So, this week adolescents have featured large in our news headlines.
And please notice the “So” which is so necessary when beginning statements made by adolescents and post-adolescents and is a linguistic tic that so makes me want to scream. So, yes, adolescents. So, what have they been up to?
Well, Shamima Begum, for a start. She is a British ISIS bride who, “heavily pregnant”, wants to return to the UK, having absconded in 2015 to join the so-called caliphate in the Middle East. She wants to come back so that her child can be brought up here. One third of me says, under my breath, “Brought it on yourself, dear”; another third wonders what kind of hell it is to be heavily pregnant, aged nineteen, living in an overcrowded, stinking refugee camp – and, yes, I know she claims to have been unfazed by seeing severed heads; while the final third feels for her parents. Having spent a significant part of my career surrounded by adolescents – in loco parentis, I hasten to add – I have yet to meet a parent who does not continue to love their child regardless of the foolish things they may have done, the exasperatingly stupid scrapes they may have got themselves in to, even the criminal offences they may have committed.
I fear there are no easy or happy answers in Shamima’s case.
And then at the end of the week, there were the adolescent crowds walking out of class to scream that we need to wake up to climate change, allegedly inspired by sixteen-year old Greta Thunberg from Sweden. This is how Toby Young writes about these young people in The Spectator this week:
Greta Thunberg is everywhere, appearing at Davos, giving a TED talk, speaking at the UN Climate Conference in Katowice, and her message is always the same. Western governments are doing nothing to combat climate change.
She isn’t saying they’re not doing enough. No. She claims they’re not doing anything. ‘Everyone keeps saying that climate change is an existential threat and the most important issue of all and yet they just carry on like before,’ she says in her TED talk. ‘You would think the media and every one of our leaders would be talking about nothing else, but they never even mention it.’
Now, I admire Toby Young, who has done a great deal to challenge (constructively) the educational status quo in England. I have even publicly defended him in a letter to the Times, but on this, Toby, you need to cool, man.
Subtlety tends not to be in the nature of the adolescent. It is all or nothing. Here sixteen-year old Greta is talking – not in her native language, mind you – but talking nevertheless with passion about a matter of global significance. Yes, she may have overstated and exaggerated, but that is what sixteen-year olds do. Some of her followers in this country are equally passionate, some probably just fancied an afternoon off. How was your behaviour when you were sixteen, Toby?
Toby goes on to say that youngsters who walk out of class are causing their teachers real problems in terms of planning lessons. Even the Prime Minister has joined in on this one, claiming that “it is important to emphasise that disruption increases teachers’ workloads and wastes lesson time that teachers have carefully prepared for.”
Maybe so, but I bet that for every teacher who had to rearrange their lesson about Boyle’s Law or reschedule that stunning presentation about the past perfect tense in French reflexive verbs, there were ten who privately sighed with relief that they didn’t have that restless bunch of terminally bored, hormonal adolescents to manage during all of Friday afternoon.
And remember, those teachers and their pupils will be back in their classes in a day or two and the next day and the next day and the next day.
So, adolescents, then.
I just SO want you to lose that SO.