Reflections on recent events, plus the occasional fact
free rant unfiltered by rational argument.
The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room.
Socrates ( 470 – 399 BC)
And so it's gone on down the ages. Every generation looks at the lot coming up with a lament of disgust. “We had it harder, they’re not as good as us — the lost generation.”
Five days involved with the Hong Kong Sailing regatta trashed any opinions I had about the ‘soft generation’. As cold and wet nine-year-olds hauled themselves, and a boat, up the slipway after four hours on the water, I decided the gene pool still has a few hardy souls.
My job was simple. Organise the launch and recovery of some 250 boats from Middle Island in an orderly fashion. That meant shouting a lot, lining up vessels by class, checking safety equipment and then moving trolleys up and down the slipway all day.
Each day I’d call upon the available teenagers to assist. Lucas, aged 12, ran the admin flawlessly, keeping tally of the 250 boats. Hazel, a bossy-boots 14-year old took charge of adults and kids on the slipway. She ran the launch and recovery process to perfection. One day she’ll lead a company that’s for sure.
My crew of willing adolescent volunteers came from Hong Kong, the Mainland, Taiwan, Macao, India and Guam. No mobile phones allowed, just loads of hard work. On the first day, the adults struggled to sequence the trolleys ready for the boats coming back. By day two the kids had the process sorted.
After the launch of the boats, I’d loiter in the Middle Island Clubhouse listening to mothers bemoaning their teenagers locked in bedrooms for hours. It’s a sentiment I can understand. My youngest daughter rode the Web 2.0 wave. Secluded in her bedroom we couldn’t understand what she was doing. In frustration I cut the internet cable to her room — I took scissors and severed her link to the cyber world. Except I didn’t. As I returned to the living-room triumphant, she's already spoken to the kid upstairs, gathered a password and switched to his WiFi.
Little did I know, and neither did she tell us, she was hosting a web page discussing teenage problems. I wonder if neanderthal dads came up for discussion. I didn’t know she was amongst the top bloggers in Hong Kong. She’s since built a career on what I was trying to stop.
Last summer I watched as French, British and Dutch teenagers stood in solemn contemplation in the US war cemetery above Omaha Beach. Ever vigilant and ready to tick off any indiscretion, I saw no mobile phones or improper conduct just deep respect and understanding.
Getting back to those mums on Middle Island. “He’s no longer my little boy and won’t hug me.” At that, I had to intervene. “Lady, the last thing a 15-year-old boy wants to do is be seen hugging mum. He’s busy setting boundaries, testing the limits of the world and positioning himself in a new hierarchy.”
Mums and dads need to recognise that a shift in the parent-child relationship is underway in those teenage years. Things will never be the same again because your little boy or girl is transforming. This phase is both necessary and healthy. Indeed it’s essential for them to learn how to stand on their own two feet and normal because every well-adjusted child goes through the process.
None of this means you are losing the child or they’re abandoning you. This transition is easier for teens because they are biologically programmed to separate, while poor mum and dad are still in protection mode.
“But I’m worried he’s masturbating.”
My reply shut down the discussion. “Well yes, he probably is — but not as much as you think. Get over it and don’t say anything.”
Despite the accepted cultural meme, teenagers were not invented in the 1950s. It’s a distinct biological phase. The brain changes, while at the same time the hormones run riot as children move towards sexual maturity. Parents need to know that the limbic system is in charge. What does that mean? Essentially, emotions are running the show while rationality takes a back seat. So when you yell at them “Are you stupid?” their honest response should be “Yes”.
During that transition phase from child to adult, risk-taking increases as the kids explore the world and its limits. But, research shows that the most dangerous risk-taking occurs when teenagers are in groups. Peer pressure appears to play a significant role in such acts as drug taking. Fear of rejection by their peer group motivates kids to do stuff they’d not contemplate when alone. And therein lies the risk.
The only advice I could give the now hyperventilating mothers is “Keep the communication channels open. That doesn’t mean trying to be their best mate or bursting into their room to inquire about their well being. But do set some perimeters by discussing behaviour with them and tell them what’s unacceptable. There is one expert you can ask. That’s yourself. Revisit your teenage years to reassess your sentiments, concerns and responses. That helps frame matters.”
Hardly ground-breaking stuff, I know. But after you wade through all the advice of the pseudo-experts, that’s what distils out. I’m increasingly convinced it doesn’t go much beyond that. Of course, a strong and stable home life — in whatever form — provides a foundation.
I’d invite anyone who disagrees with me to study the evidence without their ideological prism blurring the view. One in four teenagers in the UK is being brought up by a single parent, with 95% living with a single mother. That has many adverse consequences, although you are not supposed to mention these because someone may be offended.
And yes, I recognise the teenagers on the Middle Island slipway are a particular cohort, with access to resources, robust schooling and driven parents. But that’s my point. Plus there are many conceivable things you could say about this. Maybe for another blog.
None of this alters the fact there is no instruction book for bringing up kids, especially during those fraught teenage years. But most of us get through it. Still, it’s a terrible worry being a father to daughters. Christopher Hitchens said it best;
“To be the father of growing daughters is to understand something of what Yeats evokes with his imperishable phrase 'terrible beauty.' Nothing can make one so happily exhilarated or so frightened: it's a solid lesson in the limitations of self to realise that your heart is running around inside someone else's body. It also makes me quite astonishingly calm at the thought of death: I know whom I would die to protect and I also understand that nobody but a lugubrious serf can possibly wish for a father who never goes away.”
Walter De Havilland is one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Hong Kong Police.