The status of women has changed radically over the last 50 years – but each generation faces the same challenges. As aBBC season examining adulthood begins, Rob Sharp talks to grandmothers, mothers and daughters about life’s milestones

1. Alcohol

GRANDMOTHER: Valerie Sanders, 70

I tried alcohol for the first time when I was 16 at a Masonic dinner my parents made me go to. I knocked back a few glasses of wine, and ended up spending the entire evening in the ladies’ toilets.The hangover and the ensuing embarrassment made it easy to abstain afterwards. I turned teetotal - despite quite a lot of peer pressure over the years from boyfriends and husbands.When I was younger it seemed like people drank a lot less; you didn’t see people falling out of pubs, passing out in the streets like they seem to nowadays.

When I was bringing up my children in the1970s and 1980s it was in a society with a vastlydifferent attitude to alcohol. I remember mydaughter coming back to the house completelydrunk when she was the same age as I was at thatMasonic dinner. But she kept drinking.It was surprising when I found out how muchmy granddaughter, Jessica, was drinking. Itseemed as though she had no respect for anyoneand anything. I can only think she did it to annoyher father, or to try and bury some of her problems,like how affected she was after her Mumand Dad split up.

Alcohol is more accessible these days and thekids have more money than we did. I think it allcomes down to respect - her generation generallydon’t care what their authorities or the policesay. It’s not like drinking is this sign of growingup, it’s just a way of letting go of your inhibitionsand declaring: “To hell with it.”

MOTHER: Jane Sanders, 38

Like many of my friends, I started going to the pub before I was 18. A group of us would traipse down to our local in Winchester; it was all about getting that buzz when you got served. It wasn’t like we were doing it just to sink drink after drink.It was more of a gentle,social thing.The thing is, I didn’t like the way it made me feel when I got drunk and I guess I still don’t like it. When I go out there comes a point when I realise that I have had too much.That’s useful because I always looked older than my peers and I never had trouble getting served.

Jess also appears alot older than she is; it means she’s been getting away with it for longer. She has a higher tolerance than I ever did. She will drink a lot more before she even leaves the house than I would havehad in a full night out. I reckon teenagers of Jess’s age do it because it makes them look and feel grown up. I tell her:“You have years ahead of you to do this kind of thing, why do you have to cram it all in now?”

DAUGHTER: Jess Sanders, 17

I first tried alcohol when I was about 11 or 12. Then,from the age of 14, I was hanging around with lots of older friends and they would buy the booze for me from our local off licence. We would take it and sit in the park and on street corners and drinkit until we passed out. It was all good fun. I suppose I would get drunk for a number of reasons. I didn't have a great relationship with my Dad.

I lost my granny when I was 11 or 12 andshe was as massive influence on my life.All of my friends drink and I’ve often thought that I don’t want to be the only person not getting hammered. I would definitely drink to look older, because I thought it looked cool. But sincetalking to experts about how it affects you in recent months I have realised the damage that drinking can do to you both emotionally and physically.I would imagine that there’s nothing worsethan waking up in the morning, having done something with a boy you didn’t intend to. I don’t want that to happen to anyone I love or care about and I am very fortunate that it has never happened to me.

2. Pregnancy

GRANDMOTHER: Maggie Hudson, 80

I was 21 and married when I had my first child. I suppose it had something to do with my own parents separating when I was 14, and them both dying a few years later. I loved children and I wanted to start a family as soon as possible.

People got married for good in those days, and I intended to stay with my husband through thick and thin. When my children had their own children it was different. My son Michael and Chantelle's mother, Mandy, split up when Chantelle was just three months old. I wasn't too worried about it, though, as they remained the best of friends. With Chantelle, I now know she became pregnant when she was 14, though I didn't find out until a few years later. When I found out I was shocked.

Today's teenage girls should realise that they only have one body. But they are often too permissive. These kids feel like they have more liberty to do what they want, whereas my mother and father were strict about how late I could go out.

If I was in past nine, by dad would smack me, and that's when I was old enough to work. Now you are getting girls in gangs, telling their parents what to do. It's not that they are growing up quicker, they are just doing adult things before they should.

MOTHER: Mandy Hudson, 40

I got pregnant and had my first child when I was 16. I had no one to turn to. I had come out of a children's home and it made me feel like more of an adult. I ended up doing nothing, just looking after my baby. I thought it would be okay and it wasn't. I didn't have the baby's father around in my life and it was crap. I ended up giving that baby up for adoption after around two years.

My second and third children I had in my 20s and they were planned; by that stage I was older and wiser and in a better emotional and financial situation.

I knew that Chantelle had an abortion when she was 14 and I also knew that she still wanted a baby when she was 16. I was disappointed in Chantelle's desire for a child because I felt she had so much going for her. I wanted her to have a good career and then worry about having a baby.

Chantelle couldn't be going to college or doing modelling shots – which is what I think she wants to do with her life – with a baby. I think part of the reason for her wanting a child is that she wants to be recognised as an adult; there's also that guilt over letting go after the abortion.

One of her friends has had a baby and I am seeing a lot of myself in her; I am trying to be there for her as much as possible, because I had no one. But if my daughter eventually decided to have a baby I would be behind her 100 per cent.

DAUGHTER: Chantelle Hudson, 16

I got pregnant when I was 14 and had to have an abortion. I have wanted to have a baby since that day. I wanted something to love and to care for. I felt like having a baby would fill a gap in my life. Once I turned 16, I knew that I could cope. I knew my boyfriend would be able to support me financially.

Plenty of people work and have a baby so I thought, "Why can't I?" If I wanted to go out, my partner could look after the baby, and if he went out, then I would look after it. I never did any research about it; you learn off the baby.

My mother knew I wanted a baby but she would have preferred me to wait. In the end, I wanted to be put off having a baby. I started to want to be a model and a hairdresser and realised that I wouldn't be able to do that if I had a baby. But the real turning point was seeing my mum cry. She doesn't ever cry and I knew then that it was serious. I didn't want to hurt her.

3. Sex

GRANDMOTHER: Margaret Muller, 69

I was 17 when I lost my virginity, which is quite old compared to the age kids lose it now. It was before I was married and it was terrible. I ended up conceiving my first child. It was with my first love, and he was putting me under a lot of pressure. There was no pill or anything and I fell pregnant then.

My friends and I were all hoping to get married; it was more that than any question of when we were going to have sex. As I got older I realised that I had been quite naïve at the time; many of my contemporaries had been using condoms. It seemed like the only preventative you employed was the fear of what people would say if you had a baby.

Nowadays, these girls don't have that fear. They are a lot better looked after. The advice my dad used to give me before I went out was "Don't forget to keep your legs crossed".

I do think girls nowadays are growing up too quickly. Sex isn't love – they are two entirely different things. I imagine girls will go out with a boy and will fall in love, and will want to keep him when he demands sex and will give in. They think it's marvellous and maybe it is, though I never had sex like that. Girls nowadays will have a baby with a boy at 15 and then two years later have a baby to a different boy. A lot of it comes down to boundaries, and when you allow people to cross them.

MOTHER: Jane Bebbington, 41

I lost my virginity when I was 16 to Rhia's dad. I felt the time was right for me in the relationship at the time; we had been going out six months. He wasn't a virgin, so I was relieved because it meant he knew what he was doing.

My initial response was, "Is that it?" I had built it up to be quite big in my head. I thought my Mum would be able to tell; I remember being shocked when after I left home under difficult circumstances, she asked me if I was on the pill.

Nowadays, I think kids are losing their virginity a lot earlier. I have always been very open with my children; or at least tried to. I wanted to bring them up in a way I felt I hadn't been. However, I did struggle when talking to them about sex.

I look at my daughter and her peers and they seem so mature; it's almost like there's this higher level of intelligence. But underneath the surface they are quite immature. It's an image they have to give out. I think image matters much more to them that it did when I was younger.

DAUGHTER: Rhia Andrews, 15

I don't feel like I am ready to lose my virginity just yet. I don't have a boyfriend. I don't feel under any pressure from anyone to lose my virginity because it's a decision you have to make yourself. If you are easily swayed you need to rethink who your friends are. I wouldn't look for my role models on television because I think it is fake.

School hasn't been much use, either. They generally tiptoe around it. Because of the way that the generations have changed it is different for me than it was to my mum and grandmum. We all think it should be done for the right reasons, though. We think it should be done if you are in a relationship. It is a big deal, though; it is a sign of growing up. I don't think about is constantly but you have to do it for the right reasons.

4. Work

GRANDMOTHER: Anne Freeborn, 87

Because of the Second World War, which started when I was 16, I really wanted to be a journalist, but back then you had to pay for everything if you wanted to go to university or college, so I had to abandon that idea completely.

I realised that books were my thing. I knew about The Times book club, and I wrote to the managing director and got an interview, then got a job. But over the next few years I had so many jobs – in government communications, as a wireless operator – then became a bit depressed when I realised I had no qualifications. I went and did a secretarial course.

If it hadn't have been for the war I don't know what I would have done. I know they are having difficulties with jobs now. I think the worst thing must be not to work at all. But I've always believed in keeping busy. I know that they go out and have fun, they go clubbing and things. There was nothing like that when I was young.

I've been to university in my later life – I went to Kingston University as a mature student. But I think the time to go is when you are young. I felt very lucky to go when I was older – but that was only to satisfy something in myself.

MOTHER: Rosalind Freeborn, 41

When I was 16, careers weren't high on the agenda. I was at a really stuffy girls' grammar school and I knew I didn't want to be stuck at school doing A-levels, when I could be out there discovering the world. I wanted to be an artist, make films and travel. Maybe even be a Blue Peter presenter.

I remember at school the options the careers advisor presented to me were teacher, a nurse or a secretary. I ended up doing a secretarial course on my mother's recommendation. I just wanted to get out there. Then, like most people in life, I found that fate takes a hand. I knew someone who ran an employment agency and he told me to try to get a job at the publisher Collins; I went there and it felt like home. It was fantastic; I was in an environment that was full of books and interesting people.

I think women now grow up with that feeling that they can do anything. But I grew up thinking I would find certain doors closed to me. Because I left school quite early, by the time I was 21, when most people are leaving university these days, I was already quite high up. Nowadays I think university has become a bit commonplace; everyone is sort of fed the lie that you need to get higher education and get your degree. I think it might make people grow up less quickly. I mean at 21 I had budgets; I had responsibility. I was out there with famous people, going on interesting trips, working with grown-ups.

DAUGHTER: Imogen Battersby, 16

I definitely want to do something in film, hence why I'm doing film studies at A-level. I'd like to be a director, but it's quite hard, I guess. My dad's an editor in films. I've been making a few films with my friends and I've been editing them. It's what I like doing, and I quite like bossing people around.

When you're growing up, everyone asks you what you want to do when you're older. The world is so career focused, and it's such a big conversation starter. I'm constantly changing my mind. I've wanted to be different things: journalist or promoter. I'm trying to keep my mind open, because you can't always get any job you want. I do want to be rich – that's a good start. I want to get satisfaction from it, though.

I'd probably study English at university. It gives a lot of options. Nowadays there's a lot more options for women. In the old days there was a much bigger division – thank goodness it's changed.

'My Big Decision' is broadcast on BBC3 as part of the Adult Season. The series continues with 'Boob Job – My Big Decision' on Thursday 23 July at 9pm

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