some old-fashioned Teenage Bad Things, getting dirty, relaxing a bit and learning first-hand about people and Life, than watch them grow up living ‘cleanly’ in a disturbingly manufactured, controlled but uncontrollable world they feel they can create for themselves, while having no clue how to deal with the hard knocks and bumps – and the tricky decisions – of Real Life because they’ve lived so little of it that they don’t understand how it works.
There’s a danger in that, to both their physical and mental heath, that I don’t think we fully understand yet. And its one we should be very cautious of.
See you all down the disco on Friday, then. Beers on me. Tongues optional.
Follow Liz Fraser on Twitter: www.twitter.com/lizfraser1