No drink please, we’re teenagers
They have been described as feral children, real terrorists, thugs, yobs, vandals, boozers and out-of-control. According to government ministers and the media, Britain’s teenagers are a lost cause, with a brand image that seems beyond repair. A moral panic is in place: if you’re under 20, you’re trouble.
But, when they’re not smashing windows or necking alcopops, what do teenagers actually do with their time? This weekend an in-depth survey into the lifestyle of the modern teenager provides a remarkable insight into the everyday lives of wannabe adults.
The picture that emerges is somewhat different from the stereotype. It offers a snapshot into the lives of young people with financial aspirations, who are brand savvy, make wide and intelligent use of the internet and spend little on alcohol or cigarettes.
The average teenager receives £19.15 in pocket money every week and spends it on fast food, designer clothes, the cinema, concerts and mobile phones. One in seven owns an Ipod and their 10 favourite fashion brands include Armani, Gucci and Prada.
The survey was carried out by ukclubculture, an organisation that each year hosts 400 alcohol-free clubbing events nationwide for 800,000 under-18s. It also runs DJ talent competitions for young people in collaboration with Radio One. The company spoke to 1,500 13-to-17-year-olds about exercise, nutrition, fashion, lifestyle and their aspirations.
‘We want to understand the lives of teens,’ said Rachel De Burriatte, brand manager for ukclubcluture. ‘There is a tendency to focus on the negative aspect of young people’s lives, but these results show they are aspirational and switched on. We need to give them credit for being discerning.’
Cheryse Hill, a 16-year-old from Romford, Essex, feels that her generation are often misrepresented. ‘You hear so much about teenagers drinking and smoking, but in reality there are loads that do better things than that. I love shopping, going to the cinema and watching DVDs with friends. I love my designer clothes, especially Gucci and Ted Baker.’
This week Channel 4 is running a daily programme in which children who have been accused of anti-social behaviour offer their point of view. In tomorrow’s episode teenagers say they feel as if society has ganged up on them. A boy called Ben says that he thinks the money spent on surveillance of teenagers would be better spent on giving them more to do, while others say that they feel as if adults have turned against teenagers.
The survey reveals that teenagers, whatever their image, have great ambitions. But when it comes to politics, stepping into the shoes of Tony Blair is not one of them. In fact, more than twice as many boys said they would rather be a model than become Prime Minister. Girls were more worthy – opting to become doctors rather than lead their country.
The nation’s love affair with the mobile phone is strongly in evidence. Girls send, on average, just under 12 text messages a day and the boys, who prefer to make voice calls, nearly 11. The average number of mobile phones per household with teenagers is 3.5, far more than the number of land lines.
When it comes to food, one out of five says chocolate is their favourite, followed by fast food and takeaways. Ony two out of 100 put fruit top. Nearly one in 12 say they eat their favourite foods – which include burgers, fish and chips, crisps and chocolate – more than seven times a week. McDonald’s tops the brands for both boys and girls, coming out as the favourite in one out of four cases, followed by Cadbury, Pizza Hut, KFC and Coca-Cola. There doesn’t seem to be much call for the local organic health food shop.
When it comes to computers, 80 per cent of teenagers access the internet from home, with each home having an average of 1.69 computers. Boys are more likely to use their computers to download music and play games, while the girls emerged as more sensible, using it for email and homework. They were all more likely to download music cheaply from the internet than to go out and buy CDs. But while young people are clearly embracing technology, and are much more likey to use it than their parents, there could be some negative consequences to this.
‘The internet is really important, but it is a digital divide,’ said Tom Wilie, chief executive of the National Youth Agency. ‘Education has more emphasis on homework and coursework and this could disadvantage those without it. In the past there was a divide where some children had six brothers and sisters so could never work on the kitchen table, and the contemporary version of that could be the internet.’
When they were not fighting with siblings over using the computer, the teenagers questioned went out spending their money on clothes, followed by CDs, cinemas and concerts, magazines and mobile phone cards.
Wilie said that brands targeted teenagers more and more as customers, so it was not surprising that the survey showed high brand recognition.
The boys’ favourite label was Nike, followed by FCUK, Adidas and Armani, while the girls liked FCUK the best followed by Top Shop, Nike and Miss Sixty. ‘As an adolescent you are rehearsing to be an adult,’ he said. ‘Children look to adolescents and adolescents look to adults.
‘There is a design-led culture in adulthood, so that is cascading into adolescence. That is why young teenagers will always want to watch 18-rated films or smoke.’
Despite the image of a generation of hard-bitten smokers and boozers, 94 per cent spent questioned had never spent any money on cigarettes and 73 per cent had never bought alcohol.
However, 40 per cent admitted to smoking over the past year, and three out of four to drinking. The boys were keener drinkers and 60 per cent supported the idea of opening pubs 24 hours a day.
The study comes in a week that youth organisations have hit back at negative media portrayal of young people.
A poll by Mori for Young People Now magazine, found that one in three youth-related articles is about crime, with only 8 per cent actually quoting the young people that they refer to.
Steve Barrett, editor of Young People Now, said: ‘The negative coverage may be because young people don’t have the same lobbying power of other groups, don’t vote and probably don’t consume media as much either, but they do pick up on how they are portrayed and we do not want to disenfranchise the whole sector.’
The magazine launched a ‘draft media code’ for newspapers and broadcasters. Most are not that hopeful that it will work. After-all, teenager as yob fulfils a stereotype. Teenager as Gucci-clad, internet- savvy, young adult does not.
How 15-year-old Lawrence Hallows spends his time
Sunday I might go shopping – my favourite brand is Diesel. My mum pays for my clothes.
Monday I just like to relax after school, though I might go on the internet.
Tuesday I might read Jordan’s autobiography – it’s the only book I’ve bought in 10 years.
Wednesday McDonald’s after school.
Thursday I go trampolining at school, but I have one at home, too.
Friday Between 7pm and 9pm I go to a drama group – I want to be a TV actor.
Saturday Drama all afternoon, then I do my homework. Autor: Anushka Asthana