Young people are growing up in an “unprecedented toxic climate of stress”, a report by the national charity YoungMinds said on Monday. The report makes salient points about the ticking time-bomb, including children’s 24/7 exposure to social media, and also features crucial findings about kids’ exposure to hardcore porn. However, I must admit my eyes glaze over slightly every time I’m informed that the world, for the generations younger than mine, is more of a hopeless quagmire than ever before.
YoungMinds says, for example, that out of 2,000 11-14 year olds, more than half feel “stress” over the concept that they need good grades at school to be a success. Okay, I hate to be the bad-news bearer here – and it sucks, it really does – but that’s a fact of life. One almost always does need good grades at school to be “a success”, if one’s concept of success is a job that stimulates, a car that starts almost first time and the odd chance to feel foreign sun. Kids, you’re not being paranoid, you’re bang on. Yes, absolutely, some people leave school with no grades and achieve “success”, but they tend to have a pretty stiff work ethic in other ways. I’m not sure how we counsel kids on the stress of this.
And can kids born after 2000 really be more stressed and badly done by than the terrible wretches born in the 1990s, who, I’m informed daily, are the worst off of all the human beings in British history? These, we are told, are the first ever to be forced into demoralising internships, the first to be flummoxed about how to get on the “housing ladder”, the first to have to endure life in non-glamorous flat-shares, where the Dairylea cheese triangle that you were planning to live on until pay-day keeps going missing and one can hear one’s flatmate grunting to orgasm through a wall.
The Nineties generation: the first people to have more month than money, and the first to realise that “a love life” is essentially a carousel of wooing people with differing not-immediately-obvious mental illnesses, obnoxious traits and slipshod social conditionings, and then eventually picking the least worst and marrying them as everyone else has got married.
Yes, I know that if you’re in your forties then you are reading this and possibly thinking: “But I did horrible, futile work experience in the Nineties, and I rented a shared room for years in a glorified slum, and I couldn’t buy a home until my thirties and my teen years were a loveless cacophony of acne and algebra.” But I am here to tell you, old fart, that your life was a fairytale as compared to Fenella, aged 28, who is already banging out a blog about this column from her mother’s house while Mummy launders her knickers. There is absolutely no way that Fenella can move out of her parents’ house and she will experience a great deal of stress, offence and depression if it is suggested that life, as the great philosopher Madonna says, is a mystery where all of us must stand alone.
If one was a child or a youth in the decades from the 1960s to the 1990s, one will remember that class deference, homophobia, racism, sexism and exploitation were standard, accepted and rife. Almost all the best jobs went to white, affluent males from southern England and if you were brown-skinned, or had a vagina, or a regional accent – or worse, all three at once – the world was not your oyster. By 2014, we have made tracks to stamp this out, but surveys like this from YoungMinds tell us that our children are sadder, less fulfilled, more marginalised and more stress-burdened than ever.
It’s hard to lay blame at anyone’s door for the freshest crop of unhappy children, although the survey does spell out that children’s exposure to a “24/7 online culture where they can never switch off” is not helpful. The comedian Jenny Éclair once said that “all childhoods should have at least one long boring bank holiday weekend spent sat on a wall”, which I tend to agree with. I know that even at my decaying stage of life, I become exhausted, fretful and stressed over who has unfollowed who on Twitter, over who is causing trouble on someone else’s Facebook wall and the gossip someone has direct-messaged me with that may or may not be true. Our children are locked in their own version of cyber-bullying, power games, online porn and organised shamings every day.
In fact, if you want your kid to be happier in the long run, perhaps hide the internet router and their mobile for several hours a week, and force them to cope alone inside their heads, maybe even out in the fresh air. Yes, there’s a chance your little flower might be adverse to this and you could become a crime statistic in the process, but considering how stressed they are currently, things can really only get better.