As I write this morning, thousands of kids around the country are receiving their Junior Cert results… there will be tears and there will be whoops of joy. And later there will be lots of underage drinking and tomorrow some of our papers will carry photos that will strike terror into the heart of lots of us parents.

I myself will be heading into this scary teenage territory again in the coming years.  I have been there before as my oldest is now 25 but I am fairly certain that things in this country have gotten a whole lot worse since she did her Junior Cert in 2003.

How do I know this?  From friends and neighbours who have 15 and 16 year old kids.  From hearing them worry endlessly about how much freedom is enough but most of all from listening to their worries about their children drinking.

From talking with these parents I know that is not just their own children and their friends they have to worry about.  They are also often trying to enforce a ‘no drink’ rule in an environment where other parents are willing to either turn a blind eye to the fact that their 15 year old is drinking or who have decided to allow them a ‘couple of glasses of wine, cos sure they are going to do it anyway.’  You know the logic – the one that says it is better that they drink at home than in a field!!

The drinking culture that up until now we have in Ireland seen as an integral part of having the craic has led us to have a way too relaxed attitude to teenage drinking.  If the stories I hear are true, Dublin city on a weekend night (or possibly tonight) will be full of our young people some so drunk they can’t stand up.  They are vulnerable and they are at risk.

Add into this alcohol fuelled mess our over made up, tangoed, slapper looking teenage girls and we have the right recipe for disaster. You know the look – skirts barely covering their ass, cleavage hoisted to below their chin and vertigo inducing heels that cause them to develop a duck walk would be funny except that increasingly I feel these girls are sometimes living up to the image they are portraying.  Until recently I dismissed the tales of young teenage girls in ‘no alcohol’ discos run in rugby clubs giving blow jobs to boys as urban myths.   Now I wonder…. and I worry.  How we have gotten to the place where our educated young women think that dressing like a hooker and then acting like one is empowered living is beyond this old woman’s comprehension.

As I see it we in Ireland have two major problems with our youth that we need to urgently to address.

The first is our problem with teenage drinking.  As parents we need to wake up.  Allowing our precious very sensible, well brought up 15 year old ‘a few beers or glasses of wine’ is not the sign of responsible parenting.  It’s an abdication of our responsibilities.  We don’t live in a bubble.  We live in a society where alcohol no longer tastes like alcohol (making it so easy to drink by the gallon) and where drinking to excess is seen by our children as an essential part of a good night out.  As parents we need to remember that teenagers (even the well brought up ones) are usually unlikely to tell you the whole story or the truth.  Most of their drinking is not done in the local pub it is done at home or in the homes of a friend.  “No mom, no one will be drinking much, honestly” – don’t believe it – check it out if you can.

As parents I believe we have a right to be over bearing and embarrassing if we feel we need to in order to double check what is going on.  And yes, you will be told “no-one else’s mom is like you,” or “oh mom please don’t embarrass me”.  I say go ahead.  Your teenager most likely doesn’t hold you in very high esteem at this stage in their lives anyway.

I would also welcome the introduction of a no tolerance attitude by the Gardai to drunken behaviour on the streets.  Anyone who is so drunk they can’t stand up or who is caught engaging in ‘lewd behaviour’ on the streets should be rounded up and put in some kind of holding facility overnight.  No comforts, just access to water and toilets and somewhere they will be safe until 9am next morning.  A doctor could be in attendance so that these drunken messes don’t end up clogging up and being a nuisance in our A&E departments.

Radical? Perhaps and for someone who is proud of her leftie credentials I am surprised at my solutions but I really feel it is time as a country we practiced some tough love on our young people.

The other problem I see is one that is not so easily dealt with.  As the mother of girls it is something that bothers me hugely.  Why do our young women think that dressing like slappers is attractive?  They are poured into dresses that are a size too small, too short and too revealing.  They are unable to walk in ridiculous shoes.  Their beautiful skin is plastered in way too much make up.  They have fake nails, fake eyelashes, fake tans and possibly fake boobs.  I know I now sound like a right crabby, bitter, old woman but how have our daughters lost the feminine instinct to be a little mysterious, a little enigmatic.  They put it all out there, piled high like a cheap stall in a car boot sale.

Isn’t it ironic that at a time when women are supposedly at their most empowered (although we still have some way to go yet – but that’s another blog post) we have a generation of girls who think their power lies solely in their advertising their sexuality in the most overt way possible?  How has this happened? How do we change it?

Media’s portrayal of women is probably the single largest factor in this skewed idea of what female empowerment is about.  From music videos (well especially music videos) to movies to advertising, women are largely portrayed as bodies, and surgically enhanced bodies at that.

As the old adage goes “you can’t be what you can’t see”.  We as parents need to be conscious of this constant and very subtle undermining of women’s true power which pervades our everyday.  It’s on buses, in magazines, on the TV, in the cinema and our young girls who are at that stage in their lives of trying to work out who they are, are very open to this brain washing.  

All we can do as individual parents is to be very aware of these almost subliminal messages our daughters are getting every day and try to counter it and highlight what is happening.  We need to actively seek out positive examples of real female power and bring them to our children’s attention.

I would urge you to also visit the Miss Representation website and view the trailer of their powerful documentary.  It will certainly help you understand what is going on.  It might be the first step in us redressing the balance.

In the meantime congratulations to all who received their Junior Cert Results today.
Enjoy celebrating this milestone – but please remember your parents… and your dignity.

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Writing and Talking.... on the radio, on the telly and in the papers. Debut book out in Spring 2022

14 thoughts on “OUR WASTED YOUTH”

  1. Great post indeed – but Barbara, aren't we just as responsible as the parent when it comes to letting them out the door dressed 'to kill'?

    I have three young lassies here and one young man (it is all ahead of me I know) and we have a 'dress policy' that is working for now.

    If they dress themselves in an appropriate fashion on a day-to-day basis, then they get to pick out their own clothes. If they do not, I have to dress them. They think about it and make 'tolerable' decisions for the most part.

    No one teaches modesty anymore, I agree, but this is still 'my job' as as parent, no?

    I know that there will always be occurrences where they leave the house looking 'fine' then change before they get to the clubs … it is getting them to feel confident enough in who they are so they do not have to feel like they need to let someone get the 'leg up' on them to be popular or accepted. We need to rear confident kids so they are not looking for approval from the wrong kind of peer.

    AND regarding the 'drink'. Knowing who your kids are with, where they are and what they are doing, by dropping them off and picking them up (drunk perhaps) is they only way to know how they are handling themselves as teenagers.

    I need a drink myself now after all the worry of child-rearing has come flooding to the surface. And here I was dreading the German essay I have to finish!

    Lovely thought-provoking piece Barbara.

  2. My son 25 living in France says the difference in the girls there is they are not plastered in make up and they don't dress like tarts and he much prefers it. He says they look the same in the morning……

  3. Barbara – great blog, written by a great Mum.

    Feel this might be a long comment – sorry!

    The sexualisation & tartification of young girls is desperately worrying, as is the age it starts at and the obsessiveness of the plastic perfection it portrays.

    Natural beauty covered by the right shade of orange, the perfect hairless, body shape (or change it if its not), the right shoes, clothes, hairstyles, make up.

    The result is a set of clones often looking as though they've made up and dressed in the dark and seemingly appreciated only for their image and not their personality or intelligence!

    Then I recall being 15, the battles with my Mum to wear make up, in those days the pale faced, dark eyed, pale lipped Twiggy look. Skirts so short, for decency you had to learn the bunny dip! Clomper shoes in brightest yellow, the height of fashion then and not too far removed from the complete ugliness of shoes today.

    So I both sympathise …… and then like you, worry!

    We all want to experiment with make up and clothes but today that innocent pleasure exists in a much darker environment, the clothes much more revealing, creating an image that used to be known as 'jailbait'. That predatory term as inappropriate now as then, just young girls dressing up, still without the maturity to handle the sexual action perhaps expected of them. A difference I see now is peer pressure almost demands conformity, a voice stronger today than the guide we had 'me mam would kill me' and the terror of pregnancy.

    Then there's the unreal culture of drinking without limits as you rightly say, also glamorised and sexualised and let's not forget drugs.

    Parental boundaries still have the biggest role to play. Being clear about what is and isn't acceptable. For me it has to start early and be consistent, giving daughters the confidence to love and respect themselves first and foremost, to be clear enough in who they are that they don't have to follow like sheep.

    It's difficult to achieve but is I believe one of those 'it takes a village to raise a child' issues, we all have a part to play.

    To be clear about and challenge the presentation of stuff like the celeb dross that screams out from the media, from music videos, by monitoring internet use, TV, movies, language, phones, facebook, having clearest boundaries. Talking real world, explaining stuff like slutwalks, which have a good purpose but to a young girl that purpose may not be understood, though the outfits will be.

    Right now I definitely sound like an old biddy out to spoil all the fun – far from it!

    To me it's essential education, the knowledge giving which creates confident young women, able to make right decisions for themselves which protect them in a world that at times gives opportunity to cross lines most of us at their age didn't even know existed.

    There's an old saying with kids of 'rubbish in, rubbish out', never more true than today when there is a desperate lack of positive role models, where it seems every young woman who achieves success finds it de rigeur to appear naked or near so in Playboy or GQ.

    It's pathetic and part of a sad change that needs redressing, something we all need to speak against as it's exploitative of our young women through their sexualisation and also exploits our young men who are recipients of the same message.

    I shared a picture on twitter last week about teaching girls about right ways of relating to men and teaching boys to be those right men. The teaching starts at home but needs to be reinforced by us all demanding a difference from the media and better role models.

    I wonder if the Olympics have created a new awareness of success, maybe this is the time for us all to stand up and ensure that change happens.

  4. As always, great post Barbara.

    I'm thankful I'm almost, youngest 20 in Jan, out the other end. The teenage years are harrowing for some and I wish more parents would speak out about problems they might be having with rebelliousness instead of pretending their darlings are just wonderful. They can't all be wonderful, or was it just me?

    My greatest criticism is mothers who want to be their teens friends, it's an impossibility. We lead by example and, by hopefully guiding them well, will become friends as adults. We operated a drop and collect rule, the whole year could get ready in our house, we didn't care once we dropped and collected. The worst part of teenage years and setting boundaries, for me, was other parents colluding with their teens to let others, when visiting drink, go to Wez and other stuff that was not allowed in their homes or turning that great blind eye – oh my darling would never do something like that! Many an eye has been shockingly opened when that call comes from A & E.

    As I said, a great post that seems to have hit a nerve. Thank you

  5. Great post Barbara.Mothers must not be afraid of sounding 'crabby' or an 'old biddy' as some of you have mentioned.Things have gone to a great extreme in recent years. I agree with maggieg's son above. A French friend of mine told me how she once ordered her daughter out of a car as she was setting out for the evening. She suspected the driver had had too much to drink. The daughter was embarrased in front of the friends. 'C'est moi qui commande' said Maman. We all need to be this firm. I have often felt as an ex-teacher in a girls' school that some parents were afraid of their daughters, afraid of losing their love perhaps. Maybe we need more tough love. I do remember some girls boasting that their parents did not allow certain things. I think what they were trying to say was that their parents cared for them.

  6. Thanks Barbara! Thoughtful powerful article. I am on an ecumenical committee in Monkstown and we are racking our brains to find activites where both sexes can meet without false pressure. The best we can come up with is a series of debates. It worked 45 years ago, can it work today? One way or another we need to give kids (both young and old) an alternative.

  7. Barbara – really great insightful article and the introduction to Misrepresentation. What a powerful site. As mum of two boys and a daughter all heading towards teenage years am realising that there are many challenges ahead.

  8. As the mother of a 16-year old preparing for post JC disco on Friday, I find this post very salient

    For me the most interesting question is why intelligent girls feel the need to dress like slappers. Is it just a phase – do they keep in this style when they are 19 or so? I don't think so. In fact, my daughter told me that this could be her last disco – she feels she is outgrowing this scene. Phew, but where to next?

    I think my daughter looks tarty dressed up as she does when she 'goes out' – high heels and short dress. They all do, so you let them off with their friends and tell them to look after one another.

    She has experimented with her identity big time lately – with a shaved side of head (growing out now) and pink dye on end of her long hair (now cut). So I am hoping this is just another thing she has to go through. I feel the more I oppose, the more she rebells against my wishes. All I can do is instill in her her sense of worth and value.

    I always drop and collect (or entrust her to parents I know well), but I shudder at the thought of what happens in-between. Then I remember how I felt when I was her age and the things I did and the white lies I told (…. 16 is such a burgeoning age, remember?).

    Now to take a look at misrepresentation….

    Thanks Barbara!

  9. Excellent post Barbara.I agree with most of comments posted (up to & incl. 17 September) re tartification of girls.
    Until the boys and men get their act together I can't see this situation changing. Women, especially girl-women, like to please. Men have put pornography on shelves and page 3s and men, who drive film and music industries, plaster them all over car bonnets etc. We all know the images. It is a pity men are that bored and that boring. When I meet a decent one (as I do regularly) I feel like building him a neon placard.
    Until men cop themselves on, re-discover the value of integrity and self-worth it's difficult to see an improvement in the suicide/porn-addicted women-hating scenario.
    Agree with WiseMona the best protection for our own kids is rearing confident kids. Recognisable cop-outs that they are, I think certain parental mantras 'we all did it' and 'anything for an easy life' don't help at all and I find maggieg's comment a cheap laugh at the expense of her sex. Still if we don't laugh, we cry.
    I am heartened by Padraic Murray's comment – debate definitely. As someone who gives education outreach talks for charity I think youth up to teenage level are crying out for fora where they can interactively participate. How to get the teenagers talking is another challenge – if anyone has tips on that score I'd love to read them!
    There will always be wonderous variety in life. Here's hoping the good guys win.

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