Thursday, September 9, 2010

Grow up?

His fringe flops into his eyes, he has a permanently perplexed look on his face and he sleeps at random times, often in front of the TV or at the dinner table. He’s fascinated by shiny gadgets and his baggy, crumpled trousers come dangerously close to sliding all the way down to his chubby little knees every time he crosses the room on his skateboard - if, that is, he doesn’t trip on his shoelaces first. And when there’s something he really, really wants - a huge beaker of caramel-flavoured gloop from Starbucks or the latest iPod, for example - he knows exactly how to manipulate it into his grasp; any day now, he might even learn the words “please” and “thank you.” If it wasn’t for the fact that he’s 23 years old, unemployed and still living at home, he’d be soooo cute!

Kidults, adultescents, the Peter Pan generation: whatever you want to call the ill-mannered tribe of spoiled brats who refuse to grow up, it’s likely that a psychologist will have coined the phrase first, giving what’s actually a rather sinister sociological trend formal endorsement. Comedian Richard Herring recently turned his own kidult status into a commercial success, publishing his bestselling book “How Not To Grow Up” earlier this year. Herring recognises that choosing to live in a state of perpetual immaturity was never an option for his parents: “They had limited choices about what they could do professionally and needed to work to survive,” he told the Times recently. “A ‘proper’ job will soon make a 20-year-old grow up, whether they want to or not.” But how many young adults don’t need to work to survive today - and why wouldn’t a 20 year old want to grow up? Herring’s eventual life choices (which, whether he acknowledges it or not, resulted in a very grown up career indeed) don’t involve children of his own on which to dump his own neurosis, but many of his contemporaries are the parents of today. Instead of blaming the X Factor, the advertising industry and America for all the UK’s woes, is it actually the Herring generation who are (ir)responsible for the failings of today’s immature, infantilised young adults?

When I was a child, a trip to a restaurant was a really grown up, exciting treat. I was expected to behave (and eat) accordingly, not force-fed from a ‘kid's menu’ after having an activity book thrust upon me by a server dressed as a bunny rabbit. At the cinema, the film was the star of the show, not the ‘meal deal’ combos, sweet shops and video games in the foyer, and ‘playdates' evolved naturally rather than being scheduled in a month in advance. This may sound positively Dickensian to the kids of today, who expect indulgent, unnecessary extra-curricular activities, ‘rewards’ for making their own beds and a £300 frock to wear to the school leaver’s Prom to come as standard issue childhood ‘essentials’. But such essentials are often only essential to parents who are living out their own second childhood vicariously in a desperate bid to remain forever young themselves. Instead of breeding a generation equipped to cope with impending adulthood (and all the joys - yes, joys! - that go with that status), the kidults have raised packs of pampered poodles who still dress (and eat) like babies or Disney princesses, need constant external stimulus in order to stay awake and salivate at the sight of a new toy (usually a mobile phone, iPod or laptop destined to be lost, broken or obsolete within a month). As a result, we’re burdened with a whole generation of uninspired, uninspirational 20-somethings who lack the social skills, self-awareness and general wherewithal to claim their rightful places in the adult world, and are destined to raise children of their own who, should they choose to rebel against their parental blueprint, have little option but to claim Margaret Thatcher as a maternal role model. The kids are alright? I don’t think so.

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