Three girls on the street corner asked me to buy them cigarettes. They were teenagers of indeterminable age. Everyone looks older now. I stayed at “fourteen years old” until I discovered hair-straighteners and proper bras at eighteen. Eighteen. I get IDed a lot.
Teenagers are a lot older now and they are growing up faster. It must be frustrating to be fifteen or sixteen, just… waiting. From puberty we are expected to be older than we are. There is so much information available in this internet age and if I was a teenager now I know I would feel so much more pressure to have sex, smoke, drink and do adult things.
In reality though, I just went “HAH, NO” rudely. I’m having a bad day, ok? I went into the newsagents and bought my own pack of cigarettes. I hoped they wouldn’t mug me on my way out. Yes, I am still scared of teenage girls who wear makeup and short skirts. But when I got home I started thinking about it.
If I wasn’t feeling so rotten I would be tempted to go back and ask them a few questions. “Do you work?” would be one of them. I think that if you are old enough to be treated as an adult you should deserve adult things and more importantly be allowed to make these kinds of choices about your life, even if the reason behind them is wanting to be cool. At sixteen you can have sex and have a job. If they were sixteen I might just buy them cigarettes even if the legal age has been raised to eighteen in the last few years.
However, I did think somewhat pettily, “I had to wait for these things, I had to wait to grow up, so should you”. But then I remember that I’ve been drinking and drunk in pubs since I was fifteen. God knows how that happened. But is that right? Should “coming of age” be synonymous with “earning privileges”? I’m on the fence about this.
I feel sorry for these girls if they feel the need to stand on the road asking every stranger that passes to purchases them cigarettes. I like smoking, but it is an addiction and there are better things to spend your money on. I’ve smoked since I was twenty-ish and I dread to think about how much I’ve spent on the habit. Recently I combined my pennies and went to the shop with loose change to by cigarettes. That’s no life. My skin is bad and I wouldn’t like to see those girls go down the path of sacrificing nicer, better activities and possessions to fix their nicotine craving.
My mum and dad learnt parenting the hard way when I discovered alcohol and older men discovered me. So did I. But I wouldn’t change anything. I think the best way to learn is from doing, and making mistakes. Of course these things are dangerous and we do need to protect our children, but simply telling a rebellious teen that they can’t do something isn’t a good enough reason when they are determined to live a certain way. Maybe if these kids have the money for cigarettes they should be able to have them and smoke them, deciding for themselves whether it’s ultimately worth it. Smokers aren’t helpless; quitting (as I have found) is fucking hard, but there is help there if you are 110% committed to changing your lifestyle.
When I went to Germany last summer I was surprised at the culture surrounding alcohol. There’s a bridge in Kreuzberg, Berlin, where people go to sit and drink. If it were England there would be outrage but the thing I noticed was that no-one appeared to be wasted, incoherent or falling over. Kreuzberg felt really safe because people were allowed to indulge in their vices without having to do them in secret, feeling naughty. I think if England’s policies were more relaxed then people would be more relaxed. We wouldn’t need to rebel by drinking ourselves stupid. But then, maybe Germans rebel in different ways. I don’t know.
Kids are sexualised and sold underwear designed for bodies older than their own, teenage magazines talk about how to get a boyfriend and have sex… I think it must be hard to be of less-than-legal age in this country. They have the ideas but not the actions. That’s a lot of pent up something. Maybe if teenagers had more freedom they would channel their energies into something more productive than standing on street corners. I hope so, anyway.