Monday, 28 July 2014

Don't believe the bad news about young people

The last few weeks have seen Britain embroiled in one of its regular moral panics, this time about young people performing sex acts in public in the Spanish resort of Magaluf (above). The so-called 'mamading' scandal has been another opportunity for the mainstream press to publish a load of pictures of young Britons collapsed on the floor, rather the worse for wear.

The implied moral? Our young people are out of control. They're high on drink, drugs and cheap cash, and they might just do anything - or perhaps anyone - at all. A powerful and deep-seated set of ideas about national decline, the 'good old days' and the corroding effects of a laissez-faire society lie behind this, and they help the impression of hedonistic youth stick.

There's only one big problem with this: it's not true. Just as UK crime levels have fallen and fallen from their mid-1990s peak, without the public seeming to have noticed the epidemic of quiet safety on their streets, young people's drinking, smoking and drug use is actually sharply down over the last decade. These two facts are interrelated, but that's a point for another time.

Now there is no doubt that rivers of liquid refreshment flow through Mediterranean resorts. And that 16- to 21-year olds should be advised to lay off the booze. Boorish pub crawls can be a real problem. But the reality is that our young people are more engaged, harder-working, more academic and more passionate about the issues that move them than any generation before them - the generations that have surfed ever-rising house prices and wages (while drinking and smoking a lot) for many decades. We could take a moment to think about the challenges that lie before our under-30s: a life of debt, with little chance of a stable pension or a home of their own to show for it. And reflect that the rising level of self-harm is just one of the results of this anxiety amidst affluence that will be their lot.

But we don't. We gossip about entirely unrepresentative and manipulative videos of 'dodgy Magaluf' on the internet. It's all just a lot easier than thinking, somehow.

1 comment:

  1. Well said. It's a kind of persepective/ consciouness problem which leads to people identifying their own youth as a 'golden age' from which everything has seemingly declined.

    Of particular concern are the grammar school/ exam results boors who bang on about declining standards without any contemporary experience of the current schooling experience. Most people who attended grammar schools (outside those few areas that retained selective education) must now be in their late fifties or above with no idea what current education practice is. People tend to only be able see the world through their own experience and as a consequence age does wither judgement.

    Each cohort faces a unique set of problems due to historical factors. This current set face a particular widening of inequality, but it will change, concentration of wealth harms everyone, even the rich. Beyond this level the political risks of inequality will lead to increasing state intervention.

    By the time the current cohort reach middle age they'll be grousing about the cohort behind them. The invitable arc of life leaves its trace on all of us.