The Problem With Kids Today
Sealed off from reality, the youth are terrified of themselves and of everything else.
One advantage of skulking around your early thirties is one can freely bemoan the state of the youth today.
By ‘youth,’ I mean anyone younger than me, and anyone under forty-five whose puritan leanings I loathe.
I’m enjoying this additional string to my bow of eternal curmudgeon. Indeed, I scour my local newspapers for the choicest examples of the old whinging about the young, and from those examples excise the time-worn formula of what is crystallised as ‘In my day.’
Invariably, the authors of what one detracting reader may have called a ‘typical screed,’ are named either Harold or John. The Harold-John Axis lavishes your humble narrator with great reading pleasure.
In Harold’s day, the youth were polite and well-mannered, considerate, and always wore a tie. In John’s day, you wouldn’t dream of dropping litter or talking back to your elders. ‘Every morning, my father beat me with a polio-soaked birch just to keep me warm. Didn’t do me any harm!’ says a quiversome John.
Harold and John have a point. The old will always lament the young. The young will always face charges of impoliteness, self-absorption, degeneracy, and a general fall in standards, from the old.
The problem is today’s youth are the most conformist, most boring, teetotal, artless, and unoriginal specimens to ever vacate a pair of testicles.
In my day, me and my fellow reprobates fell under the eyes of the local Youth Offending Team, a term of which we vaingloriously co-opted to burnish our high crimes of underage drinking and mild rascality.
The YOT was a cadre of social workers and therapists and assorted professional redeemers missioned with steering kids away from their petty hormonal expressions lest they mutate into actual criminals.
Freed from the tedium of British state schooling, we’d loiter outside the off-licence, our primary directive to convince some sap to finagle us a flagon of fight-yourself cider and twenty fags.
Modern youths, possessed of a social awkwardness so pronounced it could cut ribbons out of lead, don’t clot outside the off-licence in hope of sourcing some liquid fun. They’re too busy taking photos of themselves.
With the loot in hand, we’d skulk off to the groves or a riverbank. After a few hours of downing cans, free from the now ubiquitous screens to which most are beguiled, we’d emerge a little more developed, a little more independent. Our petty transgressions were a rite of passage toward provisional adulthood.
Today, such character-building pursuits are frowned upon. Having fun, like everything else these days, is de facto illegal.
Our neurotic safety culture has bred boring, stale young people. By sealing off reality and by removing risk, we’ve birthed generations of Zoomers and Millennials terrified of themselves and of everything else.
Perhaps we should junk the mushrooming list of what’s illegal in favour of a pocket-sized list of what is legal. Give it a few years, you’ll fit that list on to the back of cigarette packet. That’s of course if you can still buy them. Apparently, they’re bad for you.
Much like everything else, then. Just this week, the Welsh government announced it may forbid under-16s from buying tea and coffee. In England, neurotic doctors haunted with the fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy suggested we raise the smoking age every year until that undesirable pursuit is de facto illegal. President Biden, after announcing a demented plan to eliminate nicotine in real cigarettes, banned the pretend cigarettes called Juul. It comes to something when vaping is too dangerous for the busybody brigade.
This popular neurosis is everywhere one looks. Our discourse is defined by harm and trauma and wellness and self-care. The airwaves ache with pseudo-religious notions of purification and renewal.
My gambling app forces me to ‘check in’ every half an hour. Like some mawkish therapist, the app asks me if I am ‘okay’? I’d be okay—better, even—if you’d let me dissolve this £20 note on West Ham to win four-nil. Mind your own business.
Every advert waffles on about one’s carbon footprint, electric cars, how some rapacious corporation is saving this and opening the conversation about that. Who on earth buys alcohol-free beer for any other reason than to humblebrag, in the manner of a scientist who’s just split the atom using only a severed Coke can, that they’re drinking alcohol-free beer?
As Lionel Shriver said of our culture of neurosis, ‘there’s something wrong with you, if there’s nothing wrong with you.’
It’s of no surprise that young people today think rebellion is whatever piety corporations peacock this week.
They’re some of the most conformist, most anxious, and most depressed of generations. They don’t smoke, they hardly drink. A terrifying percentage reject free speech. Disturbingly, you cannot find a sexually transmitted disease between them.
Parents who forbid little India to walk to the corner shop without Kevlar, kale chips, a GPS tracker, and a tube of Narcan, have spawned generations terrified of themselves.
What a parlous state of affairs. The sole commonality I share with these budding puritans is the right to trial by a jury of my peers. And that won’t last long if they get their way.
Not only do these Ritalin-addled sprogs drain their days snapping selfies and patenting pathologies, but they’ll soon vote for more of the same.
You can discern the life cycle of a civilisation by the pettiness of its laws. Softened by sloth, insecure cultures coddle themselves into a cycle of neurosis: Neurotic citizens vote for neurotic politicians who enact neurotic laws which spawn neurotic citizens who vote for neurotic politicians. Wash, rinse, repeat.
The result? Mandatory air bags and seatbelts—for pedestrians.
For all our trumpeting of progress and of The First, our neurotic culture’s greatest irony lie in its suffocation of true progress.
When was the last time you read a modern novel or watched a modern movie which enraptured you with beauty and truth? Or one that didn’t force-feed this week’s progressive gospel, and next week’s progressive heresy?
I’d guess a good while ago. Our stagnant culture, the one busy chanting slogans in the mirror, reimagines great novels, great movies, and reinterprets great art. Before these empowering times, this cultural larceny was called plagiarism.
As Heather Mac Donald puts it, such sterility indulges the mere ‘wisps of transitory reality.’
The college-bound youth of today, she says, should use their “four precious years to take a deep-dive into beauty, into grandeur, into sublimity, into wit, into irony, into the greatest expressions of mankind. Not into contemporary politics, or homeless politics, or whatnot.”
Neurotic times such as ours drain creative energy. Milton spent twenty years with Paradise Lost tucked away in his pocket whilst he wrote stillborn pamphlets in the ‘sea of noises and hoarse disputes’ of the Puritan Revolution. After the revolution failed, Milton published Paradise Lost.
Our novels and dramas and films and symphonies are drowned at birth in a noisome bucket of Twitter, doom-scrolling, and debates over whether men can get pregnant.
Such is the fate of a culture hostile to the outsider and to the eccentric, those authors of almost everything truly progressive.
So here is my modest proposal: The next time a youth asks me to buy him some booze and a packet of gaspers, I will not only comply, but pay for the lot myself.
Who knows? One day, we might get a decent novel out of the investment.
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