The kids are all right, despite culture of lack


Generation Facebook live in a world-as-market where many protective social mores have eroded

BEING A teacher at second level gives you a window into a world that you should be far too old to know about. Mind you, it’s a window, not a door.

So what do I see, from my limited vantage point?

By and large, the kids are all right. I’m long past the stage where I started teaching the kids of kids I once taught, so I think I can compare. (I’m waiting for the first grandchild of a past pupil. Any day now . . .)

Yes, most of the kids are all right, and what makes it so amazing is that they live in a world that is, to put it mildly, very challenging.

But first, let’s look at the positive changes. Parents take their role of cherishing each child as an individual seriously. Parents listen more to their children, and tend not to dismiss their feelings and fears. That is no small thing.

Young people are well-versed in the language of emotions. They are more overtly affectionate. They often have a delightfully wry sense of the ridiculous. They appreciate friendship.

They have better relationships with their parents than the previous generation. They are not particularly rebellious.

They take for granted a range of communication tools that were strictly in the realm of science fiction for their parents. They expect life to be good to them.

And every one of those positive aspects has a downside. When life is not good to them, they are often bewildered and have very few coping skills.

The parents who love and cherish them sometimes also over-protect them and micro-manage their lives. And of course, parents’ relationships are more prone to breakdown than before.

The Americans have dubbed them the “teacup generation”. When the first fall comes, they break. So the kids who are not all right are really suffering. Those wonderful, cosy, friendship circles look very different when you are looking longingly at them from outside.

It is hard to realise that those inside are sometimes hanging on by their fingernails, too.

Bullying has become more insidious, and far harder to combat. Young people are now so clued-in that occasionally when they feel they may be accused of bullying, they make a pre-emptive strike and claim that they, in fact, are the victim.

Having grown up in a media culture where it is perfectly acceptable for adults to insult and denigrate people who are taking part in a glorified talent contest, they are less inhibited about criticising each other.

Having grown up in a culture that has viewed them as a valuable market since before they could talk, they come under relentless pressure both to consume, and to conform to unattainable ideals of bodily perfection.

They are cherished and valued by their parents, but everything else in their culture is telling them that they need endless amounts of fixing to be even vaguely acceptable. No wonder they feel torn.

Those wonderful communication tools mean that they are never “off”. If things are not going well with friends, they cannot close the front door of their homes on their troubles. They will be miserably haunting Facebook instead, gazing carefully at posed photos of everyone else’s wonderful lives.

Their peers sigh that they can’t wear the same dress twice, because of Facebook. The ones outside the cosy circle long to have that problem.

They are barraged with information, but have stunning gaps in their knowledge. They may be minutely informed on aspects of their own culture, but may not have any idea who John Hume or Ian Paisley is, or why they should care. (Some, of course, buck this trend.)

And Fiona Neary of the Rape Crisis Centre was absolutely right when she spoke of the influence of pornography. As someone who still calls herself a feminist, I am appalled at the pervasiveness of pornography in young people’s lives.

Something went seriously wrong, sisters. Instead of men changing in order to become more respectful of women’s relationship needs, women are expected to behave like the pornographic fantasies of yesteryear, and to consider it normal and acceptable.

If the norm for people in their 20s and younger is what once would have been called promiscuous behaviour, the right to call a halt becomes blurred.

It is all part of what Fiona Neary calls the erosion of consent. As she said, add alcohol and you have the perfect storm.

No wonder Katniss Everdeen of The Hunger Games is a popular role model. She lives in a world full of threat, where you can only rely on family and friends, and she does her best in horrendously difficult circumstances to survive.

People have criticised the violence of the Hunger Games, and the moral ambivalence of Katniss as a heroine.

To which I can only say, if you think author Suzanne Collins approves of the dystopia she has created, you have not realised the function of the character, Peeta, a young man of fundamental decency who is literally willing to lay down his life for his friend.

Perhaps you can see why in many ways I admire the current generation. They live in an enormously complicated world, where many of the protective social mores have eroded, and still, most of them are all right.

And even the ones that seem most damaged by the relentless pressures often find their way to being all right, and even exceptionally mature. This vantage point at the window is truly a privilege.