The Kids Are All Right

… is the name of a particularly annoying TV show at the moment. But it’s also something that has been bugging me for a very long time now.

Three years ago I wrote a series of articles for my local student newspaper. I still have them here and out of morbid curiosity (I hate reading my material from the past because I think my writing style is often cringeworthy in my attempts to make people sit up and take notice) I read through them.

What worries me is that they are three years old and yet they diagnose a problem that is being talked about today – that Britain must stop demonising children/young adults and learn to communicate again before intergenerational warfare breaks out.

Does this make me some sort of oracle? A prophet? Can I see predict things in the future based on current trends? Or was it just a lucky guess? Or, even worse, was it something that any old fool with half a brain could work out?

I don’t know. All I do know is that the problem exists and the causes of it have not been tackled. In the words of Cliff Richard – it’s so funny how we don’t talk anymore.

Only it’s not funny because this is no longer a laughing matter. It’s a genuinely serious problem that is growing and growing. We don’t talk to children any more because of our risk-averse nature. Society has been adjusted to think “it’s better to be safe than sorry”.

Instead, what we do to children is fire high-frequency waveforms at them. We treat them like a garden pest, to which we put out slug-repellent or, indeed, fire high pitched noises into the ground to get rid of moles.

Far be it from us to talk to them and find out what’s going on? What’s making them feel so disconnected? What’s making them feel so dispirited and demoralised? What could we do to solve it?

There are lots of things we could do to solve it, but some of them require a radical change. I am a firm believer that our nihilistic, over-consuming, branded wants-and-whims based society is partly to blame. We have all become so obsessed with spending as a way of achieving our aspirations that we have forgotten that there is more to life than money.

Some of that rubs off on our children. But mostly they rebel from it – yet in such a confused fashion. They, instead, embrace gang-culture (ironically fuelled by the media and yet more branding) as a way of protecting themselves from the sheer loneliness and isolation that our society is turning into. It’s a way of feeling wanted in the face of the fact that the rest of society is turning their backs on them, demonising them. Even their own parents are somewhat reticent to step in. If they have any parents who care, that is.

Others embrace the consumer-society and turn into branding-whores. They swallow the so-called aspirational lifestyles of our incredibly poor role models in the “celebrity” world (witness Mr Doherty and Ms Winehouse) and think life really could be so easy if only we could win X Factor, Britain’s Got Talent or worse, appear on Big Brother. They use celebrity as a way of escaping the grim and harsh reality of life.

What we’re left with is a society that has completely wrong priorities and children – the next generation – thinking that this is the norm.

‘Twas ever thus, we often refrain. We all hark back to the golden age that never existed. I may be getting caught up in media hype, the very same media hype that has resulted in children feeling demonised with very little fact behind it.

But I think what we are witnessing is the embedding of the capitalist way. Capitalism is neither good nor bad – it simply is. It does what it is designed to do – that is, be ruthless and efficient and take every short cut necessary to achieve utility maximisation.

We are witnessing the rollback of society, being replaced by the choice and freedom of the market. The market as the new provider of needs and wants. Society, community and government stepping further and further away.

Maybe it’s because we no longer have a common cause, a common goal, a unity of purpose to give a direction to our lives. Our only goal now appears to be self-fulfilment via capitalism. So is it any wonder we screw everyone else over to achieve it? Bollocks to everyone else’s problems; I’m all right, Jack.

Yet to me there is still an optimism that it doesn’t have to be this way. I know an enormous number of children from the various things I do with my life. I’ve met literally hundreds over the past few years. All of them have the potential to do incredible things with their life, if they could only learn to believe in themselves and that life is worth living for more than material ends. Because that’s all most of them care about.

We shouldn’t be surprised that that’s all they care about, because it’s what they’ve been socialised to do. That is what we have taught them. But we can reverse it. We can reverse everything I’ve written. But to do it, we really are going to have to transcend ourselves to the post-materialistic society that has often been posited as existing but I don’t think it does. We must reconnect with values of fraternity, of kinship, of living within our means, of respecting ourselves, our own life, as being worth living and not some trivial, flippant exercise in consumer spending power.

How do we do that? I don’t know yet, but I’m working on it. I’ve got some thoughts, and they mostly relate to the wonderful conception of “One Planet Living” by the WWF. This would be one of my potential answers to how we can restore a common purpose. Environmental citizenship is maybe what I would call it. I guess I spent too long doing about this topic in university this year.

Every human being has a talent. Every human being has a value. We owe it to ourselves as a species to see us try to achieve that value. Then not only will the kids be all right, but so will the adults.

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