Then and now - teens are still misunderstood

ROSEMARY MCLEOD
Last updated 11:18 04/08/2011

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Rosemary McLeod

Placenta-eating not for this mammal Then and now - teens are still misunderstood Purge as Henry burns in fire of public odium We all have our dark sides, including Superman The symmetry of emotional and financial fraud Porn hoarder far worse than contrite Brooke A life less ordinary and much less pleasant At last, a reason to be merry this Christmas You can tell a lot just by looking at Paul Henry The confusing signals teens must decipher

OPINION: Let me tell you what made me an antisocial, godless, illiterate criminal: comics.

The Phantom, Classic Comics, Superman, Scrooge McDuck all had an influence on my formative years, and can be blamed for my still idly liking comics, I guess, even if they call them graphic novels now, and they've become brooding and dark.

You wouldn't believe how comics were railed against back then. They were a special category of mortal sin. Teachers and responsible parents joined forces in banning them from schools, and urging others to boycott them before the rot set in and every kid knew useless things like Superman's alias, and how to recognise The Ghost Who Walks when he was travelling incognito. (His black eye-mask and wolf on a leash always seemed like a dead giveaway, but what did I know?)

Later, I lived through the time when boys with long hair were certain to become godless, illiterate criminals, and had to be shorn, hopefully by force. What would the world come to if everyone had hair down over their collars and long fringes that seeped IQ points out of their brains? Elvis had been among us earlier, when the greasy ducktail proved at a glance that a boy was a delinquent.

Now we lived with Time magazine scanning the lyrics of pop songs in search of references to dope and even, possibly, sex, and old men urged politicians to bring back flogging and teach youth a lesson on its insolent backside.

No surprise, then, that young rebels, especially young males, are still a source of paranoia and rage, and that the current government fell back on subsidising boot camps to sort them out. That eternally popular idea, so beloved of older men in authority, hasn't worked again. It never did.

All of this is why I am reluctant to rush into believing the young men of this country are all feckless little creeps who delight in holding boxing matches in school toilets, and bullying other boys for the sake of putting nasty footage on the internet.

Neither do I wish to pronounce tediously on teenage boys and sex: That combination is eternal. Yet it's tempting to have a go - if a Wairarapa woman is to be believed. Alison Sutherland works in schools with kids with behavioural problems, and was previously the principal of a youth justice facility school. She tells us that young boys are opting out of education and the possibility of future work, instead planning to father children on compliant girls, and use the children as a source of income - kind of like farming their own offspring.

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"Their reality is that the men in their lives live off Mum. They say, "why would I get a job? I don't need a job. I'll be like whoever the chap is who is living with Mum at the moment." This country has the second highest rate of teen births among developed nations, and Ms Sutherland's comments make that knowledge even more depressing.

But what do we really know about the prevalence of this attitude among young men in general, as opposed to the ones she deals with, put her way because of behavioural problems? What do we know about the girls who choose to bear their children, for that matter, and why do we pay them to do it?

Need expands according to the welfare allotted to it. Teenagers didn't used to get an income from having children, so few did. But are they stupid, in a time of unemployment and economic uncertainty, when they latch on to a guaranteed income stream calling for no special skills, no education, minimal responsibility, and no accountability?

Who wouldn't choose an easy way out when the cost of a tertiary education, which doesn't even guarantee a decent job at the end of it, would have them in debt for a lifetime?

- The Dominion Post

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