Thursday, 5 November 2015

Who'd be a Teenage Dirtbag Baby...

There was an interesting article in the Guardian by Liz Fraser last week, mourning the loss of her young children as they morphed into their new teenage selves.
The transition from sunny infant to surly humanoid is well-documented and the realisation that the little poppets are only going to get bigger and louder is a shock for any parent. But, looking back, I'm struggling to see the demarcation lines between the stages: incomprehensible behaviour, falling over, keeping me up at night, 'creative' clothing choices and sleep patterns unrecogniseable to an adult...in my experience that could be any age from 2 to 25. The only thing that has noticeably changed is that nowadays their sticky little fingers are all over the Honey Jack not the milk.
The real difference wasn't between the stages but the genders: as anyone who has lived with them/taught them/observed their mating rituals as they roam their shopping centre prairies, teenage boys and teenage girls are very different beasts and hunt in very different packs. I had one of each and boys certainly seemed to have an easier life: throw them a ball or stick them near an X-Box and they'll happily grunt at each until they're about 45. And, no matter, how big they get, you can always control them through the twin controls of 'being disappointed' and any mention of sex...



It's the girls who get my sympathy: being a teenage girl is tough. I was never cool or even that rebellious (small town girl, Catholic fear worn as an extra layer of skin) and teenagers in the 1970s were far less scary. I was still terrified and the thought of having one of my own was a far better contraceptive than even my Catholic mother's scariest anti-sex propaganda (that's for another blog/book/therapy session).

I was lucky: the one I managed to rear wasn't a drama queen and neither were her friends. Admittedly some of the ones I taught could have given Mean Girls a run for their money and I never did work out what tripped the timer device on the detonate button. What I do know is that nothing would have made me change places with them - surely Freaky Friday is every adult woman's nightmare?

Whether you identified with Mean Girls or really wanted to be in Heathers, anyone who's spent any time with a teenage girl knows the truth: scratch the surface and, whatever flavour of teenage angst she's showing the world, what's underneath is a mess of insecurities so complex they make Woody Allen look like a well-adjusted suburban Dad.
I will be forever grateful I grew up in a pre-Internet world. Body image is something that surely plagues teenagers whenever they grew up and there can be few mothers who don't lose sleep over the fear of a daughter with an eating disorder. How any girl copes in the spotlight of social media and the insanity of photo-shopping is beyond me. The recent controversy over retouched pictures of model Zendaya has been fascinating, both for the spotlight it throws on the attitudes in the fashion industry to young models and the way girls can fight back if they get support. I would never normally link any article from the Daily Mail but this one is worth it so you can see exactly how much change was made to pictures of a stunning girl who is, let's be honest, already tiny. Another teenage at the centre of a media storm is Essena O Neill , a darling of Instagram because of her selfies depicting her gorgeous life. She has now withdrawn her account saying the whole thing was born out of insecurity and was basically an exercise in product-placement. The knives of course are out but I'm refusing to be cynical (it can be done) and I admire her stand.

So my teenage recast is heading for a simpler time, when hair was spiky and eyeliner was thick and you didn't even own a phone for no one to call - my favourite teen film of all The Breakfast Club.


There they sit, our Saturday morning detention misfits: the princess, the outcast, the rebel, the nerd and the jock, a sulky petrie dish of stereotypes and hormones ready to be stirred. All the movie needed was Andrew McCarthy as a poetically suicidal dreamer and my life would have been complete... 
In the spirit of this blog, let's tackle the girls first, starting at the top with Claire Standish.  Proud, uptight about sex but very sexy (who else do you know who can put lipstick on with their boobs?), popular through position and money yet despising anyone who likes her, she is one mixed up minx. I can't see a happy future: she'll marry for all the wrong reasons, become brittle and dangerous and make far more enemies than friends. 

Who gets the recast? Anne Boleyn, a spiky virginity-obsessed Prom Queen in training.  She would be a gift to the digital age: cyber-bullying Catherine of Aragon, posting selfies as she kicked up her heels in an inappropriate dress to celebrate Wolsey's death, teasing Henry with sultry looks all over Instagram. Never mind the Kardashians, we'd all be glued to Made in Hever.

Allison Reynolds was always my wannabe - cool, gobby, clearly troubled but in an interesting tortured way like a better-fed Edgar Allen Poe heroine. And the bit where she used dandruff for snow, be still my beating heart...So Allison, with her artistic leanings and her fierce frankness gets her recast from one of the coolest women of all time: Frida Kahlo. Smoking dope in detention, terrifying the quieter pupils, breaking trainee Goth hearts, stalking Diego Rivera - can't you just imagine Frieda in 1922, cutting a swathe as one of the first female students at the National Preparatory School? The white-shirt nonsense works a lot better as performance art. 

Where shall we go with the boys? I'm ignoring the jock and the nerd, they were screen-fillers, which leaves me with the rebel. John Bender, let's be honest its an unfortunate name - in the boys school were I taught he would have lasted a week or become a serial killer. Was he really a bad boy? No, he was a bundle of fear wrapped in concrete (aka a teenager). He was cool, although not as cool as he thought, but I defy anyone to spot a happy ending here: outside Hollywood that level of anger takes an army to manage it. So a rebel, an outlaw and an angry young man with a fairly short future, let's welcome Jesse James to the Breakfast Club. By 19 he was already a bank robber and responsible for a number of massacres against Union Soldiers that rather dent the romantic legend I fell for as an impressionable teenager. Bad boy gone really bad.

So there you have them, our lost souls and survivors. What do you do if you have a teenager? I wouldn't dare give parenting advice but, if you have a girl, could I suggest you just buy her a copy of Caitlin Moran's How to Be A Womanpop on a couple of ironic drama queen crowns and enjoy...



10 comments:

  1. our daughter turned 16 this year. Its never ending drama. Sometime since when I was a kid it became cool to have "issues" even if you're life is great. Its exhausting

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    1. If it's any consolation they do all seem to turn into humans but don't get my started on 'issues' - I don't think we were allowed them in the North when I was a kid!

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    2. and if we did, we wouldn't have bragged about it.

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  2. Wow, I've got this to look forward to x3!! The internet is also a big worry of mine (I'm a worrier!).

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    1. I do think the Internet has made things strange - we all seem over-informed and under-educated!

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  3. Ha! too funny! Being the Mum of 4 with an age range of 13-21 I totally get this. Great post #weekendblogshare

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    1. Thank you - I love them both to bits but sometimes you do look at them in disbelief!

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  4. Glad not at teenager stage yet! Was the Liz Fraser article the one people made all the fuss about because she said it was a form of grief? Visiting from #weekendblogshare

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    1. Yes - I found that an interesting comment and one I've heard other people express but it's never hit me. Perhaps it's more to do with the stage you're at in your own life - if them growing up is a difficult adjustment because you have to redefine your own role/place? There's an interesting study in there somewhere.

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