Baby adults are all the rage

27th May 2005 at 01:00
Amid all the uproar about hoodies, uniformed chain-gangs and the allegedly feral rising generation, I keep on thinking of Peaches Geldof.

I can't help it: she has been on my mind ever since that fearful programme on Sky, Teenage Mind in which the poor moppet, then all of 15 years old, was taken up by a magazine and a television company, flattered rotten, and cozened with thousands of pounds into making a "truth about teenagers" film that will haunt her for the rest of her days.

Don't know whether you caught it, but it was matchlessly hilarious. Young Miss Geldof set out to discover what makes teenagers such different and perilous beasts. She started with her own friends. To paraphrase, this first section went more or less like this: "Yah, we're rahlly rahlly rebels, I mean we just go out and, like, we don't care, we just go shopping and try on all the wigs and giggle and then go for a latte and some rahlly good choccie cake. Cool."

Rebels? Rebels? It was like watching a miniature gaggle of Knightsbridge yummy-mummies: the boundaries of their safe urban little world consisted of shopping and being cool and having blonde hair extensions and the right kind of flat little tummy. Twenty years on, they will hardly be different except that they will have Chelsea tractors to drive.

Then in search of variety Peaches went off and found some poorer teenagers in, if I remember correctly, Bolton. She was a bit shocked that they hung around bus shelters making a noise because it was "inconsiderate". Then she met some earnest young green-teens doing voluntary work in the countryside, and found them desperately uncool and woefully unlike her friends, with chainstore anoraks and earnest chat about biodiversity, I mean, like, blah!

Luckily, in a unique moment of honesty which almost made the hour worthwhile, after looking down her nose at them for a while she admitted that actually there might be something quite cool in not being desperate to be cool.

The reason the hoodie row keeps reminding me of her is that she illustrated perfectly a neglected fact: that teenagers are just younger versions of the rest of us, only a bit less good at dissimulating and controlling their rage, and no good at all at empathy. We all split into tribes, though in adulthood tribes interlock and overlap more effectively, because we are more pragmatic.

Pretty, rich little Peaches and her premature ladies-who-lunch are one tribe, with a clear adult equivalent.

The scowling Bolton bus-shelter tribe will not be all that different in 10 years time, except that, if they've got jobs by then, they'll be able to do their hanging around inside pubs and clubs instead of in the car parks.

The young countryside volunteers, cheerful and practical and uncool, will be running the PTA and the local council. And some of the really feral children - who if truth be told are few, and often have damn good reasons to be so nasty - will most likely still be in trouble, or prison.

Perhaps we should not be so precious about teenagers then, so anxious to generalise about them, lump them together and process them as one separate sub-species. An 11 or 12-year-old is indeed very different from an adult, and deserves considerable leeway and specialised understanding. A 15 or 16-year-old might get on better if genuinely treated - as teenage apprentices once were - as a rather less experienced adult.

Perhaps seeking the secret key to the "teenage mind" is a load of nonsense.

They may be sensitive and depressed, sure - so may adults. They may be oversexed - so may adults. They may be bored and frustrated in their job (their "job" being school) so give them the sort of options that adults have: to change direction and do something different and more practical.

They may be rude and offensive, but maybe from time to time it wouldn't hurt to give them sharp reproofs that rude adults suffer.

As I said once before in this column, the issue of sexual taunting of teachers arises here: in a workplace the perpetrators would be in terrible legal trouble for harassment, and maybe the same should be true of schools.

They may be horrible to live with: well, you would kick up at your flatmates leaving wet towels on the floor, so perhaps you should kick up at your children to the same extent and make it clear that they are going to the launderette with the towels - on their own money. Perhaps our sense of how different they are has become exaggerated.

In any case, they always say they want "respeck!" and what could be more respectful than treating them like grown-ups? Hell, I wish I'd thought of all this five years ago.

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