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False eyelashes, sweetie wrappers and disconnection…

… a bit of a rant about the modern teenager!

I supervise young folk while they traipse around the country on the expedition section of their Duke of Edinburgh Award. This involves them walking for 7 or 8 miles a day, for either two or three days (I only work with Bronze and Silver), while carrying an enormous rucksack. And when I compare my 15-year-old self to those I’m supervising, I barely recognise us as the same animal…

These expeditions take place in rural country, where theoretically the group of youngsters is unlikely to meet any form of civilisation. The kids know this, and yet girls step off the bus at their starting location with their faces plastered in orange goo, and spiders glued to their eyelids. Oh, I beg your pardon – they’re false eyelashes, not spiders.
Seriously? You’re going on a big hike in the wilderness with not a soul to see you, and yet you’re plastered in makeup and half your rucksack is taken up with your toiletry essentials? I’ve had girls wonder whereabouts in their tent they can plug in their hair straighteners. And what is it with this ‘tangerine face and Charlie Chaplin eyebrows’ look? Honestly, it’s ludicrous. I’ve seen so many people painted orange in recent years that I’m starting to forget what skin’s natural colour is.

Suddenly, I feel old. I’ve turned into one of those crones who says ‘I’d never have been allowed out of the house looking like that…’ Fair enough, when I was 15 my granny used to complain that my jeans looked as though they were sprayed on, but let me tell you, grandma dear, you ain’t seen nothing. Tights. Young ladies these days are wearing black tights and pretending they’re trousers. You can see their knickers through them, for christ’s sake – mainly because they’re usually white, or some other colour which is highly visible through the fine black mesh masquerading as ‘clothing’. They don’t even wear long tops over their tights: no, upper garments stop around hip level, so there’s no coverage available there. I know I sound like a prude – I’m really not, but honestly – if that was my daughter, she’d get out of the house wearing that only over my dead body.

And then, once these overly-made-up lassies are finally marching along with a spring in their step, there’s another problem. They won’t go to the loo outside. Now, sometimes their route takes them through the odd village or two, but for the most part they are going to spend 6 or 7 hours out of reach of a flushing toilet. And they seem incapable of peeing behind a bush – even if you tell them to take a mate with them to keep a lookout.

Why? I know I was lucky to grow up in the back of beyond, and if you needed to go, you went –and most of the kids I encounter are from urban backgrounds. But I know plenty of women my age who also grew up in towns and tell me that as youngsters they happily peed outside wherever they could find cover, rather than have to interrupt their freedom and go home. So is this reluctance symptomatic of the fact that today’s children rarely play outside? It has a direct impact on the girls’ wellbeing on expeditions, because they then tend to drink very little – at a time when their body is crying out for extra fluid, because of the long walk and the extra weight being carried – so that they won’t need the toilet. I sometimes suspect they don’t eat much either, in case they need a crap…

There are, thankfully, some – boys and girls – who do eat and drink. You can tell which way they went by following the trail of sweetie wrappers and empty juice bottles. What drives me most insane is the innocence with which they do this. They genuinely can’t understand what is wrong with dropping their litter on the ground. I’ve had young folk tell me, when I’ve hassled them for littering in urban areas, that it’s all right because it’s somebody’s job to pick it up. They think they’re contributing to the economy in some manner.

That’s bad enough, but almost understandable when you consider that our towns aren’t always particularly tidy (no thanks to our philanthropic teenagers). But out in the wild…. to me, a crisp poke flapping around on the grass beside a country trail may as well be a wallpapered elephant, it stands out so much. But kids don’t seem to even see it as out of place – it’s as if they’re so inured to the sight of rubbish that it’s become a normal and permanent fixture of their surroundings. If you want some entertainment, ask a group of teenagers to pick up every wee bit of litter they can find after they’ve packed up their camp. Then take a walk around the campsite and see what their idea of ‘every bit’ is…

Where did this complete disregard for the environment – rural or urban – come from? I was always made to put my rubbish in the bin as a child, and I bet you were too. The kids I’m moaning about will grow up to have kids who also drop litter everywhere – but were their parents the same? When did this shift in attitudes happen, and how?

And as a last thought, let’s consider this complete disregard for the environment a bit further. They don’t notice anything because they’re too busy being glued to their mobile phones. Try taking a group of teenagers and disconnecting them from their mobiles, and see what happens. It’s not pretty. They genuinely struggle to cope. And I genuinely worry about this.

It’s bad enough that kids from town can spend two days in the countryside and barely see the sea, or the trees, or the butterflies, because they’re too busy out-twittering the birds. But it’s not just townies, of teenagers: we’ve created a society which is so helplessly dependent on instant communication that folk don’t know how to talk to each other any more. Adults feel somehow vulnerable if they cannot be contacted at all times. You older folk out there – do you remember a time before mobile phones, when you would leave the house and drive vast distances without a moment’s hesitation? Now do you remember last week, when you set off to drive to the supermarket half an hour away, and almost there had a wave of blind panic when you realised that you’d left your phone in the kitchen? And you actually considered turning round and going home for it? Just in case?

In case what? In case you missed a text offering you half price tickets for Disney on Ice?

Come on, folks! Scrape off your makeup, switch off your phones, grab a friend and go for a walk. Eat brambles straight off the bushes. Get your hair messy, pee behind a tree, notice the myriad of other life forms we share this glorious planet with. We could all do with disconnecting from technology every so often…

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About Elizabeth Angus

writer & stravaiger

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