Monday, 26 January 2009


We underestimate the youth of today. It is easy to say that at best they are long haired, good for nothing layabouts, zoned out on rock and roll or worse. The worst case scenario, the story we are sold almost as often as the credit crunch is that they are violent, foul-mouthed, knife-toting yobs. Walk around any city centre on a Saturday and you won’t be disappointed. I personally had a run in with a couple of eleven year old lads last week who threw several, water filled plastic cups at a shop window in the middle of Plymouth. I stopped to ask them to pick them up, whereby they used some colourful Anglo-Saxon before running off. Luckily they weren’t particularly bright and instead of scarpering, they ran into the shop instead. There was no other exit. The manager got them. Kismet.
It is easy therefore to believe that’s how all young people conduct their lives and if you didn’t have any of your own, no doubt this point of view would never be challenged. I however, have several youths living under my roof. There is a lot about them that drives me crazy. The sort of thing that parents have ranted about for generations: filth, mess, clutter, scattered wet, used-only-once towels; self-absorption, laziness, reluctance for just about anything, monosyllabic moodiness, loud music, late homework, poor grades and the incessant demand for cash. The list is endless. I would give anything to fall at my own mother’s feet and say “I am so, so sorry”. I am guilty of all of the above. “What goes around comes around” someone, probably my mother, told me once.
I rarely have anything positive to say about my youths. I am so worn out with nagging and cleaning and picking up and cooking that it is hard to wax lyrical when their talents are imperceptible to the human eye. My son in particular regularly makes me seethe with frustration and anxiety. How many times must I repeat that his GCSE’s once done well, will never have to be done again? How many more times must I beg him to apply himself?
“Turn off the computer! Switch off your phone! Don’t text at the table! Turn it down! I don’t care -I don’t believe you can study with it on that loud!”
On Monday, when I was absolutely determined not to be blue just because the papers told me I would be, the post plopped through the front door. One of the letters was very thick and as soon as I saw the logo on the envelope my heart sank. Opening it with a feeling of doom my instincts were right and the sum of £70 was required to pay my son’s mobile phone bill.
We’ve been here before a few months ago. That time it was £90 and the money was taken from his savings to pay us back. Unfortunately, he was unaware of his savings and so a deficit of ninety quid caused him no pain and thus no lesson was learnt.
I tentatively rang Hubby at work and told him. He went into orbit.
“Right, that’s it”, he bellowed through the earpiece, “This time we are stopping his allowance for two months and we take his phone off him”. He slammed the phone down. Hmm. I could see his point but I didn’t see that this was a productive solution. Hubby is either at work or studying. It will be left to me to fend the constant beseeching entreaties and pleadings for a few quid here and there, and no matter how tough I would like to be, there is no way that I can let a 16 year old not have a few quid here and there to catch a bus to see his girlfriend.
That evening as I drove in the pouring rain to Tavistock, I pondered a suitable punishment. Docking his allowance was the answer, then he would still have some disposable income whilst still paying off his debts. I’d also had a long and meaningful conversation with a lovely young man in a call centre in Mumbai, who informed me that my son’s phone contract could be modified: a check could be put on his calls, stopping him from going over his limit.
I arrived at my destination. A public speaking competition. The paradox? My son, the one with the long hair, laid back attitude and obsessive text disorder was taking part. No fuss, no big deal. No histrionics. His participation was mentioned in passing, “By the way Ma can I have an extra packed lunch ‘cos I’ll be late home. I’m in a competition”. Only he and his two other team mates didn’t just participate, they commanded the floor. They were quite honestly, brilliant. I was astounded. These boys who normally just ‘hang out’ were articulate, intelligent, thought provoking, moving, witty and authoritative. Their vocabulary and command of the English language transformed them from gawky school boys to convincing orators. Their subject knowledge had seemingly unplumbable depths. I sat at the back clapping like an excited chimp as they triumphantly held their winning shield aloft.We do our young people a disservice. Had they been in a play or on a playing field hundreds of people would have seen them. There must be thousands of teenagers all over the country who compete in similar scenarios, where the venerable ability to communicate profoundly and commandingly goes unheard and thus the common belief that the youth of today are ignorant and inarticulate is upheld. My continuing manifesto then for a more positive outlook, is to ignore the teenage villains with their knives and hoodies – don’t give them column inches and celebrate the efforts of those whose accomplishments go unheeded. This is the way to inspire change, just ask Barack...


Sally said...

Aww .... he did you proud in the end.

Alice Band said...

Yoo-hoo! Anybody out there???

Sally said...

I have felt the same for my last two!! Where is everybody?!

It's just me said...

I'm here!

rosneath said...

know what you mean - come visit and help me achieve 10k hits for my 2nd blogoversary!


thefoodsnob said...

Seems his verbal skills are coming into good use (and not just to jack up the cell bill.)
Unless it was from texting?


Jen Ballantyne said...

Amazing isn't it. I remember feeling similar when I saw my son at a school function, I was stunned by how mature he was, it made me feel bad as though I had underestimated him just because of the way he dressed and did his hair! Take care Alice and thanks for your opinion on my blog, you are spot on and I have managed to see her behavior in a different light and realize how much pressure she was under. I am slightly ashamed of myself for not overlooking it under the circumstances. Take care darlin', Jen xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx