It is a weird time to be a teenager. Online, the world is changing, but a lot of the people tasked with running it don’t quite understand how; adolescents, meanwhile, are so exposed to the way things are moving on that they don’t even notice it. They’re natives of a digital world, and to them it’s not a distinct world at all: it’s just another part of this one.
So it is for Paris Brown, whose short experience as Britain’s first youth crime commissioner does not seem likely to encourage anyone to be the second. Ms Brown, who is 17, was appointed to the job last week by Kent’s theoretically grown-up police and crime commissioner, Ann Barnes. Kent seemed to be managing without a youth crime commissioner, but, y’know, fine, the Conservatives once got Carol “Third-class honours” Vorderman to lead a maths task force, so you could be forgiven for thinking that public life is mostly just for a laugh.
Anyway, no one had thought to check on the hapless girl’s Twitter account, but the Mail on Sunday did, had a look through it, and alighted upon a “torrent of foul-mouthed rants” from which it constructed a front page. And now Paris Brown has had to resign.
Some of the tweets are awful. Then again, this is the stream of a teenager’s consciousness, not a policy platform; I said all kinds of stupid things when I was that age, and I am enormously grateful that none of them are on the permanent record. No such luck for Ms Brown.
Ann Barnes, the woman whose idea this all was and who failed in such a basic piece of due diligence, had promised that she was “standing by her”, but that turned out to actually mean “sitting near her while she resigns, even though she had said quite firmly 48 hours before that she wasn’t going to do so”.
It’s a shambolically depressing story, and its main beats are likely to recur: nearly all of Ms Brown’s generation are risking this sort of thing, including whichever among them ends up prime minister. But at some point, if we want to have anyone unrobotic in public life at all, we will have to get used to the idea that a teenager’s tweets are roughly as substantial and indicative of character as her shouts in the playground; we will have to realise that the real blame in circumstances such as these should be placed not on the hapless teenager, but on the incompetent grown-ups who let her be humiliated.
That Ann Barnes hung on to her job yesterday while a 17-year-old lost hers suggests we have not got there yet. Until we do, teenagers should regard the unfortunate Paris Brown as a canary, tweeting in the coal mine. Any of her peers with hopes of being taken seriously would be well advised to keep their beaks shut.