Claire Rayner: At 17 you think you're immortal. Risk-taking is the main game

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The Independent Online

Those who can afford it do these amazing feats, sailing round the world or bungee-jumping. But if you are an ordinary kid what can you do to risk-take? Drugs are a big attraction because they seem foolhardy and wicked, and taking them is a way of getting your own back on adults. When it comes to alcohol, there is always a tendency to drink more because you shouldn't. And the industry is partly to blame for making up drinks such as Long Island Ice Tea with all types of alcohol in them. Remember, when you're 17 you think you're immortal.

My generation didn't need to go out and do stupid things because they went to war and society always treated them as heroes. If they got drunk, it was accepted because they were young people who had gone to war. Look at those poor soldiers in Iraq. They are risk-taking with huge government approval.

Although we are the fourth richest country in the world, we still have an obscene number of people on the poverty line. And many young people have non-coping parents, which means they have grown up disillusioned with the adult world. It hurts dreadfully when your family breaks up. Your world shakes.

As for body image, teenagers are made to be self-hating much too young. They look at these absurd images of hollow-cheeked so-called beauties. My idea of beauty is built on that war-time and post-war image of glowing health. But young girls now want to be skinny. They want their breasts blown up like balloons. It's heart-breaking. And their parents collude. No one tells children they are pretty any more because they think they will spoil them.

The children grow up with no self-esteem. They haven't got that sense of 'I am a special person. I'm as valuable and beautiful as they are.' The problem is you will pass this low self-esteem on to the next generation.

Claire Rayner is a writer and broadcaster specialising in family and health matters

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