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.