The teenager was a phenomenon that struck the globe in the seventies, hitting the previous generation full pelt with new ideals of sexual liberation and trend setting styles, from punks to Mods’ and Rockers, in more recent times ‘the Chav’ and urban look. But increasingly children are skipping this invigorating period all together, where it was considered the norm for the younger generation experiment to find their own route into adulthood; ‘everyone makes mistakes’, now it seems such youths automatically subscribe to the mature values that saturate the world around them. Kids are becoming adults too quickly, and we as a society are subconsciously allowing, even encouraging this to happen. Welcome to Kidulthood.
Boys and girls in 21st century Britain are sent a plethora of conflicting messages daily by parents, the media, and peers, but increasingly they are being subjected to the harsh realities of adulthood before they hit double figures. An astounding example of this in action is the media hype surrounding beauty pageants held for under 10’s – naturally an American phenomenon. Children as young as 5 are being dressed up in heals and make up – a recent example of a contestant in The Times could pretty much pass as an 18 year old glamour model – and paraded in front of an audience to win monetary prizes for their ‘natural beauty’. Let’s hope Gary Glitter wasn’t part of the audience, or we could have another case akin to when a particularly traditionalist Judge voiced the controversial opinion that provocative behaviour equates to asking/deserving to be sexually abused, what would he say about the parental responsibilities in this instance I wonder?
In today’s media age, it is disturbing how with the apparent ‘fear’ of the escalated paedophilia population (which is in fact illusory, the number of such cases hasn’t significantly multiplied over the past 30 years as The Sun would have you believe), parents still feel the urge to dress up their little princesses as though they were fully developed women – saying one thing and doing another – ignoring the fact their may be a link, to new forms of abuse such as internet grooming etc. This is just a small section of the wider problem of capitalism and the materialistic values that run parallel to the ideology of the elite affecting children world over. Boys and girls are being subjected to sex, drugs, and rock and roll through TV programmes and films with double-entendres referential to adult humour – Shrek being the most notable example among others. I can only guesstimate that this is to make the cinematic experience of the parent more pleasurable, but society still believes in the innocence (or ignorance) of children, for their own piece of mind; ‘lets just avoid the ‘birds and bees’ conversation and stick another episode of The Simpson’s on – they’ll figure it out’. However this lapse attitude to parenting and the ignorance of mum and dad is what leads to cases like Alfie Patten, the 13 year old ‘dad’, who it actually turns out, was cheated on by his 15 year old girlfriend, and the real dad was in fact her age equivalent ‘fling’… ‘FEW!’ sighed the Nation (as if this was some kind of achievement).
It is not just little girls who suffer from the pressure to ascribe themselves to such values; increasingly boys are adopting the Alpha-Male position within the home as well as in social circles. The number of one parent families tripled in the late seventies, leaving many boys without a strong role model. ‘Sibling parenting’ is becoming a common site throughout social housing schemes across the country, meaning the son of the household is sometimes responsible for several younger siblings whilst the mother is out at work or caught up with chores – another example of childhood being snatched, and prematurely launching children into adulthood. This pattern of behaviour regarding parenting is learned, and with teenage pregnancies on the increase, there is a kind of generational default setting in – if mum could live this way so can I. It is argued that it is this mentality that has created the new ‘Underclass’ in Britain – a million miles away from the children existing in the glamorous ‘Kidulthood’ of the American Beauty Pageant’. Nevertheless -children missing out on the merriment of the growing-up process.
Boys and girls in the 21st century are also being restricted as to what they learn about the outside world. Boys only climb trees now through virtual reality, and skate on the Wii, and although they are learning about the nasty elements worldly living via media mediums such as ‘Grant theft auto’, MTV, or ‘Call of Duty’(the fact that it is rated an 18 completely escaping the mothers rushing to the shops to buy the violent game for 10 year olds the globe over), they are missing out on the basic survival skills that only real play can bring – being submerged in an idealistic adulthood isn’t the same as living it out in reality – which is where the problems arise – separating that from fantasy.
So it seems there is a conflict of ‘protectionism’ v ‘rebellion’ that is confusing our kids and hurtling them past ‘teenage–ville’ and plunging them into the dark realities of the Adult-City, filled with sexual imagery, materialistic values, and an increasing lack of morality for the purposes of monetary gain. Age lines are being blurred, and it is a scale which is mobile in both directions; women want to look like young girls, and young girls want to look like women. It looks as if to be the age of the teenager is the ultimate life goal across all generations, and by showing our children this we are letting them miss the important process of growing up, and finding yourself all together. But children are getting smarter, and with this comes the urge to become accepted within a sphere of the glamorous world of adulthood – skipping teenage-hood and swapping it for a new Kidulthood. Because adults are yearning for a mis-spent youth, the youth of today are mis-spending theirs… too much too young. Age segregation is needed, certain age groups need to enact certain roles, we need children to be children and adults to be adults – the alternative is anarchy.
The difference is children cry when they fall over, adults cry when they fall down, if this desire for adult-youthfulness and Kidulthood continues there will be no generation gaps, and we will all tumble into the black hole of agelessness.