Are my generation really as boring as everyone says?

The Department of Health has reported a decrease in drinking, drugs and pregnancy among teenagers - but our generation has problems of its own, writes Jess Williams.

Sign Up

Get the New Statesman's Morning Call email.

The Department of Health have released figures which reveal a decrease in drinking, drug use, smoking and pregnancy among teenagers. This has sparked a flurry of comment pieces accusing today’s teens of being “generation yawn” and “Stepford Teenagers”. I have just turned twenty. My teenage years seemed normal enough to me. I had ups and downs, a few awkward stages, a couple of unfortunate tattoos, piercings and experiments with hair dye (some successful, some not so much). 

Publications such as the Daily Mail have suggested that “generation yawn” is down to some sort of reverse peer pressure from Muslim teenagers. But with British Muslim teenagers being very much in the minority this seems a little dubious. The type of peer pressure I experienced as a teen mostly revolved around social media. This is what defines today’s teens more than anything else. Social media is the way to be involved and fit in with your friends. When I was around 15 I was blessed (although I didn’t think so at the time) with a mum who believed deeply in the power of a good night’s sleep. This meant that my internet was cut off promptly at 9pm. For most of my friends this was when the fun started. In the evenings everyone would flock onto MSN messenger and various group conversations and inside jokes would be had. I would repeatedly miss out.

MSN has long since been rejected in favour of newer, shiner forms of social media, yet the general consensus is the same. It’s not so much hanging out with your mates that makes you feel included, it’s being up to date and involved with all the goings on on social media. Social media moves fast. If you’re not online at the right time you could easily miss something, and with this constant feed of activity occupying so much time, there is less time to be getting up to the things teenagers did in the past. Recent findings from Mintel found that over a quarter of 10-15 year-olds in the UK are afraid of being excluded from their social circle if they’re not on Facebook or Twitter enough. Being connected online seems to be the new way to fit in, with over 60 per cent of British 15-year-olds owning a Smartphone.

Although statistics show that teen activity is more conservative nowadays, the number of self-harming teens has gone up. According to a new study by the World Health Organisation, the number of teenagers in England who self-harm has trebled in the last 12 years. Public Health England says there is a clear correlation between the amount of time spent on social media sites and “lower levels of well-being”.

Another factor to consider is the world in which young people are growing up. It’s a rather sinister place to be young, especially in economic terms. A recent poll revealed that 63 per cent of 7-13 year-olds believes that Planet Earth “is a scary place right now”. Our teenage years no longer feel like an opportunity to waste time. They are the only chance to start getting ahead. This is especially true with the still - despite the increase in tuition fees - rising number of teens making the choice to go to university. There is no time for sitting around and getting drunk when you need to obtain a good set of grades. But going to university doesn’t necessarily guarantee a secure future. A 2013 report by Adzunda revealed that there were more than 50 graduates competing for every entry level job.

None of the newspapers damning “generation yawn” offered anyone young the chance to speak for themselves. The Sunday Times was one of the only newspapers which did, although it really didn’t offer much. They quoted a medical student from Cambridge University, claiming that she didn’t have time for it all. A student at Cambridge is not representative of the whole of Britain’s youth. It seems very plausible to me that a student doing a highly competitive degree at a top university would not have time to go out drinking every night. Nevertheless, that does not mean that every teenager in Britain feels the same. Even more ridiculous was the opinion sourced by the Ex​press. “Professor Fiona Measham, of Durham University, said many youngsters are now more likely to spend time knitting than sitting in a pub”, they wrote. This is an entirely valueless statement. Why are the media judging the youth of today without talking to them directly?

The mainstream media seems to a strange obsession with “the youth of today” - viewing them as a separate entity from the rest of society, always jumping to an extreme view of their behaviour. The media is filled with sensationalist headlines concerning teens. “Unhappy, Unloved and Out of Control - An epidemic of violence, crime and drunkenness has made Britain scared of its young” and “British teenage girls are biggest binge drinkers in Europe” are two recent examples. This is combined with articles arguing that teenagers are now “worryingly well-behaved”. The media cannot make up their minds on what they think teens should be doing and consistently demonize them. Can the youth of today do anything right?