'No drink, no drugs, no relationships - so just what do today's teenagers do?'

TODAY'S teenagers are a boring lot. They stay indoors, worry about homework and, it would appear, are not terribly interested in finding a girlfriend or boyfriend.

New research suggests that almost two-fifths (38 per cent) of 13 to 15-year-olds have never had a romantic relationship, compared with 33 per cent of adults’ experiences when that age, writes Jayne Dowle.

In addition, most of them haven’t tried to smoke, or experimented with illegal drugs. Reports from the USA, in particular, suggest that even learning to drive – that time-honoured rite of passage – is falling out of favour. Many young people are avowed teetotallers, a sentence I couldn’t have ever imagined writing when I was 16 and getting served in pubs every Friday and Saturday night.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Obviously, tighter legislation has put paid to repeat performances of some of my own teenage misadventures. Strict ID rules for buying alcohol, for example.

And wider social changes have had an impact; when I was a teenager, we were expected to take part-time jobs outside the home as soon as we could. Today, there is so much pressure to study for exams that many teenagers shun paid work as an unnecessary distraction.

I can certainly speak from parental experience. My son, Jack, is now 15. To date, we have held only one teenage party at home. Rather than shove us out the door, or hold the shindig sneakily behind our backs, he begged his significant adults to stay upstairs so we could keep an eye on things.

Jack called it a party, but really it was a gathering of lads who played on FIFA 17 and sang karaoke to each other all night. No girls were invited. Talk about risk-averse. Out of the eight lads present, only one is “courting”.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

I was intrigued then to read this new research from the children’s charity Barnardo’s. It trots out all the usual points we already know about modern youngsters: they’re not keen

on playing outdoors, they shun reading books in favour of social media and they don’t get enough sleep.

Hang on a minute, however, and read between the lines. The findings also reveal some challenging truths about young people today. Teenagers now are more likely than previous generations to confide in their parents, friends and teachers when they have a difficult or embarrassing issue.

More than three-quarters (77 per cent) of young teens said they would talk to a parent, 67 per cent to a friend and 23 per cent to a teacher – all much higher than previous generations.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

I think we adults should give ourselves a pat on the back for our part in this. I remember the dark days of my own adolescence when strict moral codes made inter-generational discussion of even mildly awkward subjects such as periods squeamishly embarrassing. We gained most of our knowledge of such intimate matters from the “Cathy and Claire” problem page in Jackie magazine.

Fast forward to 2017 and we parents find ourselves indispensable for all things personal and social. Take my latest pressing task, which is to track down Jack’s maths and science GCSE syllabi and past exam papers so I can help him directly with his revision.

We parents try to reach out and meet our children’s needs at every turn, so really, we have no right to complain if they want to stay home with us every weekend and hog the sofa and the TV remote.

The Americans call it “extra-dependence”. Their psychologists and academics are busily engaged in writing clever papers exploring the potential implications of this major sociological change. The fear is that generations of young people will suffer from arrested development and find themselves unable to function in the adult world.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Meanwhile, as this world becomes an ever-more dangerous place, such behaviour takes deeper root. This stands for big things, such as terrorism and smaller things, closer to home. There’s a reason why my teenage son is reluctant to go out with his friends every night; it’s because certain ones are prone to get into trouble through anti-social behaviour. Aware that life is fragile, our children are self-protective in a way we never were. This impacts on everything, especially relationships outside the family home.

Before we panic that we will never have any grandchildren to knit for, it might not be as bad as we think. The point is that today’s children who are lucky enough to live in stable homes, with a caring parent to listen to their problems, are growing up with their priorities right.

What we should do is build on this closeness instead of moaning that our kids never leave the house. Then, perhaps their generation will repay us in kind. They may well be the ones to turn back the clock and put time and effort into maintaining strong family bonds, instead of abandoning their elders to a lonely old age.

Find Jayne Dowle in The Yorkshire Post every Thursday