Welcome, kids, to the sheer nastiness of being grown-up

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The Independent Culture
I THINK it's time we talked. Soon the envelope will arrive. Or maybe it has already arrived, and you're staring at this page with blank, despairing eyes. If it contained the news you wanted, you won't be reading anything as you skip about the house, hugging people and punching the air in a rather unattractively triumphalist manner.

Your parents will be in shock. For months they have been preparing for the day when your A-level results come through, determined not to be neither too obviously disappointed nor too openly smug.

Somehow all of you know that this is a key moment in your private history: an end, a beginning, a change of roles. There are certainly things you would like to discuss with your parents, but look at the state of them - it would be like asking earthquake survivors to discuss seismology and subterranean energy patterns.

Which is why we need to talk.

Some of the things that you have been told over the past few years were not strictly true. You were still a child, albeit one with body hair and an unhealthy obsession with deodorants, and it's well known that too much truth can harm young minds.

Take these exams. Ever since you were 12, they have been the focus of a ruthless and protracted campaign of propaganda. When you approached 18, you were told. you would stand before the golden gates to the future. If you were granted entry into the golden city of tertiary education, you would mix with young achievers like yourself, have the greatest time of your life and emerge, mature and attractive, to be welcomed into the bright, exciting world of employment.

Turned away, on the other hand, you will be shunned by your fast-track friends, a stumblebum loser stacking shelves in the local supermarket, start reading The Sun and have nothing to talk about at family get-togethers at Christmas.

Now it can be told. University offers certain advantages to those who want to delay as long as possible the moment when they have work whole days at a time and be bossed around by a prat in a nylon shirt. It gives you time to go to parties, drink, have sex, travel, read books and discover the real you rather than the version provided by your parents and teachers. If none of that appeals, you're probably better off joining the outside world and picking up the educational stuff as you go along.

It's tough, but not as tough as what you've just been through - the dark, desperate years during which adults seemed to treat you like an alien life form. Now that you've emerged from it, you probably realise the truth. You were an alien life form.

Overnight, from the clear-eyed, laughing, optimistic little person that had once been you, there emerged an unrecognisable creature with bad skin and an appalling taste in music. Once, your parents had inhaled the sweet, intimate smell of your body as if it were the breath of life; now they gagged and coughed as they entered your room. Once the sound of your scampering feet had made their hearts lift; now the sight of you, slumped slack-jawed in front of Blind Date, filled them with murderous despair. Once, you had read Fantastic Mr Fox; now you leafed listlessly through Four Four Two or Just 17.

In the black hole of your teenage years, even language deserted you. The piping, ever-curious voice that adults always found so endearing gave way, if you're a girl, to like, yeah right, that is so not what I'm trying to say or, if you're a boy, to a series of squeaks and grunts like something out of Planet of the Apes.

No one listened to you. Cute kiddies had a public voice; so did grown- ups. You, caught between the two, mysteriously became invisible. You were represented in cliche stereotype on TV sketch shows. Novelists occasionally tried to capture the inter-generational war of the teen years, but even geniuses such as Philip Roth and Richard Ford found it beyond them.

And now the war is over. There are a few wounds on both sides - you learnt the art of hurting in your teenage years - but you survived, and frankly, you look in better shape than the opposition. For your parents, half a decade on the front line has taken a terrible toll. The unsung heroes of domestic life, they were the battered, decaying sea wall that protected the rest of us from your hormone hurricanes and testosterone storms.

Proud but exhausted, they may not quite be able to tell you this, but you should know all the same.

Whatever the envelope holds, you've passed.

Miles Kington is on holiday

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