Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Teenagers will always outwit parents

Jamie Oliver has banned his daughter from posting ‘porno’ selfies, but kids will be kids

I’ve got time for Jamie Oliver – at least he tries to stand up for more than his own-branded crockery. This week, the father of five was commenting on teenagers posting provocative selfies online. He’s banned his 14-year-old daughter Daisy from posting selfies, and says that some of the photos he’s seen of other girls are “quite porno, luscious, pouty, pushing boobs out”. Oliver notes that this is the first parental generation to deal with social media, and wonders: why are the girls allowed to do it? Oliver says: “I’m like: Really? Aren’t their parents all over that like a rash?” 

Well, I have news for Oliver – it’s quite probable that parents aren’t “letting them do it”. And it’s almost certain that they’re not looking at their daughters’ “porno” photos, saying: “You look great there, licking your lips suggestively in that tight top – why don’t you put it on Instagram?” 

The point being that parents either don’t realise that their children are doing it (or at least the extent of it), or they do realise, but they also twig that there no way of stopping it altogether, short of confiscating all phones and tablets, and locking the children in a padded cell between the ages of 11 and 19. And, believe me, there may be times when that latter option doesn’t seem completely out of the question. Many a battleworn parent of a teenager has travelled the trajectory from “Fly, my child, fly fearless and free”, to a version of “Off to the tower, Rapunzel, and, if you let down your hair, all Netflix rights will be suspended.”
What sometimes seems to be going on is self-willed parental myopia – an often-unconscious reluctance to realise that, while there are always exceptions, their kids are most probably up to everything their friends are up to, or a version of it – either some, or all of the time, either right in front of their faces, or sneaking around behind their backs. It’s part of the Secret World of Teenage, and in that designated age-restricted zone, operating within their own circles, it’s usually (not always, but usually) harmless and short-lived enough. And, of course, it’s not “porno”. They’re playing – testing boundaries, experimenting with their image – which has always gone on to an extent. 

While most parents wouldn’t have taken selfies in their youth, let’s be honest, it’s only because we didn’t think of it. Personally, I did a fair bit of prancing about in front of other people’s cameras, and, from the looks of it, my self-obsession was in rude health, with rude the operative word – in some photos, the look I appear to be going for is Trafficked Goth. 

While it’s a bit excruciating, it’s also screamingly funny. However – and this is the generational dividing line – back in my day, my cringeworthy cavorting was kept more or less private. As Oliver points out, there’s now social media to deal with. Photos have the potential to drop a cluster bomb of far-reaching consequences – ranging from the degradation of revenge porn, problems with future employers, to young kids just not registering that, quite often, it’s not just their target peer group that can see the images. 

So, Oliver is right, there’s plenty to worry about – in terms of short-term behaviour and long-term consequences. As any half-bright celebrity could tell you, the thing they miss the most is their anonymity. Many young people are losing this great privilege, tossing it away for a few “likes”, at a time when they’re too heartbreakingly young to realise the full implications. 

Even sadder, there’s no stopping it. Tech-wise at least, most kids would be far savvier than their parents. Too often, this isn’t about parents “letting them do it”, or failing to stop it – if certain kids want to do it, the truth is they will usually find a way.