8 Stupid Things We Did In Our Teens
The "Stupid Things We Did" Series: Part 1
Cast your mind back a few decades to those halcyon days of your youth. Those seven or eight years, between the ages of 13 and 19 when you’re meant to leave your innocent childhood days behind, and bloom into a self-assured responsible adult. That’s the theory, anyway.
Do you recall your teenage years being a period of happiness, stability, and good times? Or were those years tainted with fear, anxiety, misery, and heartache? For most of us, it’s likely that they were a mixture of all those things.
Transition to adulthood is something no child should ever have to go through. At least, not sober. The whole process is much more drawn out than it used to be – there are so many more phases.
There was no such concept as “the teenager” before the 1950s. It’s only since the second world war, with the rise of subcultures and rapidly advancing technologies, that “teenagers” have actually been a thing.
In the olden days (i.e. before the 1970s), it was simply school for a few years, then into full-time work by the age of 15.
New responsibilities would weigh heavily. If you were born into a working class family, your parents would be expecting you to bring money into the household, and to meet a suitable potential spouse as soon as possible, preferably by the age of 20.
From there, you would likely be pregnant within a year, destined to a life of either full-time motherhood, domestic chores, and obscurity (if female), or full-time breadwinner (if male), until you hit the middle years. (There was no such thing as alternative gender identities in those days, either).
The roles we played and the mistakes we made
Throughout our lives, we all find ourselves assuming various roles, and these roles change over time, along with our behaviours and attitudes.
As 1970s and 80s teens, we adopted new freedoms the generations before us hadn’t experienced, and we were trailblazers for those who came after us. Consequently, the roles we assumed were often more extreme.
Here are just a few of those roles – you might find you identify with some, or even all of them.
1. THE FICKLE SHEEP
By the 1970s, the cultural revolution that had taken place during the Swinging Sixties had ushered in a host of radical ideas, higher expectations, more ambitious desires, and more hedonistic lifestyles. It was now commonplace, and even regarded as normal, for young people to be bombarded with images and information about how they should dress, how they should wear their hair, how they should speak, and how they should behave.
Like the Boomers before them, Generation X teenagers were forced to make choices between a host of various subcultures – would you be a punk, a skinhead, a mod, a metal-head, a glam rock prince/princess, a disco diva? If you didn’t choose to ascribe to one of these groups, you would simply be labelled as “square” or “straight,”and you might even be bullied by some of the cruellest bastards in your peer group.
Bullied for not taking a stand. Teased for not belonging. Threatened for not tying your colours to the mast and “sticking it to the man.”
No, it was much easier to belong. Much easier to cave in to peer pressure. Much easier to be a fully-fledged member of a cool group.
But, that’s not to say you couldn’t ditch one subculture for another. There aren’t many teens who stick with the same one throughout their teens, despite trends moving on. In fact, most of us are as fickle as hell. One day we’re mohicaned malingerers, the next we’re moody mods, scary skinheads, or new romantic synthpop rebels.
Yep, despite their claims that they are simply “expressing their individuality,” teenagers are just a bunch of sheep when all is said and done.
2. THE SELF-CENTRED, ARROGANT ASSHOLE
Because the very nature of joining a subculture is a rebellious act, our teenage years became a playground for experimentation – with sex, drugs, alcohol, music, fashion, and protest. As a result, we were “anti” everything and we became hyper-aware of our rights – the right to dress how we wanted, speak how we wanted, behave how we wanted, and resist anything we didn’t want.
We had to learn how we would fit into the world, and this took a lot of trial and error.
We thought – no, we believed – we knew everything. We argued with everyone about things we had no idea about and had never experienced, just for the hell of it. We were so damn opinionated.
We had no consideration for others, and were incapable of feeling empathy towards anyone outside of our inner circle.
We thought we were invincible, we thought that the world revolved around us, and we believed we would live forever.
We didn’t plan for the future; it was all “now, now, now.” We pushed the boundaries as hard as we possibly could, supposedly learning the lessons that should have helped us to get along as adults.
Hmmm … that turned out well then.
3. THE SULKY, COMPULSIVE LIAR
Being rebellious, disrespectful, rude, and uncaring all came with the territory. We were two-faced and told hundreds of lies about where we’d been, what we’d been doing, and who we’d been with.
We found that strange, hybrid period between the ages of 15 and 18 extremely frustrating, given that we were often treated as children, yet expected to behave like adults.
Being hormonally challenged by puberty and all the self-conscious insecurities that come with it, we reflected our frustration back at our parents, who would often complain that one minute we’d be interacting as an adult, and the next we’d transform – Hulk-like – into a tantrum-throwing toddler.
By this stage of our teens, we had, of course, also perfected eye rolling, heavy sighing, slouching, and an impressive, newfound laziness.
4. THE IRRESPONSIBLE ADULT
Once we reached 18, we were suddenly regarded as “adults” in law, and we had to start fending for ourselves.
Adulthood is something of a paradox for young people. On the one hand, teens desperately want to be adults so that they have the right to do adult things – like being able to vote, being able to buy fags, fireworks and booze at the shop, being able to get genital piercings and a tattoo that says “No Ragrets” on your forehead, and being able to drink in pubs and clubs without the fear of being humiliated and booted out by threatening bouncers.
On the other hand, with rights come responsibilities. And responsibility in any way, shape or form, is something that most young people definitely do not want.
And so, as we Gen Xers transitioned out of our teenage years into adulthood, we were bombarded with a million stark realisations. Whether moving away to start university (or polytechnic if you f***ed up your A Levels), or moving into a shared house or bedsit, with or without a job, two major realisations tended to hit home straightaway:
Rent & Bills
You move into your own place, only to discover that you now have to hand over two-thirds of your income to keep the leaky roof over your head. Not only that, you actually have to PAY for using water, gas and electricity, and to get your bins taken away every week. WTF?!
Just the day before you moved into your first bedsit, you were spending two-thirds of your income on drugs and alcohol, and since you most definitely won’t be changing your lifestyle, the reality of your new situation does not bode well.
You no longer get pocket money for cleaning your room. On the contrary, you now have to clean your own room and other shared living spaces for precisely NOTHING.
So, what did we do when faced with these newfound responsibilities? We carried on partying, of course – even harder than before. And, for many of us, this decision inevitably led to us becoming …
5. THE SELF-SABOTEUR
At this point in our lives, we found ourselves at a crossroads. We had to make a choice. And this is the direction many of us chose to take …
All of those ambitions we once had of becoming a distinguished writer, a famous musician, a revered actor, or a brilliant physicist were thrown aside in favour of partying so hard we almost killed ourselves every weekend. We allowed obviously doomed, fruitless relationships to dominate every aspect of our lives, we drank far too much alcohol, smoked far too much weed, stayed up all night, every night, and squandered cash on a multitude of stupid things.
A couple of years later, we would be wondering why we were working at Tesco, and complaining about how unfair our lives were.
6. THE MORONIC PARTY ANIMAL
Still very much in self-saboteur mode, we took all the risks available to us – drug-taking, binge-drinking, and unprotected sex being the main attractions. After all, we needed something to dim the reality of the responsibilities we were now expected to fulfil.
We all knew excessive promiscuity was risky, but taking risks was brave and it meant we were cool, right? And using contraception was definitely not cool.
This meant that if you hadn’t already developed scurvy from malnutrition, a diseased liver from astronomical alcohol consumption, collapsed lungs from chain smoking, or scabies from sleeping on rank mattresses in filthy bedsits, if you were really unlucky, you could also pick up any number of sexually transmitted diseases from reckless one-night stands. Oh, and of course, if you were female, you might also end up pregnant.
Were we naive or just stupid? Probably a bit of both.
7. THE DEBT COLLECTOR
Of course, as the old adage goes, chickens always come home to roost. Whether you were studying (read partying), in a job, or unemployed, chances are that you were in some kind of debt by the age of 20.
The 1980s, when many of us came of age, was the decade of “Loadsamoney” and City Boys, and the fatal rise of the credit card, mass marketed as free money for the aspirational consumer.
It still seems unbelievable that major high street banks were actively pushing personal loans and credit card debt onto poverty-stricken students, ensuring that they would be slaves to the bankers for many years to come. And what did we have to show for our debts at the end of the day? Mostly hazy memories of puking, riding in shopping trolleys, and climbing statues.
Insert facepalm emoji here …
8. THE NAIVE REVOLUTIONARY
Being young, excited, and idealistic, we Gen Xers were often frustrated with adults who had a much more realistic view of the world. You know, the ones who told us we were deluded, and that we ought to let go of our idealism and embrace the grim reality.
From Anarchy in the UK and Never Mind The Bollocks, to Red Wedge and Band Aid, we truly believed we could and would change the world – whether this was through rebellion, activism, revolution, or music. Sounds great in theory, right?
Sadly, however, in practice, we were too busy self-destructing to take the time to educate ourselves about politics and current affairs, and this was our downfall.
Changing the world and partying don’t really go hand-in-hand, and too many of us only wanted to participate in the former if it was fun and didn’t entail too much hard work.
And Finally ...
Decades later, when forced to deal with our own teenage offspring, we are inevitably faced with a painful reminder of how we used to be at their age. We often hear people say, “we were just the same at their age.” But is this true?
For sure, the above list suggests that us Gen X teenagers were just the same as teenagers of all post-war generations in many ways – i.e. we were self-entitled little snots. However, there are perhaps a couple of key differences.
The Cold War Years
The Cold War years brought with them relatively recent memories of the atrocities carried out in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the palpable terror of living with a permanent nuclear annihilation threat.
Of course, we were too young to fully understand the intricacies, but we were certainly aware of the tension.
We bore witness to the Greenham Common protests, the Chernobyl disaster, and the weirdness of studying George Orwell’s 1984 in 1984, all of which imbued our generation with a kind of crippling apocalyptic anxiety from which we have perhaps never recovered.
The Digital Revolution
Most obviously, there were no mobile phones or computers back then. It may seem counterintuitive, but we probably had more freedom than any generation of teenagers that have come after us – most significantly, the freedom to wander and spend long periods of time outdoors.
Before the digital revolution, we had to physically go to the library – which could have been two bus rides away – if we wanted to look anything up.
We had to walk over to a friend’s house if they weren’t on the phone at home and we needed to speak to them.
We had to write letters with an actual pen if our friends lived too far away for us to walk there.
And we had to engage in an actual, physical scrap if we disagreed strongly enough with someone who didn’t like us. We were street warriors living through a time when it was impossible to imagine the concept of keyboard warriors.
It all sounds much healthier really, doesn’t it? Fresh air, physical exercise, socialising with others face-to-face, beating each other up…
Although on the downside, we mustn’t forget all that sugar we were encouraged to consume in the 70s and 80s. It’s a miracle we have any teeth left!
Watch out for the next article in this series, coming soon: “Stupid Things I Did in My 20s.”