Teen Angst

It must be a very different experience being a teenager than when I was one. And that wasn’t so many years ago (she says, unconvincingly). Time is accelerating, or so it seems  – the gap in experience between generations seems to be widening. My generation seems fond of the belittling tactic – how can anyone younger than us say they have it hard – and yet in many ways I am glad I grew up when I did. I’d hate to be a teenager in 2010.

There are many reasons why this is. Partly, I’d hate to be a teenager again, full stop. Perhaps if I could look back on long summers of romance and pastel-shaded evenings of awakenings, things might be different, but as it stands I feel I blundered my way through my teenage years with all the elegance and grace of a hippo with a thorn in its foot. Being horsey gave me sufficient excuse to believe that the reason I wasn’t constantly attending parties was simply that I had too many responsibilities at home. Ahem. And yes, of course I had my share (in spades) of teen angst. I wrote reams of bad poetry, diaries in which I professed infatuations (nearly always unrequited) that I thought to be love, believing my emotions far deeper than mere “fancying” – no, I wasn’t so shallow. Course not. But I didn’t have my every move broadcast on social networking sites. I didn’t have the same number of teen pop and movie idols pressuring me into wannabe stardom. Justin Bieber, Hannah Montana (and many more I won’t embarrass myself by admitting knowledge of) weren’t even born. And yes of course there were young stars, but, for the most part, they were a lot older than I was.

Teens today have things I didn’t have. They have hair straighteners. Frizz-ease. Fashion designed for them. Magazines telling them how to be mini-adults and how to snog properly (OK, we had those too, I was just more interested in Your Horse. Just like today I’m more interested in Empire and Total Film.) They have so many TV shows aimed at them, full of beautiful, tiny people who spout impossibly precocious dialogue and experience improbably serious relationships. They have a sophistication I have never had. They have prom.

And yet. With great availability comes great responsibility. Because they have this wealth of product at their fingertips, the pressure to use it all is immense. It seems there is pressure from all sides. In all honesty, the majority of teenagers I know (and there aren’t many) are actually very similar to the ones around when I was growing up. They’re pretty normal. But the media-driven, celebritised world in which they are evolving is a frightening place. I suppose the world is always a frightening place, and not just to teenagers – but I never carried the risk of my idiotic behaviour being splashed all over Facebook, my friendship make-ups and break-ups broadcast on Twitter – my infatuations admitted to in the most public of public forums. Awful photos were pretty limited. I didn’t feel I was on camera. Thank goodness.

In some ways, I wish I’d had a pushier mother, who knew more about fashion and encouraged me to be thinner – but not really. I don’t mind the fact that my summers were mostly spent on the back of a horse, slightly overweight and with no romance to speak of (and what there was, I won’t speak of…) I don’t really mind that hair products were woefully inadequate. I sometimes wonder what my life would have been like if I’d been more aware of these things, if today’s glut of products were available. In all honesty, I suspect I’d have been pretty similar to how I am today – content with the basics, and clueless about anything more complex than a pencil eyeliner.

So whilst yes, I can’t help believing that exams have got easier, that some of the new subjects available in school aren’t quite so academically challenging, that being a WAG is not a worthy career aspiration, and that there is nothing wrong with believing that some universities are just better than others – I also have a certain sympathy for this generation-on-show, demonised by the same media that is creating their own dreams. It’s a strange, commercial, high-speed world – and I just hope I can get my son through it with some semblance of competence. I don’t envy him at all. But like all aspects of motherhood, I’ll do my best to muddle through somehow, getting more wrong than right. Hope he forgives me one day.

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~ by DelightingintheDetail on June 8, 2010.

4 Responses to “Teen Angst”

  1. I spend rather a lot of time with teenagers at the moment, and I’m glad to report that they’re really not all that different from the way that we were. Of course, they’re Italian, so there’s a cultural difference, but they have all the same worries and fears that we did, and aren’t really any more sophisticated. The girls are all in love with RPatz or Justin Bieber (depending on their age) and the boys are all mad about football. There are always Facebook-related dramas going on – but then again, when we were 14 there were dramas every day as well. I don’t think they take it any harder that the gossip goes onto Facebook rather than being spread by word of mouth. By the next day it’s all forgotten and they’ve moved onto something else. Ultimately, what is important (and this is true for every generation) is your immediate circle of friends. The rest of the world – well, it’s the rest of the world and, while it may break into your life occasionally, most of the time it’s pretty irrelevant. J will be fine. 🙂

  2. I agree – to a great extent anyway – I find it reassuring in a way that underneath all the gadgets and make-up, everyone’s just as insecure as ever they were – perhaps more so. Which is partly my point. I’m sure the majority handle it all perfectly well – having not known it any other way. It was prompted by a comment on Twitter this morning about what people did in the days before decent de-frizzing products. Made me laugh. And remember my hair of old. Yikes.

  3. We didn’t need straighteners! We had perms 😀 (Trying to catch up since been on holiday!)

  4. I was a teenager from 1963 through 1969! And I have frizzy hair. Terrible in high school but in the hippie years it was a sign of being “natural.” There are always ultra serious teens and very frivolous teens. The little problems of life and human relationships loom huge when you are a teen because you have so little perspective.

    Even with better hair products (what ones do you mean, by the way? ) I don’t think teens worry any less about their hair than they ever did.

    I do think that there was a time when young people were brought up to be more morally serious and would quickly have been reproached for expressing such self centered worries. I doubt there was ever a time when young people did not have them, but perhaps they had more responsibilities and hardships and could not dwell on them so much. But that time was before my time, as long ago as that may seem to you.

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