The myth of teenage omnipotence

This morning’s Observer column.

THE OLD SAYING that “if you’re not thoroughly confused you don’t fully understand the situation” applies with a vengeance to our new media ecosystem. Take the strange case of teenagers, whose brains are being scrambled and rewired by nature to make them fit for adult life. Until the 1960s, “teens” as they are called in the US barely existed as an interesting social category. Like sex in Philip Larkin’s poem, Annus Mirabilis, one might say they were “invented in nineteen sixty-three/… Between the end of the Chatterley ban/And the Beatles’ first LP”.

Then they acquired spending power and became interesting to retailers and advertisers – and therefore to the mass media – to the point where our society is now obsessed with them. This obsession is particularly neurotic whenever cyberspace is mentioned, and leads adults to project on to the younger generation all kinds of fears and fantasies…