This is an article I wrote for Edinburgh-based magazine Brikolage, but unfortunately I missed the submission deadline. I’m told it may yet appear on their lovely new website, though, and I am working on a piece for the autumn edition.
The best substitute for experience is being sixteen – Raymond Duncan
When does adolescence end?
Mine went today, when I impulse bought a pair of sensible shoes on the way past Clarks. The clincher was that I agreed to pay an extra fiver for velour toe shapers.
“What are toe shapers,” you might ask, as the hip and vital young person you undoubtedly are. Well, they are the retail equivalent of scrunching up some newspaper to put in your shoes to suck up moisture and stop them wrinkling.
At 24, I suppose I’m well over the accepted UK adolescent line. But I don’t feel that different now than when I was a teenager. I have a sense of awe at friends the same age or younger than me who are getting married and having kids. Sure, technically I’m old enough, but all that stuff seems so… grown up. My boyfriend and I only just took the plunge of going halfers on a Nintendo Wii. We thought it’d be easier than a dog.
According to Wikipedia, that trusted and always 100% accurate internet fact bucket, “Adolescence (from the Latin: adolescere meaning “to grow up”) is a transitional stage of physical and mental human development that occurs between childhood and adulthood.”
It goes on to list a few examples of levels you can complete in the game of life that may earn you adult status – getting married, being allowed to drink legally, getting a driving license and so on. But you can do all that and still be emotionally immature. A 32-year-old man recently propositioned my friend who had gained all of those ‘adult’ badges – including the fiancé. But all he wanted to do was go out and have fun, and by fun of course I mean be a cheating arsehole devoid of morals or conscience. Apparently, it was unfair of people to expect him to take responsibility for his own life. And if that’s not an adolescent sentiment, I don’t know what is.
Being a teenager is bloody brilliant. OK, I will concede that you’ve got mood swings and acne, which are rubbish. If you’re a girl, you’ve got other teenage girls to contend with, and they’re horrible. Meanwhile boys have a tendency to oddly timed growth spurts and an irrational compulsion to overdose on Lynx, which is definite emo poem fodder.
But in other news, this is the time in your life where you can make mistakes without terrible repercussions. You can dye your hair stupid colours without upsetting your employer. You’re still finding out who you are and what you want to be, and as long as you don’t have a bawbag for a guidance teacher basically anything is possible. You don’t pay taxes, or have kids to look after, and your money is entirely your own to blow on whatever you want. And everyone – your parents, teachers, the government – is obsessed with working out how to engage you so that you get the best opportunities in life and don’t piss it all away by making ill informed decisions.
A lot of teenagers already know this. They’ll admit it as well, but only to each other. Adults must be made to think that adolescence is a constant struggle against a tide of adversity; otherwise they’ll stop making the effort to help out. And the only thing worse than being talked about, as a teenager once said to Oscar Wilde, is not being talked about.