Posts Tagged ‘Social Behaviour’

Despite the vehement protestations of my formerly nine-year-old self, chances are that I’ll have kids of my own at some point in the future. Even were that not the case, I’m still the kind of gal who routinely plunges her head into the ice-cold waters of the blogsphere, and am therefore reasonably up to date on the current furor vis-a-vis motherhood. Specifically, the fact that nobody seems to know what to make of it. As Lynn Harris points out, a lot of hate for the feminine side of parenting is being bandied about by non-parents; Emma Gilby Keller is making the case for women who haven’t heard the ticking of their biological clocks and refuse to see this as a personal failing; Gen Y mum Nicole Madigan is, not unreasonably, fed up with being treated as though mothers as a demographic are still entrenched in the 1950s; and more than one person is wondering about how children should (or shouldn’t) fit into the public sphere. No matter whose side you’re on, any discussion of modern motherhood seems to imply a certain amount of outrage, anxiety and general handwringing, which, given that the prospect of giving birth is already terrifying, let alone being responsible for a tiny helpless being encoded with an unspecified, potentially lethal mix of yours and your partner’s DNA, is about as close to notions of ‘helpful’ or ‘comforting’ as the Oort Cloud is from Earth. Which is to say, very fucking distant.

I’ll admit to being fascinated by the whole malarkey – not just because I’m an opinionated snark, or because the entire buisness reeks very faintly of rubbernecking, but because it’s something in which my future self is, presumably, invested. Like everyone else, I want to know how to do this right, but despite my historical belief in the idea that moral/social absolutes are arbitrary if necessary human constructs rather than universal fixtures, it is still something of a rank shock to discover that there is no inviolable Way of the Parent, let alone Way of the Responsible Adult. Except for that part about not sticking forks in electrical socks, which, really, is only common sense.

But I digress.

The point being, there’s a lot of parenting turmoil to wade through, most of it directed towards or inflicted upon mothers themselves. And while I’m hardly about to cut in on the stroller-bashing queue, I think I’ve finally pinned down what makes me, personally, uncomfortable about the whole buisness. It’s not the idea of the Yummy Mummy that stings, although I dislike the emphasis it puts on what are frequently unrealistic standards of beauty. It’s not the helicopter, cotton-wool parenting, either, although it makes both my inner sixteen-year-old and my outer twentysomething roll their eyes. It’s not even the obnoxious, ignore-the-kids-as-they-go-on-a-public-rampage non-approach to parenthood, or the designer stroller brigades. I might lament each one in turn, but they’re not trends I feel personally threatened by: call it crazy, madcap optimism, but I’d like to think that whatever neuroses I develop as a consequence of motherhood will have less to do with social ephemera than the quirks and peculiarities of my own offspring. No: what makes me edgy in all of this is the idea that motherhood has once again become a lifestyle.

It’s a thought which simultaneously intrigues and repulses. On the one hand, everyone has the right to choose their own life. Who am I to criticize anyone for wanting the best for their children, or for taking pride in the process? Feminism has failed, and failed roundly, if it says that a woman ceases to be a feminist the moment she decides to be a stay-at-home mother, or if she cares about the type of stroller in which she perambulates her child. But on the other hand, it feels as though the current argument that children should comfortably pervade every facet of adult life – pubs, restaraunts, movies – is a reprimand on the notion that parenthood is something adults might want to take a break from. That’s not to say that it shouldn’t be easy for parents to take their children places, but even within the realms of shared public space, some areas – like parks – are more intuitively child-friendly habitats than cramped pubs. Children aren’t a disease or a nuisance, some squalid facet of humanity to be sequestered from polite society until their debutante ball: they are people, they are important, and every adult, no matter how vociferous on the subject of ‘breeders’, was one once. But neither are children accessories, undetachable scions that can’t be left off the parental radar without risk of permanent personality failure.

It’s a mess, in short, one we all have to sort through in accordance with our individual beliefs and intuitions, which goes some way towards accounting for all the different types of motherhood on offer. Sometimes, in the absence of absolute moral certainty, you just have to agree to disagree. But it’s the lifestyle element of modern mothering I baulk at: because lifestyles are all about appearances, and if there’s one thing I think childhood and parenting – and life in general, for that matter – shouldn’t boil down to, it’s an emphasis on how things look to other people, as opposed to how they actually work. And yet, this is exactly what I end up doing: looking at other mothers, who are after all the only rubric available, and judging, via their appearance, how likely they are to be engaged in the persuit of motherhood-as-a-lifestyle as opposed to motherhood-in-general. If I mistrust designer prams, Yummy Mummies and kids on parade, it’s because I worry that these are the trappings of motherhood-as-a-lifestyle, and while they certainly can be, particularly in conjunction, they are not definitive indicators. They are the accessories of stereotype, not its core. But with mothers and motherhood now so visible in public – which is a different part of the debate in and of itself –¬† it is frequently the case that these external signs are all we have to go by.

We are, in short, trying to find a definition for modern motherhood that suits. Women are juggling children and careers, personal lives and dedicated play schedules, the desire to spend time in adult company vs the practical difficulties of foisting one’s offspring off onto anyone else, even for an afternoon, in a climate where childcare costs approximately nine zillion squared to the power of sod off. We are having children at older ages, where an increased amount of disposable income to spend on the trappings of childhood – clothes, strollers, toys – often equates to time poverty, resulting in guilt and the desire to take the kids out wherever possible, even where that means sandwiching adult social time into a playdate at the local pub. And, as was ever the case, there is no easy answer. Society has changed, and mothers, intentionally or not, are changing with it. There is value in trying to stick up for what we think parenting should be, but if all that means is talking about the Good Old Days and judging by appearances, it won’t get us very far.

Here’s an uncontroversial statement: different people find different things sexy, just as different people find different things repulsive, outrageous, risque or tawdry. This is why so much of the porn industry nowadays is devoted to kink and specialisation. People are weird, and so, quite often, are our fantasies. It’s a thing.

When I walk into a newsagency and glance at the lads’ magazine section – Zoo and Maxim and so on – I’m usually blinded by a sea of very large bosoms in very small bikinis, hoisted proudly on the torsos of half a dozen tanned and pouting women. These mags are sold over the counter, but while I’m not grossly offended by the sight of mostly bare women, I tend to think the content is more pornographic than not. That’s less a moral judgement than it is a statement of fact: no matter how much skin they may or may not be showing compared to their hardcore counterparts, the models are there to be looked at in a lustful context.

When trying to determine whether something is pornographic, it’s certainly logical to consider why it was created in the first place, and for what audience. In many respects, I’d argue, this is actually more important than what is (or isn’t) on display, but there’s always going to be dissonance between the reaction an image is intended to provoke and the reactions is actually provokes. Because people, as has been mentioned, are weird. We get turned on by weird and unexpected and – sometimes – terrible things. And that’s what throws a spanner in the works when it comes to the current debate on child pornography.

Paedophilia is an awful thing, one that leads to awful crimes and ruined lives. It is a violation of trust and a sexual circumstance in which it is actually impossible for one of the parties to consent, meaning that it should never be condoned or legitimised. We have a social responsibility to protect children from sexual predators. And yet, in trying to do this, we have managed to paint ourselves into a legislative corner, one  in which any image of a child becomes pornographic, regardless of the context in which it was taken.

Because children – and children’s bodies – aren’t the problem. Taking a photo of a child is no more synonomous with making child pornography than being a child is synonomous with being a sexual creature. This is an instance where only two things are capable of making an image pornographic: the perspective of the viewer, which is entirely removed from the original context of the photo, and those disgusting occasions on which an abuser has recorded images of their crime. The latter instance is both vile and undeniably sexualised. But the former is where we hit a snag: because it forces people to be concerned, not with the content of a given picture, but the likelihood that someone will view it in a sexual context.

At the moment, in our zeal to protect children, we are dangerously close to smothering them. It is no longer acceptable to show up to your child’s school sports day and take photos: parents are concerned with how the images might be viewed later. But do we stop the sports day entirely for fear of what perverts on the sidelines might take away in their memories? No: and yet, this is exactly the same logic used to justify the current stance on photographing children. The more we behave as though the general populace cannot be trusted to be in the same room with our children on the offchance of what they might be thinking, the more we buy into the mindset that children need to be locked up, protected, sheltered, kept from the public eye.

On the surface, that might not sound so bad. But take that last sentence and replace the word ‘children’ with the ‘women’, and you have a viable description of the logic behind societies whose female populations are required to stay covered up at all times. Men cannot be trusted in the presence of women, this argument goes: it is futile to pretend otherwise, and much easier to make the women invisible than it is to change the attitudes of the men. This is a mentality which ultimately punnishes those whom it claims to protect, by restricting their actions and, by default, assuming that they exist in a constant sexual context. For many reasons, this is not a perfect analogy, but given our current social struggle to decide how much freedom children should have online, outside the home and in their decision-making, it strikes me that our debate over the definition of child pornography stands as a parallel issue.

Ultimately, we live in a changing world. We worry about online predators grooming or luring children away; we worry about the digial distribution of photos of children, and how our knowledge of their possible misuse might taint our perception of their contents; we worry about stranger danger, and whether it’s better to let our kids walk home by themselves and gain a bit of independence, or whether we should constantly be holding their hand. We are making decisions with the best of intentions, but I also worry that we are approaching things the wrong way. Life will always hold dangers, no matter how effectively we seek to curb them: nothing will ever be entirely safe. With new technology opening up the world in an unprecedented way, our instinct has been to clutch tightly at what we hold most dear, trying to protect it from these new, expanded threats. But the more we grip and shelter, the harder it eventually becomes to let go, and the more difficult it is for children to grow up into confident, capable adults. There is both nobility and necessity in our desire to preserve the sanctity of childhood, but in so doing, we should never forget that childhood is something to eventually be outgrown. The real world never goes away, and the more fearful we are of its dangers, the closer we come to never understanding it at all.

Consider the following four articles on the dangers of youth exposure to too much digital culture:

iPod Safety: Preventing Hearing Loss in Teens;

Twittering brains withering, expert warns;

Teens flaunt sex, drugs on MySpace; and

Too much PlayStation causes painful lumps,

all of which cropped up in today’s online news. Together, they pretty much exemplify the fears of the Builders, the Baby Boomers and, to a certain extent, the elder members of Generation X, not just as regards their own offspring, but concerning¬†all of modern society. Loud and clear, they’ve been wringing their hands for the past few years over the perils of digitisation, and every time, I’ve experienced a disqueting lurch of anger. It’s taken today’s media¬†quartet for me to understand why this is: after all, cynic though I may be, I still put a certain base faith in the opinions of scientists and sociologists, especially when backed up by established studies. As a member of Generation Y, I’m hardly an impartial observer, and to a large extent, my negative reactions stem from a sense of being personally maligned, even where certain behaviours or criticisms don’t apply either to me as I am now, or to my historic teenage self. Rather, I feel outraged on behalf of my generation and those younger: that we are, in some sense, being fundamentally misunderstood. I can hack criticism, yes; but the sheer weight of professional authorities whose time has been purposefully devoted to proving that almost everyone under the age of 25 is steering themselves on a course towards social oblivion has begun to seem less like the amalgamated findings of unbiased research and more like an unconscious desire to demonise technology.

When it comes to growing up, it’s human nature to get fixed in whatever era raised us. Modern society is shaped, by and large, to ensure this happens – advertising and television timeslots, for instance, aren’t shown at random, but painstakingly catered to particular demographics. Thus, once we lose interests in the trappings of a given age and progress to playing with a new kind of gadget or watching a different kind of film, we effectively graduate from one type of newsfeed to another. Not watching weekend and afterschool cartoons, for example,¬†means that we no longer learn which shows are cancelled and which will replace them, and that certain products, like the latest toys and games, will no longer form part of our daily media experience. Because our interest in such things has waned, we don’t notice the dissonance: rather, we assume that things have remained static in our absence, and are often startled in a moment of later nostalgia when, flipping on the TV at 3pm, we recognise none of the cartoon characters, none of the hosts, and none of the merchandise. Such disorientation provokes outrage: who are these strangers, and what have they done with our childhood? This biases our opinion of the new product towards hostility and skepticism from the outset; and even when we take the time to watch these new shows, the magic is missing, because we are no longer children. Wrongheadedly, however, we don’t immediately identify this as the problem, and tend to believe, rather, that the product itself is at fault. In fact, it becomes difficult to fathom what kind of person such programmes are catered to, and so, by extension and quite unselfconsciously, we have already taken the first steps towards discrediting the intelligence and taste of the next generation. This outrage slumbers in us, omnipresent but quiescent, until we have children of our own, or are forced to deal with someone else’s. Nonetheless, it is there.

Consider, then, that the technological advances of the past few decades have¬†leapt ahead¬†at unprecedented speeds. In the space of twenty years, we have moved from cassette tapes and walkmans to CDs and discmans to the now-ubiquitous mp3s and iPods of the new millenium. For a generation who started out buying their albums on LP, this is triply disconcerting, while for the generation who thought themselves blessed by the miracle of radio, it seems like a kind of magic. This is all common knowledge, of course, and therefore glossed with the shiny patina of frequent repetition: by itself, the comparison doesn’t provide an explanation for the hostility of older generations. Until, that is, we combine it with the above example about treasured childhood cartoons, because in this instance, not only are the new characters unrecognisable, but they don’t even appear on the same device.

And adults struggle with this. They are disconnected from their offspring, from their students;¬†more important than connectivity and reminiscence, however, is the loss of firsthand advice. They simply cannot guide today’s teenagers through the digital world, which leads most youth to discover it on their own. Most of us who grew up¬†with computers and videogames are either several years away from reproducing or blessed with children still in early primary-school: in other words, we are yet to witness what happens when a generation of adolescents is reared by a generation of adults anywhere near as technologically literate as their teenage progeny, who remember what it was like to hang out on Trillian or MSN chat all night, to experiment with cybersex, to write achingly of school crushes in their LiveJournal or to download music at home. Members of Generations Y and Z, in other words, in addition to being¬†burgeoning iFolk, are also a social anomaly: a group whose own adolescence is so far removed from the experience of their caretakers as to prevent their parents and teachers, in many instances,¬†from adequately preparing them for the real (digital) world.

But the gap will close. Already there are¬†children in the world whose parents own game consoles, who will guide them online from a young age, and whose joint mannerisms both in real and virtual company will be drawn from a single parental source. Navigating away from certain parts of the internet will be taught in the same way as stranger danger and the implict lesson to avoid¬†dangerous parts of the local neighbourhood. We teach what we know, after all, and yet large number of commentators seem not to have realised this –¬†which is why I react badly to their writings. They never purport to be talking about teenagers now so much as teenagers always, or from this point on, a frustrating alarmism that takes no account of what will happen when such adolescents leave home, stumble into the bright sunlight, go to university, get jobs, fall in love and maybe have children of their own. In short, they have no sense of the future, or if so, they picture a world populated by antisocial digital natives, uprooting the fruits of their hard labour out of ignorance, apathy and poor management. Either they¬†can’t imagine us growing up, or fear what we’ll turn into.

I’m speaking here in broad-brush terms. Obviously, the distinction between those who are technologically literate and those who aren’t can’t simply be reduced to their year of birth. Every generation has its Luddites (and, if we remember the political motivations of those original iconoclasts, this is often a good thing) as well as its innovators, its geeks and scientists.¬†And many such worried articles, irksome though I may find their tone,¬†are still correct: listening to your iPod on full volume will probably damage your hearing, just as it’s not a wise idea to post intimate details of your sex life on MySpace. The latter concern is markedly new, and something teens certainly need to be made aware of – indeed, professionals new to Facebook are still themselves figuring out whether to friend coworkers or employers, thereby allowing them to view the results of various drunken nights out, or to keep a low digital profile. Such wisdom is new all round, and deeply appreciated. On the other hand, parents have been telling their kids to turn down their damn music in one form or another ever since Elvis Presley first picked up a guitar, and while the technology might’ve become more powerful in the intervening decades and¬†the studies into auditory damage more accurate, the warning remains identical (as does the inter-generational eye-roll with which it tends to be received).

In short, the world is changing, and people are changing with it, teachers, teens and parents alike.¬†And I cannot help, in my own curious optimism, to see this¬†as a positive thing: that in a world where technology moves so swiftly, older generations must constantly remain open to the idea of learning from their younger counterparts, while those in the know must become teachers earlier. There is so much to be gained in the coming years, and so many problems, both great and small, to be solved. The gap between adults and adolescents has never been so large, but while it always behooves those in the former category to teach and aid the latter, this should never be at the expense of at least trying to understand their point of view. And this, ultimately, is what causes me to bristle: whether playing videogames can hurt your hands or spending too much time online can damage your real world social skills, such passtimes aren’t going anywhere. Rather than condemning or sneering at such things outright or tutting sadly, the more productive path is to consider how best they can be incorporated into modern life without causing harm, or to study how they work in confluence with real-world interactions, and not just fret about what happens if they’re used exclusively.

Because technology – and future generations – aren’t going anywhere. We might not look like Inspector Gadget, but baby, we’re his heirs. Or rather, Penny’s. You get the idea.

As with just about every other slang word or phrase in my vocabulary, I don’t remember the first time I said that so-and-so had hooked up. If I had to guess, I’d say it was somewhere in my mid-teens, which is when (ahem) the term first properly started to have personal relevance. For those unfamiliar with the phraseology, it essentially means that the object¬†met, kissed, hung out¬†and/or¬†had a one night stand with someone. The connotative emphasis is on casual (but usually sexual) interaction, while¬†the term is both standard and¬†non-judgemental.¬†As far as I know, it’s been around since at least the nineties, but apparently some people are only just getting a handle on it, as per this curious¬†op-ed in today’s New York Times:¬†The Demise of Dating. ¬†I say ‘curious’ because, right up until the final three paragraphs, it seems like the writer, one Charles M. Blow, is onside with both word and meaning, or at least an impartial observer. It turns out he isn’t. And that startled me, because I’d more or less assumed that hooking up was a pretty understandable phenomenon.

Blow’s complaint is both simple and, in the context, nonsensical: that instead of training to date, young folks nowadays have lost the ability to get to know one another. This seems to be a fairly unintuitive conclusion, especially given Blow’s earlier assertion that hooking up takes place mostly between friends: that is to say, among groups of people who already know each other. Despite acknowledging that this is a modern reversal of the dating structure he remembers from college, Blow fails to link the reversal to a changed social reality. When he talks about girls tiring of hooking up sooner than boys because ‘they want it to lead to a relationship’ and later realising ‘that it’s not a good way to find a spouse’, he is parroting gender stereotypes more closely aligned to the 1950’s than today. The idea that girls might be looking for neither spouses nor relationships seems alien to the writer, as does any notion that men might desire these things, too. One can readily see why Blow needed the concept explained to him; but even so, his understanding still falls short.

Personally, I think it’s a sign of progress that people no longer train to date; and in fact, the word¬†date itself¬†feels dated, or at least decidedly American –¬†another hangover of Blow’s (I suspect distant) youth. I don’t recall that I ever dated: instead, I hooked up or¬†went out. The whole idea of dating as a means of getting to know the opposite sex smacks of an era before co-ed friendships were the norm,¬†wherein partners couldn’t be drawn from one’s existing circle of acquaintances, but¬†had to¬†be sought – and interviewed – externally. In reality, such a concept of dating has been fundamentally usurped by mixed friendships¬†in an era of¬†sexual liberation, such that¬†when friends hook up, the ‘dating’ part has effectively already happened.

Random hook-ups are also common, but hardly a point of contention, unless one objects to premarital shenannigans. Ultimately, both Blow and his source, Professor Bogle, seem unintentionally antiquated. Kudos to them for grappling with a changed world, but despite trying for objective analysis, both end up reconfiguring the concept against their own, older ideals. Hooking up is here to stay, friends Рand that, I think, is a good thing.

Recently, I was drawn to¬†this article by feminist writer Monica Dux, in which she discusses the phenomenon of little girls dressing as fairy princesses. As I read, I found myself nodding:¬†there’s truth¬†to the idea that garbing small girls exclusively in¬†pink and lauding their beauty above all else¬†can lead to¬†problematic behaviour in adolescence – a bona fide Barbie mentality. And, like the writer, I was a tomboy¬†at school: at¬†seven, I was deeply obsessed with dinosaurs, loved¬†soccer, could¬†hold my own in a handball game with boys three years my senior, burned ants¬†with a magnifying glass,¬†built forts in the bush and played¬†video games whenever possible. I wasn’t¬†Pretty In Pink.¬†

But for all that, I can’t¬†help feeling that Dux has¬†cottoned on to¬†a genuine concern and drawn¬†a flawed¬†conclusion – specifically, that forbidding pink¬†and fairies is the answer.¬†Like¬†other parents mentioned¬†in her article, mine certainly never encouraged the Fairy Fixation, but neither did they actively forbid it. As a consequence, My Little Ponies jostled in my schoolbag alongside Starscream of the Decepticons; I dressed up as¬†the Man from Snowy River for my bookday parade, but also had a tutu in my wardrobe.¬†(I’ll give you one guess what colour.) Diversity isn’t just forcibly steering a child away from the norm, but actively offering them a choice. And if you stint the dominant side for long enough, sooner or later, you end up creating a different kind of imbalance.

There’s nothing inherently sinful about the colour pink: refusing it on grounds of its association¬†with princess-type deviance makes as much sense as declaring that lefhandedness is evil, a pahse I’d like to think this part of the world has grown out of.¬†The problem isn’t¬†the concept of fairies as loved¬†by children, but how¬†adults react to their use. Dux herself makes note of this – parents who praise their daughters as beautiful, pretty, sugar and spice when princessed up¬†– and yet her solution is not for adults to change their own behaviour. Rather, she advocates that they regulate costume use in children. As an approach,¬†this is virtually identical to telling teenage girls not¬†to dress provocatively if they don’t want to be wolf-whistled, instead of, as makes more sense,¬†trying to raise¬†boys who don’t judge women¬†by their clothes. Human weakness and pragmatism allows for some middle-ground, and there’s a case to be made that¬†dolls like Bratz and Barbie¬†capitalise on the colour pink to sell an unrealistic standard of beauty, but ultimately, girls should be free, in the gender-biased sense, to be girls. A¬†truck-hungry tomboy does not¬†lurk within every prepubescent glamour queen –¬†nor should it.

Minus the adult overzealousness, there’s still a distinct bias in the way toys are offered to children. Underneath all the gendered marketing, the fact is (and Dux agrees) that boys and girls are different. What needs to be encouraged is the idea that different isn’t automatically bad – not just between boys and girls, but girls and girls, boys and boys, and that it’s OK¬†to pick’n’mix your interests.¬†Girls who want to play rugby should still be able to frock up in pink, just as boys who’re happy¬†to play with dolls¬†should still be allowed to like cars.¬†It’s also a fact that children are cruel, and police difference within their small communities with a rigour and bias difficult in the politics-conscious adult world.¬†That can’t be changed entirely, but¬†I suspect it can be mitigated by¬†parental behaviour.

Unless we’re talking about the singer, pink’s not my cup of tea (and even¬†then, I have to be in the right mood). There’s¬†a long¬†road yet to travel before society stops marketing towards the biases children have for themselves and starts venturing into new territory; in video games, at least, there’s been some headway.¬†Parental coddling¬†has a lot to answer for, and given the kind of adult¬†I’m turning out to be, I’m glad I never felt¬†pressured to¬†cling to pink and fairydust to win approval. Perhaps, to take a backwards leap, I’m turning into the adult I am precicely because I never felt that pressure. There’s also girls who’d feel similarly uncomfortable if forced towards tomboyishness – not that Dux advocates this, but it’s¬†one potential consequence of her solution.

And the moral of this story? That girls (and boys) can be pretty in pink, or not. The important thing is choice.

For anyone interested in generational change and culture,¬†I reccomend this¬†fascinating article on Generation Z.¬†While I disagree with making broad generalisations about¬†generational personality types, there’s something wonderful (and a little awe-making) about the prospect of seeing how these¬†genuine digital natives¬†grow up. It’s not just the presence of computers in school,¬†but the omnipresent fluency with which they’re used, and from what age – totally different to my own experience, when the new technology was still novel and effectively tacked on, curriculum-wise, to the old standards. The idea of environmental awareness at a young age is similarly exciting, and an interesting social experiement in its own right: despite our love of self-analysis, has anyone ever sat down and¬†marvelled at¬†the fact that one generation of human beings can instill an ethical structure in their successors that they themselves don’t share to the same degree? That we are, in this sense, able to successfully transmit a do-as-I-say, not-as-I-do policy? How remarkable is that?

Reading the article, my other thought was on meta-analysis. In wondering how Gen Z will evolve, the writer considered a wealth of factors – the economy, environment, politics, materialism, parenting, schools, technology and so on – but not the impact of public generational commentary. By which I mean:¬†now more than at any other time, there is a wealth of visible media speculation on the nature of Gen Z¬†compared to¬†their predecessors, how they’ll turn out,¬†what they’ll achieve, and given the very fact that Gen Z is so¬†well-informed and¬†socially literate, it seems impossible that they not notice this, and react.¬†In this sense, the experiment of¬†vocal social analysis is not a double blind: there is nothing to separate the speculation of the observers from influencing the behaviour¬†of their subjects. And given how much hope is currently being invested in Gen Z – can they¬†stop global warming? reduce carbon emissions? build a sustainable future? – I’ve got to wonder: will these visible expectations¬†ultimately prove positive, or detrimental?

Three years ago, I stopped being a teenager. Five years ago, I finished school. A lot can happen in five years, and in my case, a lot has. But even so, it’s sometimes hard to remember that, insofar as the world at large is concerned, I’m an adult.

Five years ago (or six, or seven, or eight, or nine), had you asked me what Growing Up entailed, my answer would’ve¬†been pretty nebulous: adults were a strange¬†other species, inscrutiable and weird. Logically, I knew I’d someday turn into one. But what never really occured to me was the¬†fact that in order for this to happen, I’d have to stop being a teenager. That looks like¬†the¬†most obvious statement possible, until you consider what it really means. Not being a teenager is more than a biological age. Your intelligence hasn’t changed, but you think differently. Your perceptions have altered. Unthinkably, so have your priorities. Your place in the world has shifted, inch by inch, slowly reforming all¬†previous notions of what not-being-in-school and working would look and feel like.¬†Adults are weird because, logically, they should just be teenagers with more freedom, right? But they’re not. To a sixteen-year-old, it looks like brainwashing, or devolution: some awful process that zaps the fun right out of you.¬†But having noticed this difference, a part of you thinks: that will never happen to me.

Deep down, the teenage¬†Foz¬†thought that growing up meant becoming an ambassador for adolescent-kind, finally¬†walking in the adult world with power to¬†address¬†the frustrations, concerns and specific barriers which had, essentially, stopped me from doing exactly that as a teenager. Obviously, I wouldn’t be an adult who¬†tried to hang¬†out with teenagers ¬†– I’d seen people like that, and they were universally¬†odd, if not a little creepy. No. It would be more subtle: I’d simply be recognised on sight as having kept the faith. I’d be¬†a rare Cool Adult, because I’d remember what it was like. I’d know. I’d care. And my teenage self, after so long straining at the leash of her teenage world, would be vindicated.

But it doesn’t work like that. Had I stopped to think about it, or even (o, irony!) been a little older, I’d have realised that when you’re in school, you can¬†spot someone who isn’t a mile away. Mentally, such beings are tagged as Adult, or, in the case of uni students, Almost Adult –¬†either way, they’re still a different species. Any overtures of friendship are viewed with suspicion, and any attempts to identify with the teenage state result in raised brows or mockery. Hell, I’d done it myself – it was practically a sport. But until that point, I hadn’t really considered that the¬†barrier ran¬†both ways. Adults worked hard to keep teenagers out of their world, it had always seemed: all the¬†wariness, scepticism, evasion and mockery¬†directed their way¬†was¬†simply retaliatory action. Surely, though, if I genuinely remembered, I’d be recognised. Wouldn’t I?

Looking back, the naivete is bizarre, and a little uncanny. The idea of an adult seeking¬†teenage approval is something I’d always laughed at, wondered at, without the slightest realisation that this was¬†effectively what I’d been dreaming of. The kind interpretation is that I’d been ready to grow up¬†for longer than the world had been¬†willing to let me try: I’d had¬†enough adults telling me I was mature for my age and¬†acquaintances mistaking me for someone several years older¬†that I felt already halfway there. The¬†more honest¬†interpretation is that I gave no thought to mental improvement, or to the idea that a change in perception could be beneficial. My blythe assumption was that because I didn’t plan on changing, I couldn’t. Happily, I was wrong.

Nowadays, I still like to¬†preach about things that bothered me at school. Even though I’m¬†glad to have grown up, and despite knowing that the teenage me was far from perfect, I’m not willing to disregard everything I felt back then. Experience has only contradicted some of my complaints, not all, and¬†short of pulling an unlikely¬†Drew Barrymore in Never Been Kissed, I’ll never have the chance to reconstruct¬†my social adolescence¬†in adulthood –¬†and even if I could, some hurdles are teenager-exclusive. That doesn’t mean adults shouldn’t try and address them; it just means we forget, the older we grow and the more we change, because they stopped presenting a problem to us years ago, or even registering as potential problems.

I wouldn’t want to be sixteen again if you paid me. But¬†if I’d never been sixteen – that awkward, mawkish, self-absorbed, silly, bright, passionate,¬†fraught sixteen – I wouldn’t be the woman I am now. Not even close. And that’s the debt we owe our teenage selves. They were the ones whose learned-from errors made us into¬†functional human beings, and they did it all in a world full of weird, uncomprehending¬†adults. Ultimately, I know I’ll forget most, if not all, of what it meant to be a teenager. Life moves on, people grow up, and when another five years of memories start pressing on my brain, frankly, I’ll need the storage space. But right now, I feel like I’ve¬†cottoned on to a fundamental truth: that while I’m here, fleetingly, on the last potential cusp of adulthood, it’s all come clear.

We all grow up. And none of us do. Life is a series of readjustments, and while there’s obviously a forward progression to our changes, that’s ultimately all they are: not good or bad, but changes. By age and necessity, physical strength or mental acumen, knowledge or wisdom, we¬†pass our lives in different spheres of the world, all overlapping, all separate. On a¬†deeper, simpler¬†level than thought or action,¬†we can’t help being who we are. A¬†toddler can no more leap into adulthood than a grandmother can shed twenty years; there is no whimsy to our¬†different ages.¬†We are¬†all more than the sum of our parts and past experience, but those¬†old echoes are still there.¬†A ninety-year-old man was not born ninety, and no matter how infirm he is, somewhere inside is a five-year-old boy, an adolescent, a¬†thirty-year-old, thirty-five.¬†We can bury our past selves, forget or repress, but not eradicate. Not truly.

One of¬†my biggest teenage complaints was how much adults had forgotten. How could they ever have been¬†like me, if they didn’t remember it? Without having¬†lived for forty years, it’s impossible to know how much the mind changes in that time, how many new memories come and old ones go. But perhaps that’s the point: if we can acknowledge¬†who we were¬†without automatic censure or dismissal, then we are one step closer to closing the generation gap. Because then, even without the memories, we know there’s something we’ve forgotten, and once we know that, we know we’re not infallable. So much trouble between generations comes from the view that the young are ignorant, the old are out of touch, and everyone in between is either too callow or too jaded to be of use. We close ourselves off in the here and now, blind to where we’re going and unhappy with where we’ve been, because social flaws are human, too.

But somewhere, part of me will always be a teenager. I might never be a Cool Adult, but if I can just¬†remember that being different wasn’t universally bad, then perhaps I can make a difference.