Last week I wrote about some of the challenges of 21st century parenting. This week I wanted to write about some of the challenges and changes unique to this generation of teenagers.
It actually surprises me more hasn't been made of this, but I can't think of a better metaphor for the class system among the young at the moment. Driving used to be this real rite of passage for teenagers. You hit parents up for driving lessons at aged 17, acquired a death trap and hit the open road having read some Kerouac - and watched The Inbetweeners (all together now: BUS W******.) Learning to drive is now so astronomically expensive that learning is now the thin end of the wedge. Add to that the cost of teen insurance, tax, petrol, basic car maintenance, not to mention the price of modern cars - unless you have wealthy or extremely loan-happy parents, driving is increasingly a vanishing prospect for economically middling or poorer teens. And that is a real shame. Crap cars have been a part of teenage life longer than the GCSE examination system.
Here's an experiment for you: go to a wealthy adult who loves to gamble and ask them to put 80K on a horse with uncertain prospects. They would look at you like you were mad and walk away laughing. This is increasingly what we are asking teenagers to do. University is putting this generation in ludicrous amounts of debt before they've even started, with no certainty of finding work afterwards. University can be a wonderful thing. And if you are studying PPE somewhere like Oxford or Durham, medicine anywhere, teaching anywhere etc. - i.e. degrees from either paragons of learning, or of practical use - the likelihood of getting a job is high. However the days of going somewhere for three years to "try out" History and a different sexuality are over, unless you - or, more likely, your parents - are loaded.
Let me resolve this debate once and for all. Teenagers are into politics now. Once upon a time, you adopted a political stance to annoy your Mum and Dad and then eventually voted for the person who promised to do away with tuition fees. Now there is/was Milli-fandom, Corbyn-istas, Cameronettes (although the Cameronettes didn't exactly turn into a teen-cult phenomenon.) Kids are getting down with politics and are actually interested in how issues like the economy, the environment, immigration and education affect them. There are (some might say, sadly) fewer and fewer teen political stereotypes like Harry Enfield's Tory Boy or Rick from The Young Ones - but this is generally because teens are better informed than they ever have been.
Teens are having less and less of it, with fewer partners and the lowest incident of teen pregnancy and STIs in 30 years. It is 50+ year olds who are getting it on with all their friends and catching herpes now. Tell teenagers that if you want to put them off sex for a few more years.
Drugs and booze
Ditto. Teenagers are drinking less and doing fewer drugs than any generation for twenty years. In part, because they can't afford to anymore - but also because it seems all the health campaigning and education really has worked.
Mental health and depression
This is massively on the rise. Incidents of depression, breakdowns, self-harming, eating disorders and suicide are rising in young people - and most significantly in young men. This is unsurprising as prospects for young people are harsher than they have ever been - shrinking job opportunities, expensive education, and unaffordable housing. Added to that, the family unit is less stable than it used to be, gender roles are less defined than they have ever been and no one is allowed to drink away their sorrows anymore.
The saddest thing about the things that have gotten worse for this generation teenagers, is they aren't just going to be okay. Houses aren't going to suddenly become reasonably priced. The job market is incredibly uncertain and many once-stable career paths are rapidly disappearing. Depression doesn't just vanish.
But this is a generation with their heads really screwed on. The adults get pissed and party in their once-affordable houses: their kids have basically been forced to become the sensible, sober drivers (even if most of them can't actually drive.) Teenagers are now going to university to learn something and not just drink, do unpaid work until someone deigns to pay them and recycle their one bottle of wine a week.
17 year old Ariana - who wants to study medicine and has a weekend job views the reality for modern teenagers with stoicism:
"It's really high pressure for teenagers now to create a good future for themselves. But at least you can have fun when you're old."
Chloe Combi is the author of Generation Z, published in paperback by Windmill, £8.99