Calling all Victor Meldrews: stop blaming the teens

The thing about sweeping generalisations is that they can rarely be relied upon

It appears there are few things worse to be than a teenager or young adult in Ireland at present.

The nation's Victor Meldrews seem determined to hold them responsible for all and sundry as the negative narrative towards children and young people steps up a few years.

I am the proud owner of three of this particular species – one female, two male, all taller than me and all with seemingly bottomless pits for stomachs. And, as apparently goes with the territory, they drive me to distraction on a regular basis.

The teenager reputation is legendary and there are few parents who will tell you that raising a teenager is a walk in the park. Sullen, difficult, contrary, awkward, argumentative, self-centred – to list but a few of the criticisms frequently levied their way. It’s no wonder the dread sets in well before the hormones hit.

And so it came to pass at a drinks party, many moons ago in the pre-Covid days of old, that a group of us – all parents of smallies and primary school children – surrounded another parent, well regarded for her common sense and level-headedness, and grilled her about the challenges of the years ahead.

We hung on her every word. “Always presume them to be pathological liars,” she began, to the sound of laughter from her enthralled audience who believed her comment to be for dramatic effect. Her expression remained resolute. “Ah no, I mean it,” she continued. “Remember your own teenage years,” she said as we all shuffled a little nervously.

“Always give your teens a way back,” she continued, “the certainty that they can seek your help without fear of your judgment or anger if they find themselves in a situation they can’t manage or they’re uncomfortable with.”

You could almost see the mental notes being made as we listened in silence and ran hypothetical situations through our minds.

I’ve often wondered how many times the party attendees heeded her advice over the course of the minefield teenage years that followed.

Our young people are sacrificing milestones, rites of passage, peer support, learning support, much anticipated travels and lots more besides

I found the early lockdown restrictions hard. My young adult and teens did too. I’m sure they weren’t alone as young people across the country stepped up to the plate, helping to flatten the curve by sacrificing milestones, rites of passage, peer support, learning support, much anticipated travels and lots more besides. The “get over yourselves” brigade were quick to dismiss their efforts, forgetting what it was like to be young themselves it seems. The actions of a few in the age group attributed to all.

Yet, they soldiered on stoically doing all that was asked of them for the good of all. “In it together” was embraced, even by those at an emotionally vulnerable age. There were very few complaints about missed activities and outlets and there was an accepting that they couldn’t see their friends for a period.

My eldest, a first year in college, swapped lectures and planned summer travels for extra shifts working in the supermarket at a time when we knew little about the nature of the pandemic and were terrified to the point of stockpiling toilet roll.

It was a relief to all when we could finally see our friends and family again. “Would you prefer me to wear a mask in the house Jen?” my son’s teenage friend asked the first time he called to ours following the easing of restrictions. Another teen friend availing of a lift on a separate occasion presumed to put on a mask in the car which, considering much of the public’s reluctance to wear one at this early stage, showed a consideration and sense of responsibility beyond his tender years. Not at all in keeping with the teenagers’ reputation.

I suppose that’s the thing about sweeping generalisations, they can rarely be relied upon.

Taking our dog for a walk proved a lifeline to all the children over the course of the restrictions. It was motivation to get out and walk the same circuit over and over again and it’s a motivation that has continued, even if the route has been mixed up a little.

The younger teen went for a walk with his friend and our dog the other night. An older woman shouted angrily at them to get out of her way, and barged by. Thrown by the encounter, they decided to bring the dog home.

Not for the first time during this pandemic, I’ve wondered who should be setting an example for whom.