With additional reporting by Lucy Clarke and Rachel Clarke.
They’ve put up with so much, our teenagers. Cut after cruel cut as their lives shrank around them over the past two years. And, by and large, they’ve done what they were told – there may have been an eye-roll or two but they did, essentially, put their lives on hold to save their elders and a health service that may well be defunct by the time they are the ones who need it.
But their patience is waning. Or to put it another way: enough already!
My teenage daughters are “done” with Covid. They are “done” with lockdowns and our worried mutterings about Omicron and new restrictions and Covid passes are met now with the kind of jaded “Whatever” you’d imagine Henry VIII might have muttered when his marriage counsellor warned him that this time, really, there would be consequences.
It’s not just that the teens are tired, though. They are majorly peed off.
One of the most wonderful, and surprising, things about teenagers is their deep devotion to the concept of justice. They might flirt with cynicism but deep down, they still believe in a world where you get what you deserve. They’d never get through the school system if they didn’t.
That’s why they’re so mad now. After two years of being let down over exams and grades, told to sacrifice their fun to “save Gran”, told to wear masks for hours at school, told they can’t have vaccines, told to focus on their studies in freezing classrooms and all the rest, the news that Boris Johnson’s Downing Street was partying like it was 1999 last Christmas has … well, given them all the feels, and not in a good way.
But don’t take my very uncool, middle-aged word for it. Strap in because, thanks to my daughters, I’ve got the tea, and it’s piping hot. (With full credit to 17-year-old daughter Lucy, who put out a Snapchat call to her mates to find out “if they had strong feelings about the parties and lockdown” and 14-year-old Rachel for sharing her insights.)
“I think it was really disrespectful to the country when (Johnson) paid tribute to Allegra Stratton in his announcement the day we found out about the party. Like we don’t want to hear about how good she was … Laughing at all of us and she only resigned because she was caught out. Not because she was sorry. The whole thing pisses me off to the max,” said Isabelle, 17.
“Selfish charlatan,” said Raif, also 17. Oh wait, he might not have used that ‘c’ word. You get the picture, though?
Finlay, 17, took a longer, albeit darker, view. “Doesn’t matter at this point. Whilst he should be punished, it would cause more disruption for him to step down as leader.”
For Rachel, 14, the jig is up for Johnson and his lot and don’t even think about telling her what she should do anymore. That said, she is one of the most assiduous mask-wearers I know, as are all her friends. It’s just they will take no orders now. They will make up their own – impressively mature – minds up for themselves. They already feel ignored – as the rest of the country queues for boosters, our 12-15 year olds have to deal with the knowledge that they’ve only had one jab. Because? Well, who knows.
“We have a lot of authority over us all the time so when the authorities are hypocrites, we’re gonna want to ignore it,” Rachel said. “Teenagers aren’t going to take it seriously at all anymore; we’ve had to deal with a lot, and miss out on a lot of our experiences, and when the politicians telling us to do that are having parties, it’s just too annoying.”
She paused. “We haven’t done any of this for ourselves.”
She’s right but I’m not sure selflessness is a concept that Johnson understands.
Kayla, 17, seemed to speak for all of us in her response to Lucy’s question about strong feelings.
“Idk, ahhhh, hahaha. I can’t think of one but I could talk for ages about how he’s silly if he thinks he can have a party in lockdown but expects us not to for a second year in a row.”
Now, some of these teens are probably not natural Tory voters. But they are future voters, and they’re not the only ones to think this way. Maybe the 1922 committee of Conservative MPs should reflect on that as well as on the Paterson car crash, the dodgy flat do-up, the Peppa Pig’s ear and the lies, all the lies.
You’d forgive our teens for wondering how they got dumped with the worst generation of “losers” as parents and leaders. From climate change to the pandemic, we are definitely not smashing our stewardship of the world. In fact, given the role of the teenage-led Fridays for Future movement and the inspiration provided by young adults like Marcus Rashford and Emma Raducanu, it’s like we’re all trapped in a very long, very scary version of Freaky Friday, where roles are reversed but with tragic consequences.
Especially at the top of the British ruling establishment. As a Tory MP told Laura Kuenssberg as #partygate snowballed: “Frankly none of us should have been surprised when the grown-ups leave, that the children have an illegal house party.”
Which is, frankly, a bit harsh on the kids.
There is, of course, a darker side to this story. Our teenagers are not just angry; many of them are deeply damaged by the upheaval wrought by the pandemic. A study by the Royal College of Psychiatrists, published in September, showed that record numbers of children and young people are being referred to mental health services.
The figures are stark: 190,271 0–18-year-olds were referred between April and June this year, up 134% on the same period last year and 96% on 2019. And 8,552 children and young people were referred for urgent or emergency crisis care between April and June this year, up 80% on the same period last year and 64% on 2019.
“The pandemic has had a devastating effect on the nation’s mental health, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that children and young people are suffering terribly,” said Dr Elaine Lockhart, chair of the Faculty of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the Royal College of Psychiatrists.
She said children’s mental health services had to be properly funded and properly staffed to deal with the crisis. But, of course, they aren’t. It’s not as important, it seems, as the colour of one’s wallpaper.
Johnson could yet get his comeuppance – and not just politically, although that can’t come soon enough. As comedian Hal Cruttenden put it on Twitter: “So when these kids that Johnson keeps having become teenagers and ask to have a house party… and he says ‘no’… I do hope someone sends them the news reports from December 2021.”