When I was a teenager, my elders used to intone that youth is wasted on the young, and I never had a clue what they meant. Youth was pretty much the only perk of being too young to drive a car, too young to earn money, too young realise that boys who don’t like you back are not interesting and poetic, merely tiresome. The least you deserve, when you feel like the world is plotting against you and that only Morrissey understands your torment, is springy joints and radiant skin.
Now I am no longer springy or radiant myself, I still think I couldn’t have been more right: youth is a tiny perk for all the difficulties of being a teenager, more so now than ever before. Because whichever way you look at it, this is pretty much the worst time to be young since we stopped shunting infants up chimneys.
Firstly, unless your parents are garillionaires, you’re heading off to uni in the confident knowledge that you’re going to graduate fifty grand in the red. I’m not sure I would have studied Classics on those terms, because the financial risk might well have seemed too great. So I can only imagine that thousands of kids are turning their backs on what they really want to study, in favour of what seems like a more sensible option. Even if, as Classics luckily turned out for me, their first choice would have made them perfectly employable in the long-term, and stupidly happy in the short-term.
Then there’s the Local Government Association survey released this week, which shows that council cuts will disproportionately affect young people: closed youth clubs and libraries and parks and Sure Start groups, for example. Councils can’t just stop providing social care or collecting rubbish (much as my council likes to give the latter a go, from time to time), so the kids’ stuff goes instead.
Teenagers have no hope of owning their own home till they’re claiming a pension, by which time, ironically, there will be no pensions. Even my generation is expecting to swap our retirement plans for the plot of Logan’s Run (only we’ll be executed by the state at, say, 60, rather than 30. If we’re lucky). So what hope for those twenty years behind us? They should start practising their Michael-York-style escape plans right now.
And as if all that weren’t bad enough, they are expected to have strong opinions on Justin Bieber, to be able to name the entire cast of Glee, and to know which team they are on, out of vampires or werewolves. ‘Neither’ is not an option.
Grouchy oldsters will point out that kids today have far more cool stuff than we ever had, and they’re right, of course. I went to speak at a school earlier this year, and was slightly amazed to find that I was virtually the only person there who didn’t own an iPad. Well, me and the headteacher. But teenagers only have about ten seconds to enjoy their stuff, because they live with the gadget of Damocles hanging over their heads: as soon as a new version of anything comes out, they either get it or become social outcasts. At least in my day, peer pressure simply persuaded you that cider and black was a nice drink, and that Marlboro Lights were healthy, like a salad.
I can only hope that today’s teens are as self-absorbed as I was during the last recession, as I don’t remember ever worrying about it – I never read the papers or watched the news, I was too busy dyeing my hair pink. I never worried about my future employment, I had a Saturday job. And I don’t remember ever eating five portions of fruit or veg a day, because I was too busy eating Monster Munch and washing it down with Quatro. Gratifyingly, if undeservedly, I grew up with neither rickets nor fillings. So perhaps things weren’t – and aren’t - as bad as all that, and the advantage of being young is that you know that.