Youth of Today

I was asked in a comment not long ago if I think that life is harder for young people now than it was in earlier decades. Listening to the Today Programme on Radio 4 this morning, I realised that the post I have spent some time drafting is made redundant by the superb and moving explanation, by two young lads of 15 and 16, of their life in Peckham. This takes you to Radio 4 and Today, and right now it’s under ‘teenagers in the area’. After tonight, I hope you will be able to find it in the ‘listen again’ archives for at least the next week. it’s also a podcast, which I hope you can find here

These were two articulate and sensible young men talking about the difficulty of staying safe and gaining an education in their area of London today. They are disgusted about the conditions that prevail at school, where couples have sex in the school toilets, where drug pushers have more influence and power than any authority and where many youngsters join in, as to stand aside leaves you in fear for your life. One of them saw his first stabbing, blood and guts hanging out, when he was nine. He was afraid to leave his home for days. He points out that most fathers are long gone and many mothers cannot be relied on, being addicted to drugs themselves.

Afterwards, there was an interview with the director of a youth charity. He said that a great deal had been done in the last few years. Unfortunately, by locking up the drug pushers in their twenties, the teenagers had taken over – the average age of these was now nearer seventeen than twenty-seven and these kids were more ruthless and vicious than their older counterparts.

I grieve for those boys. I don’t think that things have been so bad for at least a hundred years. There was, in the years between the two world wars, poverty and hardship, but anything like this was , if it existed, a small and isolated problem. Being treated harshly by an unfeeling boss or being beaten by a cruel headteacher; even unemployment, conscription, hunger, was not like this.

Even those youngsters who live in safer areas and have more money are not much better off. Those prostitutes who were murdered in Ipswich last year – they were pretty young girls, mostly from ‘respectable’ homes – I’m not giving a value judgement here, just saying that prostitution was not in their family background. They had, or so their families said, gone the way they had because they had become addicted to drugs. It was noticeable that, much as the reporters wanted them too, most locals, even in the local villages, were sympathetic and sad and they didn’t condemn them for their lifestyle.

I became a teenager in the late 1960s, when we were all pretty relaxed about drugs. Pot and LSD were pretty well all that were available and the worst thing that could happen (pretty bad, it was agreed) was a ‘bad trip’. I never took drugs and didn’t even smoke – peer pressure sent me the other way and I never intended to do anything I might become addicted to. But the late 60s, early 70s, were halcyon times if you were young, in this country. Even cynics like me (no hippy, me, I didn’t believe that if you love each other things would be all right. Well, correct that, they would be, but it ain’t never going to happen and I thought that hippyness was sadly delusional) were pretty cheerful. It has been downhill all the way since then, for the young. Well, so I think. I do love young people*, they try really hard in spite of everything and I hate those middle aged bastards like me (not me, people of my age) who are ruining the world.

Oh damn. You can see why drafting doesn’t work for me, if I didn’t post this at once, I’d be back to the drawing board in the morning.

*you count as ‘young people’ if you are young enough to be my child, that is, 36 and under. Anything older, sorry darlings, you’re my generation. You are still my generation unless you are older than my mother, who would now be 83. Or my father, who’d be 97 in July.

14 comments on “Youth of Today

  1. Wendz

    It doesn’t need redrafting anyway.

    I don’t know what to say feeling pretty low myself about the state of youth today…what has happened in the 30 years since I was a child? It just saddens me enormously.

  2. Anxious

    Yay! I am a young person!

    A very thought-provoking post. Just not sure how to formulate those thoughts into a coherent comment which would do this post justice :o/

  3. Murph

    I’m only 11 and soon will become a black teenager in Norfolk.

    Like dandelions, Youth find their way through the labyrinth and spring into the sunshine. Stop worrying about ’em!

  4. Z

    Wendz, if I looked at a draft tomorrow it would seem OTT. Murph has a point, but so do we. It used not to be like this.

    Not only Thatcher, Dandelion, many politicians bear their share of the responsibility. What about Shirley Williams, who wrecked a good educational system rather than build on it. The Conservatives would not have had their disastrously massive majority if the Labour government hadn’t screwed up so mightily and New Labour wouldn’t have had ten years of misrule if the Tories hadn’t gone so wrong in the 90s.

    None of them did it on purpose, but politicians are simple folk who have an idea and act on it, never looking past the obvious. No, wait, they don’t even see that, necessarily. They see what they want to see.

    Anxious, just think, you might have been my little girl…enough to make you run and hide?

    Murph, you are all that is best in dogs. Mr P is a lucky man. We need a few more black teenagers in Norfolk like those boys in Peckham, too. If they make it through the system, they will be bloody marvellous.

  5. maggie

    i could see the drastic change even within my generation. when i was younger, our definition of fun was playing hide and seek, mongo bean wars, house-playing at my cousin’s backyard. it was healthy and it was cheap. aside from the quantity of laundry powder it needs to address the dirty, smelly, and sweaty shirts afterwards, our fun didn’t cost anything.
    now, i rarely see kids playing at their backyards. their definition of fun lies with the playstation, the internet, the cable tv, and the malls.
    the kids didnt asked for it, it was introduced and displayed before them by the grownups who were kids once. its pretty ironic.

  6. Z

    Hello Maggie – I think a lot of parents neglect their children because they are busy and pressured and can only do so much. They feel guilty, worry about their physical safety and buy them stuff to keep them indoors. People, including the government, think play, activity, exercise, have to be organised sport, that’s monitored, supervised and regulated. I agree with you. Just playing is more fun.

  7. martina

    When I was growing up in the 70s my parents were very strict and I never did drugs or alcohol or was a “bad girl”. The wrath and disappointment of my parents would have been awful. They loved me and there was mutual respect. They always had time for me and listened. Parents today are so busy trying to earn money and buy kids things but they don’t realize that time, love and respect are far more important to a child than material things. Kids need rules and consistency and to know their parents are always able to listen and spend time with them.

  8. Imperatrix

    I think the culture of money has destroyed much that was good in society. From the middle income parents who buy “stuff” for their kids ( and work longer and longer to be able to buy the stuff), to the ghetto kids who look up to a gold-bejeweled gangsta rather than to people like MLK Jr.

    Hmmm, I’ll have to look it up, but I recently heard a number like, in 1962 48% of University of California students thought making money was the goal of life and in 2005 87% thought that was the goal. With numbers like that, how can we hope to fix this planet we live on?

    I would find the root of that in Republicans (big business over social issues, anti-union, etc) — yeah, like Thatcher.

  9. The Boy

    M…m…m…my generation!

    I still think its not that much worse than its always been, it was just a bit more invisible for a while.

    True, the pervasiveness of drugs is new, and that has brought a whole slew of new issues to society. However, issues such as child and partner abuse, both physical and sexual have trended downwards considerably. Doesn’t mean they don’t still happen, but now its visible, its instance is far less (so the stats say).

    Saying that, we’ve clearly got a segment of society that is growing up pretty disenfranchised.

  10. Dandelion

    Dear The Boy – What stats are you looking at? I must have heard about different ones.
    Dear z – if you are right about politicians (and I feel that you are), oughtn’t people to do something about it? No power without responsibility, that’s what I believe in.

  11. Z

    Dandelion, I haven’t any answers. I think changes came too fast and good practice was thrown out with bad. One difficulty is that it is now a ‘blame culture’ and anyone seen as ‘guilty’ is nastily and personally hounded. The pressure politicians and others are put under by this means that cover-ups are bound to happen.

    If we could move forward to ‘taking responsibility’ rather than ‘shouldering blame’ an improvement might take place, but I don’t see it being likely to happen.

    I think the Boy has a valid point, though I don’t agree with him entirely. But for instance, look at what we used not to know about. Girls and women who became pregnant and were put into homes and treated as criminal or mentally ill, to take one example. If the two of you start trading statistics I’m staying out of it, however.


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