Our teenagers grow up with us tapping on little rectangles – why should we expect them to behave differently?

·4-min read
‘Playing computer games is all modern teens are doing and it’s fine to leave them to it for a while’ (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
‘Playing computer games is all modern teens are doing and it’s fine to leave them to it for a while’ (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Being a younger teenager is a notoriously tricky state of affairs. Your body changes, your skin can erupt into another planet with an ecosystem of its own, and perfectly ordinary things, like your mother smoothing down your hair in public can cause the most acute embarrassment known to man.

I have noticed my 13 old son also has to contend with adults he barely knows hooting “is he Kevin the Teenager is he? Ha ha! Just like Kevin the teenager!” when they meet him, all because when asked how old he is, he has replied “13”.

My quiet, reserved child knows who Kevin and Perry are because I am his mother and have educated him well. He smiles politely, but awkwardly, knowing that he is nothing like Kevin but has to grin and bear adults who have no idea how to connect with teens, as they’re teased with a sketch made decades before they were born. It’s hilarious.

No wonder teenagers want to hide away from us. To young teenagers, most adults are idiots. I mean we really are. Fancy caring about creases in T-shirts or empty bags of crisps left to fester in a bedroom where light is not allowed in “because light’s cringe”.

I used to go mad at the amount of time my son spent in his room playing computer games. “Read a book!” I’d beg him. “When I was your age all I did was read!” I did too. I read not to edify myself but to escape from the world where I was no longer in the bliss of childhood nor yet anywhere near adulthood. I read books to connect with characters because it was so hard to connect to the real world.

Playing computer games is all modern teens seem to be doing, and it’s fine to leave them to it for a while. It was my son himself who put my mind at ease. One day, when I came home weary after a week of touring, he was waiting for me in the front room, and said: “Please mummy, give me an hour of your time, I’ll make you a cup of tea and I’ll show you my world. You’ll see it IS creative and it’s sociable too.”

His gentle pleading eyes told me he’d been affected by all my nagging and wanted the issue resolved. So off I went to his room, he showed me the world of Minecraft and I said hello to his very lovely, chatty friends who seem to live permanently and cheerfully in his earphones.

It wasn’t the game that made me “chill” it was his maturity (read: cunning) in how to handle his “in my day we played charades and made our own clothes out of orange peel” mother.

When he was small, he loved reading, devoured Asterix books and loved to be read to. Even now, he has read The Secret Diary Of Adrian Mole (it has stood the test of time) and is going through the whole series. And I can’t argue with his school reports.

As we think about our own childhoods, we imagine the games our children are playing to be the same two-dimensional games as Astro Wars and Donkey Kong. As my son said, his games are whole other worlds that he creates and loses himself in. He’ll go back to reading, I know it. When big emotions kick in and he needs other people’s words to help him make sense of them.

My own childhood wasn’t quite the Enola Holmes childhood of endless books and learning that I try to portray. A great deal of it was being so bored with my brother on a Sunday that we’d either stab each other with compasses or dare each other to climb across the window ledge outside the window of our flat, 40 feet up in the air.

We also used the climb up and play on the old garage roofs. They were just made of flimsy corrugated iron and we’d jump around on them. Many a kid in the 80s broke legs or arms after falling through garage roofs. My son is much more likely to survive his childhood playing Hearts of Iron IV than doing a lot of the things we did.

What many of us parents deny is how addicted to screens we are ourselves. Our children grow up seeing us gaze and tap tap tap on these little rectangles and expect them to behave any differently.

Give them the time they need to cocoon themselves, and you’ll see they are not that different to how we were. My son methodically listens to whole albums online and swaps music tips with his friends.

Sure, it’s not the going around to each other’s houses with armfuls of vinyl as we did, but it’s the modern version. Completely independently of me, my son has got into Blur, the Pet Shop Boys, ELO and just the other day he excitedly made me listen to a song he had just discovered and loved. “It’s by a band called Echo and The Bunnymen. Have you heard of them?” The kids, as they say, are alright.

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