Today’s Observer has an interesting article on how Teenagers are pushing the boundaries and parents don’t know what to do. Here are some highlights:
How moving it was to see the friends of 15-year-old Isobel Reilly hold a vigil for her in west London, releasing balloons on the green in her memory. Isobel, a student at Chiswick Community School, suffered a cardiac arrest and died at her friend’s house party … She and others at the party are understood to have taken drugs, thought to include ecstasy, ketamine, LSD and amphetamines. Dodgeon and Hadjipateras had left the house, allowing their daughter Rebecca to have the party.
At which point the impulse may be to feel censure towards the adults. How could they leave these children unsupervised? How could any of the parents let their children stay out so late? In my experience, in a situation that is tragic enough, this kind of judgment would be cruel and unfair.
I never met Isobel Reilly, but – as a one-time parent of a young teenager in the west London area – I do feel I have some level of insight. Not to mention the deepest sympathy for any of the parents and children involved. It’s possible that Isobel, at 15, was in some way caught up by a toxic youth movement that, in my observation, has been a huge influence, in recent years, in better-off parts of Britain. This is not “Broken Britain”. Not this time. This is the young, feral middle class – moneyed to varying extents, super-connected by the internet, egged on by each other to self-destructive behaviour. And for many parents, these teenagers are increasingly impossible to protect and control.
The party line is: “Teenagers have always been the same.” I’m not so sure that’s true any more. Disposable income, the internet and mobile phones have changed everything. These kids are well-organised, articulate and extremely powerful. What is more, they are all too aware of this power … A well-connected 14- or 15-year-old in London can go to a party of a friend (or friend of a friend) every single night of the week – with or without parental permission. Often without.
This is not to say that there is always something appalling going on, or that these young people are in any way “evil” or “bad”. In particular, the notion that the girls are acting like “sluts” has long been overplayed – their silly posing on networking sites just makes it seem that way. Likewise, the vast majority of teenagers I’ve come across – even if they do plod off down the wrong road for a while – are genuinely lovely at heart.
However, some of them really do push their luck, and way beyond the usual teenage “it’s not fair” routines. At the extreme end, they rule their families, terrorising parents into giving them unprecedented freedoms and privileges, such as, say, unsupervised all-night parties. It goes something like this. Child to parent: “But you must leave, please, you’ll spoil it otherwise, everyone else’s parents allow it. Just go!” (Repeat ad nauseam.)
And who are we to judge the parents who allow these excessive privileges? The liberal method of dealing with teenagers is nothing new, and in many ways admirable. Tactics such as letting them run off steam, keeping them close, imposing a state of “organised rebellion” work sometimes. The problem is that there may be many more young people demanding ever more boundaries to be pushed back … [and] … these young people are getting younger. Slurping a bit of your mum’s Martini Rosso or puffing on a Silk Cut are one thing, but I’d have thought that (if you really must, and it’s probably best not to), your late teens and early-to-mid 20s are the key periods for experimentation with illegal substances. Now what is it – 13, 14, 15? What were the drugs at that party – ecstasy, ketamine, LSD, amphetamines? …
For those out there who are muttering, “What about the parents?” – yeah, what about the parents? How about a little sympathy for once? Trying to protect the temporarily feral can be a full-time (miserable, exhausting) occupation, a losing game for parents, who probably have careers and other children …
It’s possible that what happened could have happened to literally thousands of other young people on any given weekend. All I know is that, as I watched Isobel Reilly’s heartbroken friends release those balloons, I immediately reacted the way I imagine a lot of other parents did: there but for the grace of God.
This scares me as I think about bringing up Daniel – what world will he live in, and how will Hannah and I be able to parent Daniel when, not if, he rebels against our boundaries and guidance.