So, are the kids all right?

generation Y: Drugs are unremarkable: what was rebellion is now just consumption
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This week the Independent embarks on a journey into a generation: the 16 to 24 year olds of Britain, the successors to the blank Generation X. We have called them Generation Y. We find out what moves them and what sickens them, what they think about

and hope for.

DAVE'S STORY

Dave is 17, has just abandoned his A-levels and wants to be a policeman. His friends make fun of him for it; his brother chides him for leaving school so early. But Dave wants to maintain law and order, and perhaps sort out the violence and drugs of Chapeltown, only a mile or so from his home in Meanwood. Dave is only 5ft 6in, but these days, he says, that's no problem: "There are not so many regulations any more."

Dave's concerns are short-term, his horizons limited. You can see him down the pub, drinking too much and laughing too loud. A bloke, much like any other. But examine the detail of his daily life and a picture begins to emerge of Dave's generation, Generation Y.

He is not like the laid-back, blissed-out, do-nothing nihilists of Generation X. Dave may not have much, but he knows what he wants. In their way, Dave and his generation are sort of. new realists. They reckon they know pretty much what they need to

knowabout the jobs they are likely to do, the sex they are likely to have, the drugs they are going to take. They do not have lofty ideals. Their rebellions are localised and often short-lived. The future, they know, is not glowing, but it is ma nageable. And the meaning in their lives comes from very close to home.

Dave plays snooker and drinks almost every night ("five or six pints and I'm drunk, eight and I'm puking"). On nights to remember he slips in some Bailey's, sweet and thick with ice, and he still flies around the table like Ronnie O'Sullivan, racking breaks of 20.

Between frames there are the slot machines, and Dave likes to pit his IQ against a computer that pays cash if you're clever. "So the machine's a bit like real life," he says: earnings are the product of intelligence. He wins nothing tonight, thrown by the spelling questions.

Nights like this cost of course, out with his mates from 7pm till late, rolling home drunk, and Dave feels uneasy about not paying his way. His parents are divorced; his mother has remarried and moved away. So he lives with his brother and sister and dad, a charge nurse who used to give him £7 a week, nowhere near enough. For now, Dave is clerking for a communications company, a step up from the Saturday supermarket. He can tolerate the humdrum well enough. "I think that if I get in to the police I might go to night school and take my A-levels. So I won't be a constable all my life. Might be a sergeant."

He says £15,000 would be a handsome wage when he's 20, and he reckons he would like to settle down some time, "set up house, get a wife and one kid, don't want to bring too many into the world". The house must be near Leeds, somewhere smallish; London holds neither mystery nor attraction.

Nor does the Continent.

What does he like about England? His friends and the food. "Fish and chips, really. Had some of that French cuisine and didn't like it at all. I know you get normal food there - bread, bacon - but ... France is full of French people as well and I can't understand the language." He pronounces the word "cuisine" with a scowl.

He puts Bob Marley on the CD jukebox. Mostly he likes dance tracks. The snooker club is a very male environment, not a great place to pick up women, a practice which follows a predictable pattern with a shifting cast of characters. "You go to town on Saturday night for that. It's mostly snogging, and it was once seven girls on one night. If it's more than that you know that it's going to be one-night stands. Most of the girls in town are drunk anyway." Not much romance: girls, London, Europe, the future- none of it holds much allure.

Nor does politics excite much passion, though unlike many his age, Dave admits to being interested in traditional politics. He'll vote Labour like his parents. Yet it is not ideals that shape his politics but a mixture of tradition and Thatcherite reality: "I haven't done that bad under the Tories. I've got myself a job, a bit of money, no major upsets in my life." Dave praises the sports facilities, the recent community enterprises which have sprung up near his home. "For 17 years, this place has done me just about fair."

We get back to the drugs, and the violence. Drugs, like sex, are a rather unremarkable fact of life. What for earlier generations was a risky act of rebellion has become just another act of consumption. "Drugs are all over here," he says, "and anything you want. I became aware of it when I was 13. It's as easy to get a joint as cigarettes, although I suppose there are no machines yet."

An Asian man of 25 who ran the launderette near Dave's house was murdered in Chapeltown the other night. "You can't afford to stop at the lights. One guy will walk slowly across the road, and you'll stop for him in the car, and then suddenly you'll be surrounded by all these other guys. And these people are only a bit older than me."

And for now, all Dave can do is watch.

CAROLINE'S STORY

Caroline is 19, lives at home with her parents and likes it that way. Her small bedroom is a shrine to Prince. She used to like Michael Jackson before he turned strange. There are also some photos from a sixth-form trip to Jura, on which she really got to know her teachers, and discussed the meaning of life in a whisky glow. Caroline's world is organised and confident and she is not likely to be led by others - parents or men. Over tea she talks of wanting to be a journalist, perhaps a music writer. She once had a piece in the Yorkshire Post about her brother's band which brought her great joy. She got three A-levels, but will take a year off au pairing in the States before university.

Her literary skills are displayed in an eloquent diary, full of the detail by which she measures out her life: much of it is about shifts at the local pub for £3.08 an hour, about helping at her parents' nursery. Occasionally there is a memorable drinking night. "Watched a street fight for 10 mins - v entertaining. A small group of lads was just attacking everyone and anyone who went past. Most of the group I was with were students, so there was a cursory discussion of the problems and issues raised by such a spectacle - such visual aggression, such passive viewing from the crowd, and the implications for future society - before the real points of view were raised: `If he'd have known he'd be rolling in the gutter he wouldn't have worn that'."

At 19 she thinks she is already past drugs. Certainly her dope days are over. A year ago she spent some evenings in a cannabis haze with friends, and told her father. Her dad used to play bass in a big local Sixties band, the Talismen, where he'd sampled some hash himself.

"He told me I'd grow out of it, but I told him no, I think I enjoy it more than alcohol, and I can see myself carrying on until I'm older. But he was right." She is sure legalisation is a good idea: make it cheaper, standardise the quality, limit the violence.

Caroline doesn't go to clubs like she used to, preferring to talk sex, politics and music with her friends. The sex talk is all practical; there are no fairy tales. You can still find romance, but it is buried under the need to wear condoms and lessons imbibed at school.

"If I see something happening that I don't like, then I stop it there and then. I find it easier to make long-term friends with boys than having boyfriends. I've had one fully sexual relationship. But as for playing around and having a damn good time

three or four." So a family would be nice, but not yet, and she doesn't want to resent her kids for curtailing her career or her travelling.

Like her friends, Caroline says she is no activist. She lives in a world where the overarching "isms" of politics make little sense. "People are people," Caroline says. "Black, gay, white, disabled - you shouldn't stick labels on. I suppose I'm a humanist, and a passive feminist. I feel quite strongly about green issues, but I've never joined anything."

She says she respects most traditional institutions, and was impressed by a recent trip to the House of Commons. She doesn't mind the Royal Family. "But I'm disillusioned with the major political parties. My mum and dad have always voted Conservative, and I suppose I've developed my own socialist views, but I don't think the Labour Party is keeping to their ideals. They're just borrowing Tory ideas and running away from their history. I was very sad when John Smith died. He didn't seem to bow as much to market research as Tony Blair."

Caroline's is not a thrilling life; it's a life of reasonable contentment. The discontents are not deep-seated or far-reaching; they are modest and muted. And it is a life clinging with grim realism to what is left of family and tradition; the break-ups and the fault lines are visible, and they are not found to be attractive.

Away from the extremes, middling England is not producing a generation to fear. This is a knowing generation, and their world view is blase. Yet most young people seem to like it here and do not want to overthrow their world. Their days are not brimming with opportunity, but in the inner life there is a powerful imagination.

Caroline's days end with Terry Pratchett, a recent obsession. "If you haven't read him you won't understand it. But if you do know him, you'd end up reading everything he's done.

"In the Discworld [Pratchett's], there's all these continents on the disc, and this point in the middle called the hub. All the water flows over the edge. The place is situated on the edge of reality. Reality's a curve; anything can happen."

The Independent and Generation Y The Independent conducted its research into Generation Y over the past two months, conducting scores of interviews with young people aged between 16 and 24 up and down the country.

Over the next week we will present the findings of this research each day in Section Two, mainly in the form of young people speaking directly and frankly about their lives.

The centrepiece for the research was two day-long, in-depth discussions with 20-strong groups of young people, one in Kingston, Surrey, the other in Leeds.

The groups were not selected to be fully representative of the British population of young people.They were, however, designed to ensure a wide cross-section of views.

Campbell Keegan, the research group, organised the day-long sessions, and the discussions were led by Rosie Campbell.

Each group comprised 10 women and 10 men. Half of each group was aged 16 to 18, a quarter was unemployed, and six participants in each group were black or Asian. A fifth of each discussion group was in further education. The workshops lasted all day, covering family relations, money and aspirations, politics, beliefs, sexual relationships and drugs.

In addition, the Independent's reporters visited schools and homes, pubs and clubs throughout the country to talk to young people, conducting scores of interviews to build up a picture of their interests, concerns, pleasures and beliefs.

Tomorrow, the series will examine attitudes towards drugs, followed by beliefs, values and politics on Wednesday, work, ambition and money the day after, concluding with pleasure and consumerism on Friday.

Our reports on Generation Y will appear on the pages normally occupied by the Metro and Life pages. The regular columns that appear on the Life page - "Second Thoughts" on Monday, "Dilemmas" on Thursday and "All Things Considered" on Friday - will reappear next week.

The Listings that normally appear on the Metro page can be found on the Arts pages. Metro and Life will appear as normal next week.

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