I’m a regular listener to CBC’s Radio 1. It’s broadly similar to the UK’s Radio 4, though I listen to it much more than I ever did to Radio 4. Perhaps it’s a sign of old age. Extensive research on my part has confirmed that the calendar does seem to inexorably advance a whole day every 24 hours or so. The waistband on my trousers seems to shrink too, I’ve noticed. You’d think these days they’d have figured out a way to stop that happening…
Of course my listening to Radio 1 it could also be a testament to the low quality of alternatives on the airwaves. The CBC, like the BBC is advert free and therefore owed much tolerance for that blessing alone. Depending whether I have early morning con-calls with Europe, my drive to work can begin at quite a variable time each day. Often though, I catch a current affairs programme called “The Current”. Despite the annoying assumption that the vast country of Canada is irrelevant once you’re outside the Greater Toronto Area, it does have some thought-provoking issues discussed.
This last week there was an episode dedicated to “Generation Z”. This is the current batch of late teenagers, also known as “post-millennials”. To be honest, I could only listen to part of it before I arrived at work, but click on the photo below to stream the entire episode if you’re interested.
Despite only hearing a portion of the piece, I’d heard enough to confirm my opinion. No matter how much the marketing engine would like us to believe otherwise, teenagers of any generation are not unique. They are in fact just the same as teenagers of any other generation. Sure “times, they are a-changin’” and the opportunities to monumentally screw up are arguably wider with every generation, but then so are the opportunities to do profound good.
Teenagers have felt misunderstood and alienated since well before the word “teenager” was coined in the 40’s by Reader’s Digest. Go watch Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet if you doubt me. Or West Side Story or even China Girl if you prefer a more modern rendition. In fact Shakespeare was something of an expert on teenagers. Check out Twelfth Night (She’s the Man) or Taming of the Shrew (10 Things I Hate About You). In fact who’s to say the invention of the wheel wasn’t due to some prehistoric caveteen trying to leave home (again) because his parents just didn’t get him/her?
So anyway, convenient though it is to believe each generation is somehow unique, I’m afraid my own opinion is that each generation is simply a reflection of its time. Not surprisingly I’m often annoyed at my teenage son’s love affair with video games. I suspect it’s actually more envy on my part that he has way more choice than the single “Pong” option I had at his age… though Space Invaders was around by the time I was in my gap year, with Galaxian being widely available by the time I graduated. He’s also a caring, considerate individual when it suits him, and on balance I think he turned out quite well considering he was stuck with me as half of his parenting team.
He’s just spent a week or so of Spring Break with one of his sisters in Montreal, and by all accounts they’ve had a great time snow-tubing (it’s still well below zero out east), hanging out and being “Generation Z”. More interestingly, they visited the anthropology museum and much to my student daughter’s chagrin, he was loathe to leave until he’d thoroughly digested each and every fact on the notice boards. Yup, my video game playing 16 year old son was more interested in the anthropology museum than my anthropology-studying daughter. Don’t go making assumptions I think is the lesson.
Which brings me to Friday evening. Having just got back from the gym, I harnessed up the dog to take her for a spin around the estate. I was still in my running gear, with a lightweight rain jacket. Mrs E had decided to join us, and off we set around the environs. Approaching on the other side of the road was a group of 3 late teenage boys. Laughing and in good spirits, they were a tad rowdy, but nothing offensive or bothersome. The leading lad started to jump up in an attempt to grab one of the low-hanging branches of the crescent’s many cherry blossom trees. In itself, this wasn’t anything of particular note. I remember seeing how high up I could reach on lamp posts as a kid. However, on the third or fourth attempt, he succeeded in grabbing the branch. At this point, he grabbed it with both hands and started very deliberately pulling and twisting it with the obvious intent of snapping off the limb.
With three decades of experience as a Scout Leader, dealing with teenagers and reasoning with their better nature, I of course interjected. Ha! Training be buggered – I yelled “Oi! Stop that, you bloody hooligan!”
Mrs E was horrified at my interjection and tried to get me to disengage. Her fear was grounded in several reports of “older men” being set upon by youths both in the UK and here in BC. I justified myself by misquoting some old statement about “evil only needing good men to do nothing”, and thankfully the yobbo let go after one of his oppos yelled “leave it Hamish, leave it alone”. This avoided me having to decide whether to press my position any further.
I was a little taken aback by the aforementioned Hamish then spouting a load of bad English (though Mrs E claims Australian) stereotypes of the “gor blimey mate” variety. After 15 years here I consider myself Canadian and sometimes quite forget how I must sound to others. The joke of course being that I have a quite distinct Yorkshire accent that to those of a more cosmopolitan outlook than poor stoned Hamish would easily identify as being neither cockney nor antipodean. I suspect, given his name, his own parents or perhaps grandparents might even be recent immigrants from Scotland.
My forceful insistence that perhaps he might like to go forth and multiply (in the shortened Anglo-Saxon form) caused his lieutenant to even more urgently suggest he might like to call it a day and continue on their way, which thankfully he did. Number three shuffled along and didn’t seem to be engaged in anything at all. As we rounded the bend, a fourth member of the hop-head crew was stood in the gutter, long-board tilted under his foot, studiously messing with his iPod and blaring music to the neighbourhood. Hamish’s insistence that “Ivan” hurry up and join them provided his name also. Plainly this was not a hardened criminal gang by any measure. 🙂
I was angry at the wanton damage to the lovely tree, especially given that several young saplings have been completely destroyed in our local park. I felt it was not negotiable that I should intervene. Mrs E had a much more sanguine concern for our safety in the presence of four much younger lads of dubious intellect and reason. Oddly, I didn’t feel any fear. To me they weren’t being aggressive, despite the damage. They were bored.
They were Generation Z. And arguably they were representative of Generation Z. Not because they were causing damage – that has been the place of bored teenagers since before Roman times.
No they were Generation Z purely because they were teenagers. Labelled not due to any particular trait but because of when they were born. They weren’t “bad lads” as my dad used to say. One made a brief bad choice. He was easily dissuaded by one of his friends. Who knows, he may go on to become a leading member of society. Or he could after all turn out really bad and become a lawyer. Either way, it has little to do with when he was born and what label demographers gave him.