When Did Teenagers Become So Sensible?

14/08/2014 17:03 | Updated 20 May 2015

Two teenage couples drinking soft drinks in a cafe

To many adults, teenagers are pretty much regarded as devils with acne – especially during the summer holidays.

Hanging out on street corners, drinking and smoking. Getting off their heads on drugs. Intimidating anyone who dares give them a cursory glance. Terrorising the tops of buses, parks and neighbourhoods with loud music and aggressive behaviour.

Does that sound like your own teenager? Nope, none I know, either.

OK, once or twice I've felt the need to cross the road when a group of clearly intoxicated, over-full-of-themselves teens have headed towards me.

And once or twice, I've sniffed the sweet whiff of a joint as I've passed uniformed schoolboys in the street. But these examples are so rare, proven by the fact I remember them at all.

What most of us adults don't remember – or perhaps acknowledge - are the vast majority of ordinary teenagers.

Not those amazing kids who care for disabled parents or go to extraordinary lengths to add value to their communities – they are recognised, though maybe not enough.

No, I mean the kid next door, the one across the street, teens like your son or daughter, and their friends.

Ordinary, kind, decent, fairly unremarkable teenagers who don't cause any problems, don't commit any crimes, don't create a public nuisance, aren't full of their own self-importance.

The teens who don't smoke, take drugs or binge-drink the moment they take off their school tie.

Teenagers who, by and large, do nothing more than play their music, watch YouTube and gossip on social media. You know, BORING stuff.

Because it turns out that the truth about teenagers is that they are just very, very DULL!

Despite what you read in the papers, they don't do drugs, they don't do sex, they don't drink and fags. They probably still do rock 'n' roll, but only through their smartphone ear buds on the bus on the way to school or work experience.

This is not just my experience of the teens who live around me, but the findings of new research that revealed that school-age consumption of alcohol and drugs has fallen to its lowest for a decade.

The statistics, published by the government's Health and Social Care Information Centre, showed that the number of 11-to-15-year-olds who drink had dropped from 25 per cent in 2003 to 9 per cent in 2013.

Drug use was also down, with 16 per cent admitting to ever taking drugs, down from 26 per cent in 2001.

The research showed that the proportion of schoolchildren who have tried cannabis or other illegal drugs has almost halved over the past 10 years, and is continuing to drop year by year.

The results also showed the level of drinking among schoolboys and schoolgirls is just a third of the rate a decade ago, and cigarette smoking has hit a 30-year low.

The study's findings were based on questionnaires filled in during school lessons by more than 5,000 pupils aged between 11 and 15.

The survey was designed to minimise the impact of any boasting or misleading replies.

For example, a dummy question was inserted asking pupils if they had taken a made-up drug, called Semeron, to try and decide which pupils were answering the questions honestly.

In other words, some teens were actually making up the fact they took drugs to make them seem more interesting.

Not so much sex and drugs and rock 'n' roll, but a Snapchat and a nice mug of cocoa!

Of course, none of us want our kids to harm other people, break windows, let down tyres, scare the elderly witless or nick iPhones from small children.

But surely it's a rite of passage that our kids should be more rebellious in their teenage years than we were in ours?

I certainly was. I remember skipping school with my mates when I was 15, going into town and convincing a pub landlord we were over 18 before getting obliterated on three pints of Snakebite. I'm not sure what hurt most: the ensuing hangover or the good hiding I got from my dad!

I remember bunking off to a girl's house, raiding her dad's whisky cabinet and then getting caught rolling around on the carpet with said girl by her mum. My mother was so appalled she didn't talk to me for a month (a mother's disappointment is far more painful than a father's back hand, believe me!).

I remember downing a four-pint bottle of Strongbow cider (after persuading a stranger to buy it for us) and then literally attempting to crawl home because I was so drunk before I was picked up by a police car and taken back to my tutting parents who gave me both both barrels of parental disappointment and a good hiding.

I remember taking magic mushrooms at a friend's house and refusing to come out of the bathroom because a sword-wielding elf was blocking my way. And then I was violently sick!

Happy days! I'm being serious.

I can remember these events now because they were milestones in my life: they built my character.

They taught me harsh lessons about growing up, they moved me through childhood and adolescence to adulthood.

They instilled in me a 'Never again' mentality, which I have (by and large) adhered to this day.

Those experiences cured me of 'I wonder what it would be like to...' curiousity about getting horrifically drunk and smoking a crafty cigarette.

Been there, seen it, done it. Glad I did it when I was young and foolish. Don't want to do it again.

Those limited excesses might have caused my mum and dad some grief at the time, but the long game was realised: they ended up with a decent son who contributes to society and gave them grandchildren they dote on.

That's why I don't want my children – who are now aged 12, nine and seven – to become boring teenagers.

I want them to be reckless, fill their boots, be hedonistic. I want them to make mistakes, have regrets, scale the learning curve of life.

I don't want them to be boring, wonderfully behaved and puritanical. They can become all of those things when they get to my age.


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