I Was A Teenage Rebel – So How Come My Child Is Such A Homebody?

Is it a relief when your child skips the dreaded teenage rebellion? Or would it be better if they lived dangerously...just a little bit?

Teenage Rebel

It’s September 1988 and I’m about to turn 15. I’ll celebrate by drinking a two-litre bottle of Bentley’s Yorkshire Bitter (£2.99 from Anil, our friendly local shopkeeper) in the churchyard with my best friend, Suzie.

Our respective parents will think we’re at each other’s homes, doing homework. Before I go out, I throw my Morticia Addams-style outfit out of the bathroom window and hope nobody nicks it from where it lands by the entrance to the flats next door before I get there.

My parents do not approve of my newly-emerging ‘gothic phase’, although they’d be even less impressed by my penchant for Yorkshire bitter and hanging out in graveyards.

I meet my friend at the top of the road, and hastily change clothes in the telephone box around the corner. (Or ‘Kelly’s office’ as it’s known – mum and dad’s refusal to have a telephone at home means I give the payphone number out as my own.)

I Was A Teenage Rebel – So How Come My Child Is Such A Homebody? - teenage rebellion my son s too conservative 1 300x198
Kelly in 1988.

We head to the shop to do a ‘Deal with Anil’, as we’ve christened our dodgy beer-buying antics with the even-dodgier shopkeeper. We spend the rest of the evening in the cemetery, planning the rest of our lives – how we’ll write novels, work in magazines, and live in one of those houses with stairs up to the front door and down to the basement.

We fall dreamily silent as the bottle is drained, and we fantasise about the marvellous times coming our way, once our pesky parents no longer control us.

I change back into my snow-washed jeans and Snoopy sweater, stop to be sick in the bushes, and, as it’s a school night, get home for 9pm.

Fast forward to 2018. I’m mutton dressed as goth, still best mates with Suzie, and we still enjoy a mosey round a graveyard, although we save our beer-drinking for the pub. I now have a son, Will, who is 15 – the age which, for me, heralded so much change and rebellion. It was the age where I fought against every rule put in place by my parents, who laid down the law about everything from what I wore to what I ate.

My son has no desire to try wine or beer, to pick his own clothes, or hang around the park with his friends outside school

My ridiculously strict upbringing made me determined my own son would not have to sneak around or lie about where he’s going. If he wants to go out with his friends then, within reason, he can do what he wants as long as I know where he is and how he’ll get home. If he wants to try beer or wine, he can. His clothes and hair are his affair; how he chooses to express himself through them should be his decision alone.

The trouble is, my son has no desire to try wine or beer, to pick his own clothes, or hang around the park with his friends outside school. Fifteen means nothing to him. And, it seems, nothing to his friends either.

My circle of mum-chums has been waiting for teenage rebellion to kick in for around two years now, and we think we know why it hasn’t – our kids simply have nothing to rebel against.

Their parents pretty much like the same music and TV shows as they do, we wear the same trainers, the dads have the same hair as their sons, my friends with daughters shop in the same places and share clothes with their girls.

Everything the kids need, from catching up with friends, to ordering pizza or downloading a movie, is just a keystroke away. We cross-generation socialise, and I’m as likely to be Facebook friends with my son’s friends as I am their parents.

This is in stark contrast to when I was growing up, when my parents’ point of reference for teenagers was based entirely on their own working class, post-war adolescent experiences.

My parents had no interest in going out, or the arts or culture

If you were male, you left school as soon as you could and learned a trade.

If you were female, you worked in a factory or shop and had no ambition beyond finding a husband and having children.

My parents had no interest in going out, the arts or culture, so they had no specific peg on which to hang their coats or any lifestyle they wanted to emulate. And this was the same for the whole extended family.

Trouble was, by the time I reached my mid-teens, I realised there was more to life than Sing Something Simple or Charlie Chester’s Sunday Soapbox on the radio. I didn’t want to spend the evenings watching my parents watch Coronation Street, or my weekends with the curtains drawn huddled around a western on the TV. So I rebelled – hard.

Of course, I got up to plenty of stuff I would never want my son to emulate. I was rarely where my parents thought I was, and our lack of a phone meant they had no way of contacting anyone to check up on me.

We took stupid risks. We accepted lifts from strangers, went to house parties of people we didn’t know

I regularly bunked off school to spend my days hanging out in Camden or Carnaby Street. Most nights we would try to blag our way into gigs at the Marquee Club.

We took stupid risks. We accepted lifts from strangers, went to house parties thrown by people we didn’t know, and we didn’t care if we missed the last train home as we’d already told our parents we were sleeping at each other’s houses.

And while I look back now and want to slap myself over some of my antics, most of it was valuable. It taught me to be fiercely independent and streetwise.

It opened up my eyes to a life I didn’t want as much as the fun, party one I did. (My friends and I saw so much drug-taking and its associated horrors that we never went near it.) I truly feel as an adult that it was all an important and necessary rite of passage, and one my son should at least have glimpses of.

However, as I type this, it’s past noon on week two of the summer holidays. Will is still fast asleep, as no doubt I would have been at 15, too. But my slumber would have been due to a hangover; he’s dead to the world because he was volunteering until late at our local theatre. This evening he’ll attend his martial arts class, having already checked with me that I can give him and his pal a lift there and back.

If they walked, they’d pass three pubs on the way. It actually disappoints me a little that they haven’t used their techy prowess to make fake IDs and at least tried to go in and order a pint of beer. I would have done. And my teenage rebellion was the making of me.