‘New young fogeys’ stop smoking and drinking

Going dry: The figures showed how many youngsters had experimented with alcohol or cigarettes.

The youth in England are living more cleanly than ever, new figures show. Being young is changing — so is this a sensible response to new pressures, or a sign of loneliness and narcissism?

They have long been the symbols of teenage rebellion: the cigarette behind the bike sheds, and the bottle of spirits illicitly smuggled into a party. But now, it seems, they are losing their allure.

Yesterday new figures suggested that the current younger generation is the cleanest-living on record. Since 2003, the number of under-16s drinking alcohol has fallen by two-thirds, the number trying cigarettes by three-quarters.

The findings are mixed. About a third of children are too heavy — and 90% of their parents do not realise the problem. Only one in five is as active as they should be. But twice as many youngsters say they eat the recommended daily portion of fruit and vegetables. Figures which Helen Stokes-Lampard, from the Royal College of GPs, called ’good news’.

The young are turning away from other risky behaviours too. Between 2002 and 2012 the number of 11–15 year-olds that had ever taken illegal drugs almost halved. Official teenage pregnancy rates are falling. Young adults are increasingly teetotal and having children later.

These trends are mirrored in countries including the USA. So what is causing them? Most obviously, the report suggests children and parents may be growing more conscientious. There has also been a clampdown on underage sales of alcohol and tobacco in recent years.

But perhaps youth itself is changing. Gillian Prior of NatCen, which collected the data, says observers should not ‘underestimate’ the impact of new technology and social media: ‘Teenagers spend their time in a very different way compared to 15 years ago’. This also creates or exacerbates social pressures, which make risky lifestyles less attractive.

And in an era of heightened job insecurity, teenagers may also face more pressure to achieve in exams. Jason Cowley, editor of the New Statesman, has nicknamed the sober generation ‘the new young fogeys’. They are, he says, ‘restlessly preoccupied with the near future’ and ‘much less free’ than their elders were.

Live fast?

The sympathetic view is that young people face more pressure than ever. It is increasingly important to get good grades and a good job. They are persistently judged for their looks. In an era when a silly photograph can be shared by millions, they are less free to make mistakes. They should be applauded for responding sensibly to a tough world.

The young are narcissistic and cosseted, comes the unsympathetic reply. All that time in lonely bedrooms, on social media and taking selfies has made them risk-averse, friendless and detached from reality. Teenage rebellion has just taken a new form, bringing eating disorders and self-harm — and it is even scarier, and less human, than it used to be.

You Decide

  1. Do you feel under pressure to engage in risky behaviour?
  2. Are the ‘new young fogeys’ being sensible or narcissistic?

Activities

  1. Write a list of five questions you would like to ask someone 20 years older than you, about what life was like when they were a teenager.
  2. Now use those questions to interview at least two people older than you (preferably two people from different generations). Report back to class on what you found and how being a teenager has changed — and how it has stayed the same.

Some People Say...

“Being young brings pressures which never truly change.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Why should I read what all these older people think about people like me?
No generation of parents will ever fully understand their offspring. But they have a valuable perspective: they were teenagers once, and they have had a chance to learn from their own mistakes.
I have not thought about smoking or drinking. I just want to get on with being young!
Good for you. But the themes raised here are relevant to any young person. Teenagers have always faced pressures from their contemporaries, and from the society around them, to engage in risky behaviour. And you are probably more impressionable than you may realise — because, for example, the prefrontal cortex is one of the last parts of the brain to mature. The prefrontal cortex teaches you to weigh the consequences of your decisions.

Word Watch

Figures
Featured in the Health Survey for England, which was compiled for the NHS.
Drugs
The numbers fell from 29% to 17%, according to Home Office analysis.
Falling
There were about 23 conceptions per 1,000 15 to 17-year-old girls in 2014, according to the Office of National Statistics (ONS). This compared to a high of 55 in 1971.
Teetotal
Earlier this year over half of 16–24 year-old respondents told an ONS survey they had not had a drink in the previous week.
USA
A study there this week, by study group Monitoring the Future, found that the proportion of 17–18 year-olds who had been drunk had fallen by almost a third. Only one in ten had smoked in the previous month.
Clampdown
For example, bars and off-licences are now stricter about asking for ID when selling alcohol. The legal age for buying tobacco has risen from 16 to 18 and sales from vending machines have been banned.
NatCen
A social research institute which publishes reports on attitudes and behaviours in Britain.
Pressures
For example, relating to body image. Evidence suggests self-harm and eating disorders are on the rise.

Subjects

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