Harriet Walker: The kids aren't all right – they don't respect their elders

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The mouthy malefactors of Jamie Oliver's Dream School series are symptomatic of a generation that is far too big for its boots. Last week's episode saw (I'm afraid there's no other word for her) some gobshite tearing a strip off a calm, patient and well-meaning headmaster for not allowing her talk while he was speaking.

What she wanted the freedom to say was some imbecilic platitude ripped straight from the closing moments of a Jerry Springer show about how proud she was of her classmates and how much she believed in them. What on earth made her think she had the right to interrupt an adult to spout meaningless schmaltz after he had asked her to wait? She then abused him and other students who tried to take his side.

Call me an old fart, and I'll hit you over the head with one of my many high-tech gadgets. But in one aspect at least, I must admit to being a grumpy old woman. Because I'm afraid I believe that kids should respect their elders. (Disclaimer: I'm 25 and was a teenage goody-goody.)

The puerile posturing wasn't limited to Jamie's charges. Earlier this week, teenage tweeters turned on everybody's favourite diva Cher after she professed online not to have heard of her namesake Cher Lloyd, the 17-year-old sullen and egomaniacal wannabe from last year's The X Factor. "Who or what is Cher Lloyd?" she asked, after a newspaper website mixed up pictures of the two singers. Lloyd's fanbase was livid, responding to Cher in ways that cannot be printed here.

They employed the same battle cry that resonates throughout Jamie's Dream School. "How dare you cheek us?" they shriek. "We have the same rights as you; we're people too." Quite simply, you don't and you're not: you can't vote, you can't drink, you can't even set up a direct debit. Because you don't know enough about anything beyond Twitter to do it properly. Yes, you're people in the sense that you have human rights, but when it comes to who gets to talk longest and loudest, you're a bunch of half-formed squirts who need to know their place.

The idea of Cher, the woman my father fell in love with nearly 50 years ago and who once straddled a ship's cannon wearing a lace bodysuit, being put in her place by a 13-year-old who has never achieved anything, indeed in all likelihood, has never left Bishop's Stortford, let alone his computer screen, is completely repellent. It points to a total lack of regard for anything and anyone beyond the infinitesimally and increasingly tiny sphere of reference that modern teenagers have – that is, themselves and their smartphones.

It's de rigueur for adolescents to be self-obsessed and socially inept; we all were and we grew out of it. But there's a school of adult thought that panders to this, that says "we must listen to their views so that we ourselves can learn". It's this mode that has landed us with a generation of kids who thinks they can do no wrong and that they deserve attention – indeed praise – for simply being themselves. "Seen but not heard" is perhaps a little strong as juvenile directives go, and it's a teenage prerogative to assume anyone over 20 is the lamest thing since, like, the old version of Twitter. But there's a pleasant humility to knowing when to shut up. And it makes you a better adult too, when the time comes; one who picks their battles and exudes steely capability, rather than looking ridiculous by getting worked up into a foul-mouthed lather of blue-in-the-face offence every time someone leaves the toilet seat up.



h.walker@independent.co.uk

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