I have mixed feelings about the statistics released today which have meant that young people are being dubbed Generation Sensible. On one hand, I think it’s good that education campaigns have clearly worked, but on the other, I worry about what this means about the world these kids have been born into and the unprecedented amount of peer pressure that social media exerts.
The reason it worries me is because it feels like young people are getting more conservative, more afraid of getting caught and I wonder what that means for the long run. I did some stupid things when I was younger and I can’t bring myself to regret them. It’s not just that I found out who I was through making mistakes and taking chances (my absolute favourite being the time I went to a rave and found myself a nice quiet clearing to drink tea, which is the best possible way to describe who I am). It’s also that those experiences can teach you not only about yourself, but about other people.
These days, if you get drunk, date the wrong person, make any kind of mistake it can be recorded, shared on the internet and out in the world forever. That can impact your relationships and your job prospects and so I wonder whether kids today are more sensible or just more afraid because there’s more to be afraid of. I remember a time I walked miles home with a friend of mine after a night out because no taxi would take us because she kept being sick. I never left her side then and if that wouldn’t make me waver in my friendship, nothing ever will. I could share multiple examples of me in similar situations and that same friend has helped me so many times, through bad times and good, because we know we’re not perfect and we don’t have to be.
I’m not saying that things like getting drunk or dating a heartbreaker are cool, but it’s only through making those sort of “mistakes” that you learn understanding, patience and nuance. That last one is really important. The world is increasingly polarised and common ground is harder to find. Retreating into safety, or never emerging from childhood is not going to help that at all. I am sure someone will tell me that young people are simply intolerant of intolerance, but I don’t think it’s that simple. It feels like they’re cushioning themselves to any other point of view.
In addition, what does it mean that these kids are ‘Generation Sensible’? What if you’re one of the outliers that did get pregnant as a teenager, or doesn’t want to stay in and watch Disney movies or find the perfect shot for Instagram? How are they judged by their peers? What is the end game here? It feels a bit like unquestioning obedience, with no chance to build any resilience and that worries me.
I’m currently reading The Suicide Club by Rachel Heng and it’s a fascinating and slightly chilling novel about the current obsession with health, looking good and living longer. Playing the scenario out to the extreme, the novel asks us what all this is for, and whether it’s simply a new form of tyranny. Certainly, as we see on social media, anything outside the acceptable range of experience can already be subject to severe judgement. It’s worth stopping to ask where we think we’re going with all this.
We shouldn’t be asking how we can live longer, or safer, but how we can live better. That means not sanitising the world to the point where we don’t have perspective. It means not judging people for making different life choices to us. Living better almost inevitably means making mistakes, and there has to be room for people to make those mistakes. Every artist knows this, it’s only through mistakes that we improve, and only through taking risks, learning hard lessons and seeing how incredible people can be even when we’ve fucked up monumentally that you really get to the heart of the human condition.
Good luck to Generation Sensible. They don’t need an old bat telling them what to do of course, but if I did have any advice it would be to let go of perfect, to allow for people to make mistakes, to stop being quite so sensible and to never, ever stop asking questions.