Kids these days need to learn how to have fun


Ellen - Credit: Archant

Ellen Widdup’s 2.4 Children

There are teenagers staying in the house next door to us. Unsupervised teenagers.

They arrived a couple of nights ago, a bedraggled bunch of boys with bum-fluff goatees, clad in hoodies.

“Uh oh,” I said to my other half, mildly gleeful at the thought of a little scandal in our tiny hamlet of peace and tranquillity.

“You were young once,” he reminded me.

It just so happened that on the day they showed up we had some friends of our own coming to stay – one of my best friends from school, her husband and two kids.

“Think there might be a party at the neighbours tonight,” I told her when she arrived, pointing out the youngsters over the fence.

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“Love-bites and skull-shattering hangovers,” she replied, and we sighed in shared delight.

She was my partner in crime when it came to teenage rebellion.

Henna-dyed hair, pierced noses, a Marlboro Light habit and a penchant for regularly getting blotto on a bottle of White Lightning.

Those excruciating rites of passage we remember forever.

But that’s the point, isn’t it?

After all, what is youth without its peccadillos?

We were enjoying our second glass of wine while reminiscing about our many transgressions when there was a tentative knock at the door.

“Good afternoon Mrs Widdup,” said the boy whose parents own the neighbouring property.

“Sorry to trouble you but I just wanted to let you know I was staying here a few nights with some friends.

“I’m aware you have young children so if at any point we are too loud, just give me a knock and we will pipe down.”

Stupefied I could only nod in return.

It is an almost universal belief that teenagers are trouble, isn’t it?

So what on Earth has happened in the two decades since I took my first foray into the world of catastrophic existential crisis?

That’s what I remember it to be, anyway.

Worrying not just about who you are but who you’re going to be. About what you look like, and whether anyone likes you.

A hilarious, unpredictable, sad and terrifying time where your self-esteem is at rock bottom and your hormones are riding a roller-coaster.

A stretch when any adult – your parents in particular – were not worth much more verbal communication than the occasional grunt.

Now I don’t have teenagers, yet. So I am particularly interested in what lies ahead.

I view Teens, a brand new Channel 4 documentary, like some kind of doom prophecy.

A bunch of 17-year-olds who have surrendered their digital lives – texts, Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram to the eyes of the general public – in an intimate and honest exploration of what it’s like to be young today.

And it turns out it is a little different from my day.

Fitting in is still important of course – but so is standing out.

They are also a lot savvier about the world around them.

Earlier this week a study found most youngsters are happier and healthier than teens a decade ago.

The findings, published online by the European Journal of Public Health, claimed a growing proportion of 11- to 15-year-olds eat fruit and vegetables, are physically active on a daily basis, keep their teeth clean, practise safe sex, and find it easy to talk to their parents about things that matter to them.

And in further proof that teenagers are perhaps the dullest they have ever been, new figures from the Department of Health show adolescent delinquency, that familiar rite of passage, is fast disappearing. Teenagers today are less likely to take drugs, smoke and drink.

And over the past 40 years, and especially the past 15, teen pregnancy rates have been in decline.

Seemingly, anything mum and dad got up to is now considered passé and pathetic ? even sex, drugs and rock and roll.

I don’t know what I make of this.

Part of me is thrilled that my children are likely to be far more sensible than I was.

The other part thinks that if being a teenager isn’t the time to test the boundaries any more, when is?

Maybe our Big Brother society is quashing any of this experimentation.

After all, this is the Facebook generation.

They live out every aspect of their lives online, a practice that impairs their ability to snog the face off a stranger on a Friday night because of the potentially very public consequences.

I would hate to be forever dogged by my own youthful misdemeanors.

That spotty boyfriend, that lime green shellsuit, the panstick makeup, the hair crimping, throwing up all over my Doc Martens after the first – and last – time I failed to “just say no”.

All those moments that would exist in perpetuity to shame me.

So who can blame the teens of today for following the straight and narrow?

These sober creatures that post pictures of themselves sipping kale and celery in an upmarket juice bar instead of passing out on a street corner in a trail of vomit.

These visions of pure skin in midi-skirts whose figures and wardrobes I should deride but envy instead.

These kids who offer polite conversation, opinions that count, who stand up for what they believe in instead of lounging around miserably and speaking in monosyllables.

They are smart, resilient, sensible.

Which in itself is a little unnerving.

After all, at around 10pm last night, all was silent at the house next door; the curtains were drawn and the lights were out.

Meanwhile, we had opened another bottle of red and were pogo-ing round the kitchen to the Sex Pistols.

If teens are no longer the generation of shame, embarrassment and perpetual hangovers, which is?

Perhaps I should invite the lads over for some vodka shots tonight and show them how it’s done.

@EllenWiddupRead more from Ellen here