Posts Tagged ‘teenagers’

I don’t buy magazines anymore. Not at all. Not even for the train. I prefer to read news sites, tweets, pompous novels, and the backs of cornflakes boxes; the only magazines you might find in my house are gaming bible Edge (which I nick from my other half because I’m far too cheap to procure it for myself) and Primary Times, which comes free in my daughter’s schoolbag every so often and chiefly functions as an advertising outlet for suburban activity centres. Nevertheless, I was, for the most part, raised by magazines. Magazines and my grandmother, who was far too busy baking brown bread and making eyes at Gay Byrne to teach me how to function as a modern girl-child. Everything I learned about love, life, career, and eyeshadow, I learned from the following periodicals.

I learned about boobs from The Sunday World.

Twinkle: Back in the 80s, girls were made from sugar and spice and all things nice, not from guts and determination and all these new-fangled ideas actual Spice Girls rode into town on. Twinkle was a pastel slice of placid imagination: business ambitions were channelled into teddy bear hospitals, relationship issues began and ended with naughty but adorable baby brothers. Twinkle didn’t teach me to be a hardass in shoulder pads, but it did make an army of friends out of my stuffed animals; because of Twinkle, I didn’t grow up the weirdo I might otherwise have been, with no one to keep me company but those cold portraits of Padre Pio and The Sacred Heart.

Bunty: One generally moved from Twinkle to Bunty in the late 80s, didn’t they? I remember there was a rival in the form of Mandy & Judy, which apparently was once two separate magazines, amalgamated like a papery Cerberus in order to challenge the preppy, blonde market-leader. I paid M&J very little attention. M&J didn’t have The Four Marys. Or The Comp. Or Luv, Lisa. Bunty taught me how to be a jolly decent little pre-teen, all about integrity and fellowship and lacrosse sticks. Incidentally, I only learned how to pronounce lacrosse the other day, when watching MTV’s If You Really Knew Me; a pretty blonde jock who was into the ould lacrosse learned to appreciate her older sister’s guidance, which was a lesson Bunty herself would have been happy to impart. Ah, the circle of life.

Horse & Pony: Too old for Bunty, too young for boys to start looking attractive (or even for them to be taller than me), I turned my attention instead to a magazine aimed at girls who wished and wished for their very own pony, but lacked the disrespect for the ISPCA to actually get one. Some of the boys and girls I knew had ponies and kept them on building sites, but after reading H&P cover to squee-ishly gorgeous cover for a year, I knew exactly what a horsey needed and that a building site was completely the wrong environment. Basically, I was a walking, useless, equine encyclopaedia. Luckily, puberty came along and saved me from many more years of crushing disappointme … oh, wait.

Smash Hits: My best friend, Caroline, bought pop magazine BIG, but I was that bit cooler and so I bought Smash Hits. It had longer interviews and an obsession with Britpop. Also, I was into, like, indie boys, and Smash Hits gave away stickers of Damon Albarn way more than it gave away stickers of Mark Owen or whoever it was Caroline was into at the time. Smash Hits taught me irreverence, a love for absurdity, and how to be extremely pedantic about song lyrics. And it once had a serialised interview with the godlike Ryan Giggs, a footballer. But that was Smash Hits. Always thinking outside the box.

Sugar: While some girls worried about tampons and bra sizes and The Willies Of Boys, myself and the aforementioned Caroline sailed through adolescence because Sugar had already taught us everything we needed to know. Well, outside of how to wire a plug, but I think that was covered in Junior Cert physics. Celebrity culture is all-pervading nowadays, but I don’t remember much gushing over celebrities in Sugar back in the mid-nineties – if there was, we had very little interest in it. Sugar was all about community, creating a shared experience out of the pubertal nightmare; it had so many problem pages, it is not a stretch to suggest that it was wholly dedicated to soothing the banal frettings of an entire generation. From Sugar, I leaned that sex is best when it’s with someone you’re completely comfortable with, that it’s never worth falling out with your friends over a boy, and that if your crush touches you when he talks to you, he’s probably looking to snog you to East 17’s Stay Another Day. God, they don’t make Christmas No. 1s like they used to. Nor magazines, for Sugar is set to cease publication this year. Woe!

More!: When dull and dreary became the perverted pages of Sugar – which dared to tell teenage girls that sex wasn’t automatically Wrong and Cheap – it was time to move on to More!, which was aimed at Uni-age girls who shopped and went on holidays and paid rent and Did It in armchairs if they bloody well wanted to. This was utterly enlightening for a while, though the armchairs thing never happened to me, as I shared my flat with four other girls, all of whom would have been most disconcerted had they arrived home from a lecture to find me and whatever Oh-Yeah-He’s-The-One I had at the time all akimbo in front of the afternoon’s Pokémon episode. More! magazine taught me how to tan, be sick in my handbag, apply for a credit card, and overspend in Penney’s. I realised shortly afterwards that I didn’t really want to know any of that.

Which is probably why More! was my last magazine, disregarding a brief dalliance with the ugliest kind of madness a few years later when I got sucked into the vortex of bridal publications, and barely escaped with my wedding budget still intact.

Anyone else with some lovely, glossy, print-media memories?

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Modern life is tough for teenage girls. Early and inappropriate sexualisation combined with a culture of binge drinking can lead to some fairly risky behaviour and very unpleasant outcomes. Pubescent girls are under intense pressure to conform to various idealised and unhealthy body stereotypes. No wonder mothers, older sisters and concerned females who have reached the relative safety of our twenties and thirties (ok, and forties) worry as they watch these vulnerable young women with their post-coital hairstyles, Day-Glo tans and ill-fitting air of insouciance hanging around pubs and nightclubs, often the worse for wear.

The temptation may be to consider curfews aimed at curbing the more excessive manifestations of carefree youth but we all know that knee-jerk draconianism doesn’t work. Ever since Rapunzel let down her hair teenage girls have been climbing out of upstairs windows and shinning down drainpipes to join the fun. Ensuring the safety and well-being of our teens surely depends on them taking responsibility for their own behaviour without feeling smothered by the fear of what might happen. After all it is nothing short of essential that independence is asserted. We all deserve our opportunity to enjoy the careful hedonism of our teens before taking on the weighty responsibilities of adulthood.

Perhaps a Swedish organisation established by teenagers can provide a model for young Irish girls to better protect themselves. United Sisters has helped hundreds of Swedish girls aged between 12 and 20 to cope with the pressures of life. The scheme, developed by two Swedish teenagers  in 1996, aims to shore up self esteem by exploding myths relating to body image and early sexualisation. The girls who participate are drawn from a wide variety of backgrounds and all projects are developed in response to the suggestions and requirements of participants. Weekly get-togethers facilitate discussions that encompass relevant issues including sex, drugs, role models, violence, and prejudice. The intention is to give participants the opportunity to explore these highly charged topics in a safe, supportive and informed environment. Voluntary adult coaches are on hand for times when their intervention is deemed appropriate.

Perhaps the most radical and effective aspect of the programme is the voluntary night patrol involving girls aged 16-20 who walk the streets of Gothenburg and Stockholm helping young people who are too drunk to take care of themselves; embroiled in a hostile or confrontational situation; or simply upset and in need of someone to talk to. Each volunteer undertakes an intensive three month training programme aimed at teaching participants self-protection techniques, first aid, ethics, legal studies, drug knowledge and conflict resolution.

Would a similar scheme work here in Ireland? Would Irish teenage girls welcome such an initiative?

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A great friend of mine, with whom I shared the lurching stumble through secondary school, was telling us a story the other day about an unexpected run in she’d recently had with our year’s superbitch.

And I mean superbitch. Not in the traditional bullying sense, for she was no great physical presence and was far too into her looks to risk them in an altercation, but in the Mean Girls brand of obnoxious knobbery; she’d get people’s names wrong on purpose, she’d laugh at the dress sense of girls less economically privileged, she’d whisper and glint and coerce and sneer – she was a nasty piece of work. Insecure, now that I look back on it. Possibly there was something horribly wrong with her, but certainly, at the time, she was wedged into a nasty rut and seemed in no hurry to let an adult conscience prise her out.

Anyway, my friend was surprised to get an email from her a couple of months ago. They hadn’t been at all friendly in school – my friend was a teacher’s daughter, and bound by that into acting with respect for her educators, meaning that she got no respect herself from the likes of Superbitch and her equally empty-headed minions – so to hear from her as an adult was unexpected, to say the least. Superbitch dispensed with pleasantries after a couple of lines. A buddy of hers was doing the same course as my friend had recently completed, and she was wondering if my friend would send on her notes, essays, and other study materials, kthxbye.

“Can you believe the nerve!” my friend spluttered, over a glass of wine (which was kind of messy, as you can imagine). “Ten years out of school – and God, did she make my life a misery when we were in school – and she thinks I’m going to go out of my way to help her and her friend that I’ve never met because she can’t be bothered doing her own course work?”

“I see she hasn’t changed,” said the more sophisticated of our gang, whereas I registered my disgust with a mature, “I would have sent her a picture of my arse.”

“I don’t know,” said our resident devil’s advocate. “I would have sent on the notes.”

In unison, “WHAT?!”

Could we really believe our ears? Was someone actually suggesting cheek-turning here (and not in the pictures-of-arse sense)?

“I would have done my best to help her,” said our (contrary) Good Samaritan. “I would have given to her what I could, knowing that I was the bigger person, and that I was mature enough not to base my reactions on ancient history.”

There have been plenty of times in my life when I wished I could go back to secondary school, just for a couple of days, with my adult outlook and sharply-honed sense of right, wrong, and revenge. I fancy I would have the place fawning over me within an hour. I’d tell the mean girls exactly what I thought of them. I’d stand up for the poor souls who were bullied incessantly just because they were meek and sweet-natured. I’d tell the loudmouth mucksavages that no one thought they were heroes for making substitute teachers cry. I’d tell my friends that no matter how things seemed at fifteen, the world was a much bigger place and we would shortly be much better people for living in it, that there would be adventures, and laughter, and love and loss and exams like we could never predict.

But perhaps I was wrong. Maybe it is pointless to harbour ridiculous fantasies of putting everything right when my adult self knew there was very little wrong in the first place. Maybe the last step towards adulthood, maturity, contentment was realising that the superbitches were but blips in an otherwise successful school life.

We were all silent for a moment.

And then someone said, “Fuck that. You treat people like shit, they will have no inclination to bend over backwards for you. That’s life. That’s a lesson worth learning.”

What do you think?

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Amish: The World's Squarest Teenagers?

Sometimes I suspect commissioning heads at certain TV stations sit around thinking up clever titles for programmes and then send some poor researcher out to find material to fill in the gaps.

“Hey! I’ve got it. When Fast Animals Attack Slow Children! Have we got any footage of nanny goats turning vicious at a petting zoo?”

If they’re lucky, they might be presented with a subject that is both interesting AND ripe for a smartass title. Channel 4 are divils for it.

Take their offering this coming Sunday night. It certainly caught the eye. Amish: The World’s Squarest Teenagers. Actually, I’m rather interested in seeing this. The Amish community is fascinating for so many reasons – its imperviousness to modernity in the supposedly most developed country in the world, North America, for one.

She's not square. She rides a scooter, for chrissake.

The tradition of allowing its older teenagers to spend some time in the ‘real’ world before returning to settle back into their community and advance into adult life has always struck me as rather brave and progressive. Especially as what we know of their way of life seems to imply that it is rigidly conservative and patriarchal.

But that frigging title. Every time the promo for the documentary came on C4 this week, I gave a little scream inside. Isn’t it incredibly patronising? And what’s wrong with being square anyway? And why is everyone always hatin’ on teens?

It seems to me that teenagers get a really rough ride from adults. Now, I’ll be honest – I don’t like being around teenagers much. I didn’t like being around them much when I was one myself. (Yes, I was as popular as that makes me sound). But I absolutely respect their right to be what they are; hormonal, excitable, passionate, idealistic, unreasonable, semi-child/semi-adult, miserable, hopeful, vulnerable.

So I feel protective towards them. If they’re not being criticised for being alcoholics/promiscuous/drug-crazed/anti-social, they’re being labelled – a la the Amish – square/freaks/geeks/misfits.

Am I being too sensitive here? Or do you think teenagers should be fitted with an electric shock bracelet until they learn, Pavlovian-style, to conform to the social niceties of adulthood?

* Amish: The World’s Squarest Teenagers, Channel 4, 8pm, Sunday, July 25.

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Oh, the core parent-of-a-teenager story. A friend of mine recently got a nasty shock when, provoked by the discovery of a sneaky packet of condoms, she found quite the accumulation of explicit text messages in her teenaged daughter’s phone. Her single teenaged daughter’s phone. Her single, fourteen-year-old daughter’s phone.

This is a core story because it’s not the first time I’ve heard it; more than a couple of friends and their more gossip-worthy relatives have been made aware of their teenaged child’s sexual awakening through devious divings into his or her text message history. If rites of passage have evolved at all, it’s to make room for a mortifying encounter with a livid, bawling parent with an unfortunate proficiency in modern sleuthing methods. In this particular case, my friend was terribly shaken – not just because her daughter was apparently sexually active, but because the nature of the messages were less “journey of sexual discovery” and more “let’s all have an orgy”. The result was a horrified, grounded, phoneless young wan, and a horrified, tearful, traumatised mother, who spent the next few weeks doubting her parental fitness, and wondering what the hell she was supposed to do next.

Beyond carefully-selected woe betides, it turned out, not a whole lot. Teenagers will march on towards adulthood, after all, and there’s not much to be said for the concept of a postemptive strike.

When I was a teenager – the mid-nineties, which as far as I’m concerned are still the very recent past – I thought that my mam would absolutely curdle if she knew what we got up to of a Saturday evening, though that would be a problem entirely her own, for we were doing nothing Wrong. No one was in danger. No one was compromised. It was just the generational gap and it was up to the oldies to bridge it. So is it that I’m an oldie now that I can’t get my head around the carry-on of kids today? Has an unwelcome fuddyduddyness infected my tolerance and common sense and wherewithal? Am I just pumped up on the fear of that which I just don’t, like, totally get?

Have I no good reason to be alarmed by the young and scantily-clad and surefooted?

Miley Cyrus has been all over the gossip sites of late; all of Miley, all over. The seventeen-year-old popstrel is keen to ditch Hannah Montana’s blonde wig, tweenie fans and wholesome blether for a more sophisticated image befitting her advancing years. For which read: less pants. Bigger hair. More simulated mutual masturbation with hawt leather-bound dancers. Singer and actress Taylor Momsen, a similarly pantsless chica who wants to be Chrissie Hynde from the waist up only, celebrates her seventeenth birthday later this month, yet is happy to tell us all that she’ll dress in t-shirts, suspenders and ripped stockings now because it would be inappropriate in her thirties. The world’s most extraneous wild child, Peaches Geldof, had, at seventeen, been photographed in more compromising positions than you could shake a paper cone at.

However, just because Ms. Cyrus wants to be seen as a fully-fledged sexual being in control of her own whims and intimate piercings doesn’t mean you should treat her as one – blogging nitwit Perez Hilton recently got a scalding when he posted an upskirt image of an apparently commando Miley getting out of a car. Distribution of child pornography! yowled his critics. Even if she’s dressed in killer heels and negligee and waving her crotch about in concert doesn’t mean you should be looking at it! Miley, in short, is old enough to court controversy for sales figures and column inches, but certainly not old enough to be held responsible for such marketing decisions. Likewise, Taylor Momsen remains stubbornly unable to understand any objection to the persistent flashing of an underage girl’s inner thighs. Peaches Geldof, now old enough to vote and know better, has her boyfriend call out the mothers of those who capture her posing, glassy-eyed, in manky, strange bedrooms. Give me the perks of adulthood so that I may taste, but get them consequences Out Of My Face. Disturbing? Absolutely, but mostly because the Age Of Accountability seems a long way off for each of these little madams. Am I climbing ever faster to the peaks of irrelevance if my jaw drops and my skin crawls? You tell me.

Are we destined – the generation in power, of child-bearing and wine-appreciation age – to wring our hands at the hyperbolic sexual statements of younger ladies? Perhaps it’s as simple as that; perhaps daring text messages are to be taken as nothing but Ye Olde Boundary Pushing, and the disregard of trousers in fashion ensembles equates to a modern day bra-burning. Despite our initial squawks and retchings, when I think about it, it’s unlikely my friend’s daughter was having a train run on her in the back bedroom of her best friend’s house. Most likely, it was just our paranoid, terrified adult minds pinning advanced sexual foibles to clumsy teenage fumbling. There is no doubt that today’s little women are coming of age in a more aggressively sexualised society, but just because you’re surrounded by pole-dancing hotties in music videos, blowjob tips in magazines, and glamour models empowering the shit out of everyone, doesn’t mean you have a wisp of a notion what to do with any of it.

Incidentally, my friend had a fancy-dress party recently, and as a treat, the fourteen-year-old was allowed to join in. As a Playboy bunny. Which she thought was sweet. I shit you not.

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