Is the drop in teen binge-drinking really good news? If anything, the next generation could use a bit of youthful rebellion

Pubs, to them, are where their parents go to listen to Adele and eat polenta



When I was 15, I remember taking neat gin to school in a jam jar. Or a ginjar, as we gals at Wimbledon High School used to call it. Then, as now, my school was excellent; it prided itself on being a bastion of single-sex academic drive and educational aspiration. When I was there during the 1980s, however, its pupils prided themselves on other things. Being able to smoke our heads off in Cannizaro Park was one. Drinking until the room started moving round was another. Frequenting the pubs on Wimbledon Common every Saturday night, from the tender age of 14, was a third.

How the youth of today has changed. Thirty years on, according to a report from the University of Cardiff, the majority of teenagers have no truck with such behaviour. Compared to how we were (in Wimbledon, for goodness sake!), teenagers are now almost unrecognisable models of decency and restraint.

Binge-drinking is almost unknown; alcohol-fuelled violence is down; teenage pregnancies are at a 40 year low; smoking is seen as a loser’s game. The research confirms what I see in my own home. My two eldest children are 14 and nearly 17. They live in central London, go to state schools and are free to roam across the capital at night with their friends. I suspect they are typical of many young people their age.

I have never seen either one of them in an extreme state of inebriation. I have never come across badly hidden packets of Marlboro in their school bags, I have never suspected that they might be smoking dope. I have never had to deal with a black eye, a broken nose or worse. Pubs, to them, are either places where their parents go with their friends to listen to Adele and eat polenta, or dives frequented by lonely old codgers nursing a pint at 3pm.

The best thing about a pub, in their view, is that it has Wi-Fi. And you don’t want to juggle a pint of beer over your computer, do you? Eating crisps and throwing the packet on the floor is probably the most heinous thing they get up to in a pub.

I think it’s a bit of a shame. Of course, city centres plagued by drunken hooligans are a curse. Obviously I don’t want my kids to take drugs, become addicted to fags or dependent on booze. I would hate it if any of my children were beaten up. What parent wouldn’t? But I do think that socialising in pubs with your peers, coping with having drunk too much, even trying out smoking (and deciding you can’t be bothered with it) are quite useful steps to negotiate on the way towards adulthood. How can you know what happens when you have had too much to drink if you have never actually had too much to drink? Much better to find out at the school disco than the office party.

What are young people doing, if not carousing around city centres in a loud, irreverent group? I’ll tell you what. They are sitting alone in their rooms on social media, or watching TV shows on their computers. Or doing mountains of school work in order to cope with the Govian cascade of exams put before them.

On my daughter’s bedroom walls are a thousand photographs of her and her friends. Plus a giant revision timetable for her AS-levels. Last year, the timetable was for GCSEs. Next year, it will be for A-levels. And so on. Meanwhile, looming on her horizon is the dreaded personal statement, the careful composition of which must be a perfect summary of, well, human perfection, and which is vital to get to a good university, in order to get a good job and so get on the housing ladder. (Cue hollow laugh.) Frankly, I’m not surprised that teenage anxiety, eating disorders, depression and other stress-related conditions are, according to my kids, an all too common part of their social world.

I suggest that the revelling and riotous behaviour so typical of my generation might well have provided a useful outlet against these pressures and demands. Expectation is always inherent in coming of age, but perhaps it is more pernicious now than ever. What today’s anxious, stressed out teenagers need is a bit more carousing, not less of it. Those boozy underage nights in the pub, the understanding that social ease is as vital as academic brilliance, the illicit fun of smoking from your bedroom window while pathetically hoping to mask the smell with a joss stick, the joy of successfully smuggling in a boyfriend while your father is downstairs – these episodes, and many more, were all delicious and important parts of my development as a person. We must not be so terrified of the perils concomitant with the extremes that we never allow our teenagers to let their hair down. Risk and danger are vital tools to understand. Getting legless in between tweets and exams has its benefits.

Ségolène isn’t the first woman to have a cleavage problem

Zut alors! Just as the sun comes out, what has ’appened avec the wearing of low-cut tops by French women in Paree? Banned! At least, they are rumoured to be if you happen to work for Ségolène Royal, the ex-partner of and now re-elevated minister for President Hollande.

According to the news magazine Le Point, La Royal has been acting a bit like her surname since her recent reinstatement as Minister of Ecology. Well, who can blame her, frankly? After the humiliation of not only having her adulterous husband effectively swiping the presidency from under her nose, but also having the world know that he visits love nests on the back of mopeds and owns only one pair of shoes, one can forgive her for grandstanding. It’s not just the showing-off of décolletage which the new minister reportedly dislikes among her colleagues, either. Apparently staff have to stand up when Madame Royal is present, and cannot smoke.

She’s regally denied the low-cut-top accusation with a sarky tweet, but it has to be admitted that some women simply cannot tolerate other women flashing their cleavage.

I had a gorgeous nanny once who resigned thanks to a better offer. More money, fewer children, a swimming pool and the use of a Beamer were on the table from a woman in Wimbledon (where else?). It was too good to be true. “She’ll be horrible to you. Don’t go,” I said. A fortnight later, the nanny rang me up. “Can I come back?” she asked.

Her new employer had banned her from wearing her favoured outfit, namely a low-cut top. Which for a babe from Tottenham was of course an intolerable command. Sadly I had already replaced her. With a bloke.

Twitter: @Rosiemillard

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