Are we failing our teenagers?

Thursday, 21 January 2016

I was searching for a photo of me as a teenager to use for this post, and came across a CD in my drawer. It said 'Megz' and had about a million stars drawn around it. Jackpot.

I loaded it up, hoping to find a data disc of cringy diary entries, or attempts at fiction writing, or pictures of me and my friends. Disappointingly, I didn't find any of that. It was a early-noughties-teenage version of a mixtape. A mix CD.

(What do we have now? Mix-data-sharing? I think there's something sad about the demise of physical objects to represent music. You can't create cover art on an iTunes playlist. Or can you? As you will see by this post, I am practically an old woman now).

Anyway. My musical tastes have improved somewhat since I was a teenager. At the time, I was very much a whatever-was-in-the-top-40 girl. Or whatever-they-played-on-the-OC girl. Very occasionally I would buy a copy of NME and try to veer towards being alternative. But then I'd end up flying straight back to the comforting arms of chart music.

So, with an intense desire to express my tumultuous emotions but trapped in the confines of pop music, I made this CD. I kind of don't want to share it. It's cringingly awful.

It starts with Avril Lavigne, I'll say that much.


It even features *whispers* Evanescence.

I know. I'll see myself out.

But apparently I was feeling alright after an initial cluster of songs featuring lyrics such as 'it's nice to know that you were there, thanks for acting like you cared' and 'I'm so tired of being here, suppressed by all my childish fears' because I abruptly changed the tone by whacking Let's Get It Started by the Black Eyed Peas right in the middle.

I'm actually blushing as I type this. This is worse than sharing awkward pictures. I hope you're enjoying my humiliation, everyone, because it is real and it is making my insides feel a bit funny.

Anyway. It's kind of easy for me to make jokes about my teenage self because only I know how silly I was sometimes, and I do quite like looking back at all the silly, funny stuff that I did as a teenager before I went a bit wayward and nearly ruined my life.

(That changed the tone, didn't it? Take that, Black Eyed Peas. I am the queen of tone changing).

As I write this, I am wearing my Seriously Awkward campaign t-shirt because it is both comfortable and appropriate ;) I haven't written in a while about this, but I still keep up to date with their campaign, because as I wrote before, their core message is something that I feel passionate about: that teenagers deserve a voice and deserve protection from slipping through the cracks. They have joined with Hampstead Theatre in London to create a play, Firebird, which tells the story of a teenage girl who is exploited and then let down by the authorities that should have protected her. And they had a debate last year, called Teens in Crisis?, which I was lucky enough to be able to watch as they livestreamed it.

The debate was brilliant. They covered many topics - self-esteem, social media, education, mental health services for young people, social mobility, poverty and aspirations, communication, and how teens are portrayed in the media.

This last point came across really strongly in the debate, especially from the young people on the panel. I remember as a teenager feeling frustrated and upset at being pigeonholed as a 'troublemaker' because I wanted to go into a shop with a group of friends. I felt angry when I only ever saw teenagers in the news because they had done something bad. I felt exasperated when I watched a film and teenage girl characters were either a) vacuous or b) sullen.

At what point do adults forget what it was like to be young? Is there an age threshold that you cross and then instantly lose all empathy with teenagers? Because although I will freely admit that, as a teenager, I was moody, and a bit selfish, and rebellious, I was also a lot of other things: creative and caring and kind of funny and shy and very protective of the people I loved.

In short, I was a person. As I am now. A multifaceted person.

I dislike how we treat teenagers in this country. We give them criminal responsibility, and yet we give them much less support than younger children. We don't allow them the privilege of voting. We give them barely any support for mental health issues. We don't take their feelings or relationships seriously.

It's hard to be a young person now. I found it tough enough pre-social media: I remember the immense pressure I felt to look a certain way, act a certain way, be into certain things, and that was before I had what everyone else was doing shoved in my face 24/7. Teenagers don't just leave their problems at school anymore - they take them home with them and are confronted by them constantly. But for some reason, we aren't treating their issues as seriously as we would do if they were younger.

I am so happy to be campaign ambassador for the Seriously Awkward campaign and will be blogging more about their work. The current part of their campaign is focusing on sexual exploitation. They have made a short video, Emily's Story, giving an example of the kind of people they help, and the sort of situations young people find themselves in. It's a really sad watch, but I hope that you will watch it, and consider donating to their cause. I know this from my own experience, but it is easy for any young person to slip into the wrong crowd and not be able to escape on their own - any young person, from any background.

Warning: this video might be upsetting:

The Children's Society not only raise awareness of the problem by funding vital research into child sexual exploitation, but they also defend, safeguard and protect the childhood of children and young people throughout the UK. They are also calling on the government to make changes to our law in order to protect young people that would otherwise slip through the cracks.

I certainly didn't know that the problem was so widespread in the UK until I heard about the Children's Society. I didn't know this, for example:

If you can't donate (and believe me, I understand that!) please consider sharing this post, or sharing the Children's Society website. A retweet, or a share on Facebook, is one step closer to raising awareness of the scale of the problem and what we need to do to help.


  1. Great post and I will be using it tomorrow as a Tots Good Read - great to find someone else blogging about teens and how they are misrepresented and often overlooked.

    1. Thank you Emma! It's a cause really close to my heart. Thank you for using it as a Tots Good Read x


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