Being a teenager is often a bewildering and complex time in a person’s life, as much today in the 21st century as when I experienced it in the 1970s. There are new experiences to make sense of, hormones to deal with, and boundaries to test and expand. It can be a time of immense fun with parties, concerts (good music being a pre-requisite, of course) or just hanging out with friends, on the other hand, dealing with personal safety, sex and drug issues can be perplexing and difficult. Although there will always be similarities, as each new generation evolves, they face challenges and experiences that those from the past have not encountered. That some experiences such as personal safety, music, drug usage, puberty, and sexual awareness are pertinent to every generation is true; nevertheless, there are challenges in these experiences that are generation specific.
Safety is an issue that is of more concern today than for teenagers 30 years ago. Sydney Australia, where I grew up, was an exciting place to spend your teenage years. My friends and I felt safe to roam, people were friendly and we enjoyed a good deal of freedom. Days were spent at various beaches, while at night we cruised the streets. Moving from one pub to another, often using our thumbs, hitch-hiking being the favoured means of transport.
The innocence and freedom that my generation took for granted 30 years ago no longer exists. Although my teenage daughter enjoys the relative safety of growing up in a small rural community in New Zealand, she is aware of the need to consider personal safety issues to a far greater extent than I ever was. She wouldn’t consider hitch-hiking anywhere, as she has told me frequently: “That is just too dumb a thing to do Mum.” Stranger danger is something we now drill into our children; even kindergartens operate programmes to educate those as young as four on this subject.
In the seventies, as well as today, music formed a platform for teenagers to express themselves. The seventies was a time where some truly great music was born. Glam rock appeared with bands such as Queen, rock was taken to a new level with the likes of Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Joe Cocker. Musicals took on the new era, with the likes of Jesus Christ Superstar and the infamous Hair, the first stage show to have full-frontal nudity, bringing with them controversial change.
Another controversial teenage issue has always been experimental drugs usage; however, teens today are more at risk than my generation was. While marijuana, LSD and speed were readily available in the 70′, today’s teen are bombarded with an ever-increasing assortment of drugs. As well as what was available to us, they now have everything from the popular so-called ‘herbal’ party pills to the highly dangerous drug P. Sadly today it is not uncommon for teens to have drugs offered to them even in schools, to the point where some teens are routinely drug-tested in schools and colleges.
Puberty has become a dangerous time for today’s teens to negotiate their way through in comparison with teenagers 30 years ago. While 30 years ago we too were concerned with pregnancy and catching STD’s, the teenagers of today also face the existence if AIDS, which has altered the sexual revolution altogether. On the other hand, we now have more sexual education available from many differing agencies. It is no longer considered the place, or the right of parents to be the only ones to teach these matters to their teenagers.
Sex is no longer the taboo subject it was when I was younger; on the contrary, colleges have nurses available to discuss issues. Doctors protect teen’s privacy, making it more likely that they will seek help. Advertising constantly reminds them of the need for them to be safe and protect themselves.
In particular the ‘no rubba, no hubba hubba’ campaign, was specifically targeted towards today’s generation of teenagers. Television and radio programmes, magazines such as Cosmopolitan, as well the internet, have brought sexual issues out into the public arena for teenagers dealing with puberty. And discussions in our house are certainly more open and lively than I experienced while a teenager.
No matter when people experience their teenage years, there will always be challenges. But, so long as the preceding generation is willing to stand behind and be willing to listen as well as offer help when asked, hopefully the good will outweigh the bad. With luck, my son and daughter will also smile when they look back over these years, just as I do.