The children of Thatcher oust Generation X

8th June 2001 at 01:00
Teenagers today are still locked into the self-centred culture of the Eighties, according to a new book. Jo Hurst reports.

Today's young people have been more influenced by Margaret Thatcher and John Major than Tony Blair, according to a new book about teenagers' values.

The Values Debate - A Voice from the Pupils says that the young people of Britain are more Generation T than Generation X, as their American counterparts are named.

Author the Rev Leslie Francis, professor of practical theology at the University of Wales, Bangor, arranged a survey of 33,982 pupils aged between 13 and 15 across England and Wales during the nineties.

He says the legacy and ideals of the Iron Lady live on in today's youth.

"Margaret Thatcher would have much to be proud of in Generation T. Here is a generation of young people who are firmly committed to the work-based culture of self-sufficiency, who encourage private enterprise and often rate individual self-expression above social collectivity," he says.

Today's teenagers lack self-esteem, worry about their exams, want to get to the top in their jobs, think the political colour of the government is irrelevant but almost half feel they can help to improve their world.

More than a quarter have often thought of taking their own lives.

A substantial minority are racist and homophobic. Sixteen per cent think there are too many black people living in Britain and 37 per cent say homosexuality is wrong. Although 71 per cent would have sexual intercourse outside marriage, 36 per cent believe that abortion is wrong.

Their values are an interesting mixture. More than half think it is all right to travel on a train without buying a ticket but 85 per cent would draw the line at shoplifting.

The police are better thought-of professionally than teachers. Fifty-four per cent of respondents think the police do a good job. For teachers, the figure is 44 per cent.

In a scientific age, superstition lives, the survey shows. Forty per cent of those questioned believe in ghosts and nearly a third believe that it is possible to contact spirits of the dead.

While only 41 per cent believe in God, nearly three-quarters want to get married in church and more than half want their children baptised. Forty-five per cent believe in life after death and half think that they can be a Christian without going to church.

Professor Francis said the survey revealed a generation of young people who live in constant anxiety about the pressure of performing well at school and "who accept as normal a high level of suicidal ideation among their peers".

Pupils from 163 schools filled in the questionnaire, which was completed under exam-like conditions. The children were questioned on 15 areas of their lives, including schooling, personal well-being, sexual morality, work, attitudes towards right and wrong, religious beliefs, and politics.

These findings were then examined in the context of the pupils' age, sex, social class, parental relationships, church attendance and how much television they watched.

Professor Francis said: "The 1988 Education Reform Act as resulted in the question of values moving higher up the educational and political agenda through the 1990s and into the 21st century.

"Against this background a new survey was conceived which would be able to provide secure information about the values of Year 9 and Year 10 pupils during the final decade of the last century as schools prepared to shape values education for the third millennium."

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said:

"Although I agree with what Professor Francis says in his precis, I would not agree with the fact that we can be proud of their 'individual self-expression above social collectivity'.

"The generation of pupils who he interviewed are definitely more self-centred, more egocentric and less socially aware, which isn't a good thing. I hope that under the Labour government we help pupils to develop a stronger social conscience. I think what Blair is trying to do is to retain entrepreneurial traits built up under Thatcher, but couple this with a much stronger sense of collectivism.

"The unfortunate thing is that under the 18 years of a Conservative government the pressure that children were put under grew and this has accelerated in the last four. So to some extent pupils only have time to think about themselves."

Margaret Morrissey, of the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations, said: "I think he is spot on with his observations, for as well as my role as spokesperson for the NCPTA, I am also an OFSTED lay inspector and have probably been into 200 secondary schools.

"I have spoken to many students and am amazed at how well they've grown up despite the pressures. They are very level-headed and conscious of the environment."

Review, Friday Magazine, Education Books, page 20

HOW THE 21st-CENTURY YOUNG THINK

Personal well-being

* 65 per cent feel they are not worth much as a person

* 52 per cent often feel depressed

* 27 per cent have often felt like taking theirown lives

School

* 74 per cent worry about exams

* 64 per cent worry about school work

* 72 per cent said they were happy at school

* 90 per cent said they like the people they went to school with

* 44 per cent thought teachers did a good job

EMPLOYMENT

* 95 per cent think it is important to work hard when they got a job

* 87 per cent wanted to get to the top in their job

* 85 per cent would not like to be unemployed

* 77 per cent said a job gives a sense of purpose

Politics

* 44 per cent said it did make a difference which political party was in

power

* 24 per cent said that private schools should be abolished

* 70 per cent said there weren't too many black people living in Britain

Social concerns

* 66 per cent were concerned about pollution and the environment

* 61 per cent were concerned about poverty in the third world

* 55 per cent worried about nuclear war

* 45 per cent feel that they can do somethingto help to solve the world's

problems

* 58 per cent said there was not too muchviolence on television


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