David Bainbridge, a reproductive biologist at Cambridge University, writes that British teenagers “are an increasingly responsible and sober bunch…”
Teen pregnancies are at an all-time low, drug-fuelled dance culture is vanishing, careers are planned from a tender age, and preparations are made for a lifetime of tuition fee loan repayments and pension contributions.
This, he claims, means we are “consigning our teenagers to an awful, bland sensibleness” which is “simply not natural”. I think back a mere couple of generations, to when my Granddads were teenagers. One of them left school in his adolescence to begin work and the other entered the air force for his national service. Countless others followed them, perhaps relieved that unlike men of previous years they were not under fire in France. Teenagers of recent years have been freer than anyone throughout the history of man.
I share Bainbridge’s dislike for the compulsion of some teenagers to use skills and experiences to bloat their CVs in the style of athletes using steroids, but his exposure to such people may be biased by his workplace. There have never been more bands playing, books written, blogs updated, films made and artworks produced. True, work-oriented subjects like business studies and computer science are at their most popular, but students on such courses would have worked in bygone years. Until all tasks are being fulfilled by robots and computers, those of us who are not very academic or creative will remain vocational.
It is when Bainbridge writes on sex n’ drugs that he gets very odd. Teen pregnancy rates have dropped, but teenage sex is commoner than ever. They just use contraception. As for drugs, Bainbridge fears that teens are unaware that “the occasional tipple can be [a] positive…experience”. Young people who clog the streets in freshers week have more than the odd drink, and if he thinks they have been scared off drugs he should go to a dubstep party. Are these good things? Broken families cloud the sexual revolution, while intoxicants waste time and health as well as inspiring pleasure. And, besides, are these the best outlets for youthful risk-taking and self-expression? I don’t think so.
It is a blessing for teenagers to have time and space to employ their enthusiasm in exploring worlds, both real and of their imaginations. There are people to speak to; places to visit; talents to hone; artworks to enjoy and ideas to acquaint themselves with. Would that more could recognise what others of us grasp too late: that one never regrets failing to spend time on social media or in front of the TV. The idealisation of youthful libertinism, though, evokes a series of generations of adults who aged to find that the dreams they had concocted in a haze of pot smoke and pop music were mistaken, and pine for the days when they were more naive about the world. This is no excuse for inflicting that naivete upon their children.