Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Monday 10 September 2012

"Too Much Too Young"

A few days ago, A K Haart wrote about the sudden mental twinge caused by a momentary glimpse of the human condition:

It’s very brief and not a reasoned reaction or coherent thought.[...] Something just clicks into place then life goes on. It’s not a flash of anger at how things are, but more like a peep into a well of infinite disembodied sadness. But it's not sadness either - just recognition. After all, many sad things aren't worth being sad about.
There were three of them standing outside Topshop, dressed much like the window mannequins - typical young teenagers. An experienced teacher's eye would put them at 14 or 15 years old, no more. And one of them was proudly displaying to the other two a pushchair occupied by a very new baby.

I don't know if it was actually hers, but my local town is a notorious teenage pregnancy hotspot and her demeanour was distinctly proprietorial. Though it may not have been 'worth being sad about', it was enough to give that shock and momentary pause for thought.

With the average age for a first-time mother in the UK hovering around 29,  the high number of court cases involving teenage mothers and their offspring suggests a strong correlation between early pregnancy and involvement - direct or indirect - in crime (see my post 'Underclass Arithmetic').

This may well be because the early pregnancy itself implies a chaotic or unstructured home life, in which case the new baby is likely to be starting out in life at a significant disadvantage with a young mother struggling to manage the difficult task of bringing up a child without the help of a supportive and well-organised family.

Even in families where there is support, it's likely that the priorities of a girl in her teens are very different from those of a mature woman. True, babies don't come with instruction manuals and every first-time mother has to learn from experience, but when the mother's biggest challenge to date has been a mock GCSE, she is surely less likely to be able to cope with the demands of a crying baby or toddler tantrums.

And if the comments of those girls outside Topshop are anything to go by, the baby is likely to be seen more as a fashion accessory than the manifestation of an overwhelming moral and social responsibility. Oddly enough, this is apparently something to be encouraged, at least as far as the government is concerned; Britain's tottering retail edifice is being propped up by the self-indulgent spending of literal and metaphorical adolescents.

Like F Scott Fitzgerald's Jazz Age generation, who grew up to find 'all Gods dead, all wars fought, all faiths in man shaken' and lapsed into decadence as a result, today's Britain is full of people who have failed to progress beyond infantile self-gratification and dependency because they have never been expected to behave as adults - good news for retailers in the youth and leisure sector* but not for society as a whole.

The end result of children brought up by parents who are hopelessly immature themselves is a culture where trivial and infantile priorities in spending and activity are matched by childish conduct even on the part of those supposedly exercising parental authority; added to a deliberate erosion on the part of the media of what were once seen as 'respectable working class' values, the end result is appallingly chaotic.

Small wonder, then, that today's media treat us to an unending parade of court cases dealing with what are, in effect, overblown tantrums and crimes of childish carelessness and indifference; lashing out at the slightest provocation, overindulgence in alcohol or drugs, mindless property damage or pets and babies mistreated and neglected once the novelty has worn off.

And, while some of those involved are clearly old enough to know better, a disturbingly high proportion of perpetrators and victims are either teenage parents or the offspring of such. There seems to be no obvious way to break the cycle of early pregnancy and emotional immaturity that fuels this endless pattern of selfishness, ignorance and crime.

It seems ironic that, back in my feminist activist days, there were campaigns to increase early and effective access to birth control in third world countries to enable young women to complete their education or training and restrict the size of the family they had to feed and support. If Save the Children wanted to do some real good here rather than playing politics, that would surely be the place to start.

I could, of course, be wrong. That new baby I saw in the shopping centre may be raised in a secure and loving home with responsible adults ready to encourage the developing child to reach his or her full potential. I sincerely hope it will be, but I can't escape that fleeting moment of sadness at the thought that, statistically, the odds are against it.

*Last night's Dragons' Den (BBC2) showed the usually cynical 'dragons' competing with each other to invest in a fledgling company selling decorated phone covers and headphones; a telling indication of where the smart money expects future spending to be concentrated in 'Austerity Britain'.

(Inspiration for the title is courtesy of James Higham's recent post on Ska, where the Specials video can be found.)

(Update: Nourishing Obscurity (again) has a thought-provoking post on a similar topic by shrewd observer Seaside Sourpuss.)


  1. "*Last night's Dragons' Den (BBC2) showed the usually cynical 'dragons' competing with each other to invest in a fledgling company selling decorated phone covers and headphones; a telling indication of where the smart money expects future spending to be concentrated in 'Austerity Britain'."

    And they'll be right. Helped a pensioner friend of my mothers sort out an account issue with Amazon recently, so she could pervade a set of headphones for a grandchild - at a staggering £170+..!

  2. You don't say how old the grandchild is, but, whatever the age, the whole situation is just wrong.

  3. Brilliant - I'm nicking much of this for the post on the way.

  4. "I could, of course, be wrong."

    I suspect not. Ours is not a harsh world where maturity is forced on people from an early age.

  5. JH, thank you; praise from the praiseworthy and all that...

    AKH, you're right; H G Wells' Eloi spring to mind.

  6. With the average age for a first-time mother in the UK hovering around 29

    Think the teen mums might lower that considerably though.


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