We've long been terrified that children are growing up too fast, turning into little kidults For the girls: supermarkets selling bras for bee-stung chests; the iPhone becoming the new pencil case; and ten-year-olds calling each other 'badass bitches'. For the boys: violent video games; an initiation into porn before they've even reached that stage; and the pressure to be as 'cool' as A$AP Rocky before they've stopped sleeping with the light on. There are histrionics over the omnipresence of Miley and Rihanna's T 'n A, Miley and Rihanna's Insta-spliffs, Hailee Steinfeld's Miu Miu campaign, Kendal Jenner's designer clad existence, even Romeo Beckham being cast in a Burberry advert ("she's forcing him into her fashion industry!" screamed some publications.)
In the 7 years that I have (reluctantly) stopped being a teenager, things have changed irrevocably. From the teenager's zealous embrace of fashion (I was clad in Gap till the age of fourteen), to their manipulation of technology (including Instagram domination, SnapChat bullying and worrying forays on Tinder), to their knowledge of extremely violent and hyper-sexual material (try hiding an 18-rated movie from a 13-year-old who knows a Netflix password, or has an iTunes account), to their command of language (if you only want to see how much more teenagers swear nowadays, then watch the excellent The Descendants), to their casual embrace of far more drugs than I could even list.
So we certainly have a pressurised form of early maturity, in society now - accelerated in dog years, rather than human ones. But I disagree that it is making youths "prematurely middle-aged" and "British teenagers, an increasingly responsible and sober bunch", as David Bainbridge said in The Observer, yesterday. I think to say that middle-class teenagers (as Bainbridge was talking about - I am not, just to labour the point, talking about working class homes where options and outlooks differ severely) have grown up so fast that they are too mature and too sensible, is slightly missing the point. In middle-class society, accelerated development is very often about greed, rather than altruism. Drinking alcohol, smoking, having sex and taking drugs is often about indulgence - escapist indulgence, sure, but indulgence still the same. We are a generation of consumers; the generation below us will no doubt be post-consumers, (whatever the heck that could mean). The ramifications of being an adventurous teenager today is infinitely more dangerous that the used to be.
I concur with Bainbridge that responsibilities are felt more keenly by teenagers today; how can they be gauche, or cloddish, when there's an iPhone judging their every move? Bainbridge is also bang on the money when he suggests that the exorbitant fees attached to higher education instil a subtext of guilt and pressure to an undergraduate's existence. But I really don't feel that we are "consigning our teenagers to an awful, bland sensibleness". I think there is that same pressure, that rat race, sure -- but it drives teenagers/those in their twenties to escapist pastimes, rather than a bland existence. And whether it's escapist, or not, we are raising a nation dependant on constant stimulation. It's expected now that we will have a technicolour existence, deprived of monochrome monotony. Life's a party and all that. Look at the adverts around universities now: is it about the great extra-curricular clubs? The sporting activities? Or are all the posters, as mine were at Leeds University, advertising 3 shots for £5, in The Library? (To prevent confusion on your part, as it initially did on mine, The Library is a pub in Leeds.)
For where teenagers perhaps grew up more slowly a few decades ago, and those in their late twenties became bonafide 'adults' a lot more quickly, we now exist in a party-loving hinterland for about two decades. Many of are have or will rely, on occasions, on The Bank of Mum and Dad (hate that expression, but it's an accurate one) so that we can partake in all sorts of unpaid internships (the joys of the arts), as well as get married later, have kids later, get on the properly ladder later. We are also far less emotionally stoic than our elders. My mum told me when I was little that she didn't believe in crying because it doesn't solve anything. She's right; it doesn't. But tell that to my eyes.
Essentially the parameters have been re-set. Children are sexualised too early but they're then suspended in time for about two decades. Find me a woman in her late twenties (or even mid-thirties?) who would describe herself a fully-fledged, responsible, solvent adult and I will find you a 13-year-old kid who doesn't know what Fifty Shades is about. And I don't mean in the workplace; we can all pull out sh*t together when it comes to a a career we are passionate about. I mean emotionally, in our personal lives.
So. Where does the arrested development come from? Well, we're highly educated, but often struggle to get jobs. We also have a backpack of debt. We're mostly unmarried, our jobs are often vocational rather than highly paid and we struggle to save money. So, instead, we go "sod the FOMO" and throw ourselves at a dozen overpriced V&T's in an overpriced swankorium and sample all other things that a town like London has to offer. I still feel firmly enmeshed in the hinterland of hedonism. I don't mean that I'm out every night, chasing the fun dragon (good Lord, no), but that I'm still waiting for my grown-up life to arrive. To descend from the sky, perhaps, on a magic carpet, so that I may pluck this little cloak from the air and shrug myself in to it, whilst feelings of wisdom and adult maturity cascade over me. I know. I know. What hope do I have? Hinterland, indeed.