Going by what appears in newspapers, you could be forgiven for thinking Britain is witnessing the birth of the most wayward, radical, rebellious generation of young people ever. Whether it’s right-wing panicmongering over legal highs, teenage ‘extreme binge drinkers’ and an epidemic of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), or claims from excitable leftist commentators about the student protests of 2010 ushering in a ‘new age of rebellion’, you might think that today’s young people are some marauding hybrid of the Bolsheviks and the Happy Mondays: ‘Peace, land, bread, mephedrone, nookie!’
However, lift the lid on the tabloid hysteria and commentariat fawning and you get a different picture. Indeed, 2013 was the year when it became clear that today’s young people, my generation, are the most conformist, risk-averse and conservative in recent memory.
Boozed-up, drug-addled yoofs? It’s a myth. According to a recent study by the Health and Care Social Information Centre, only 43 per cent of 11- to 15-year-olds have tried alcohol, compared with 61 per cent 10 years ago. The number of young smokers has fallen, too. And only 17 per cent of teenagers admit to having tried drugs, marking a 10 per cent decrease since 2002.
Not only are kids refusing to experiment with what were once seen as rite-of-passage vices - they also actively think that flirting with such vices is morally wrong. As Fraser Nelson noted recently in the Spectator, young people are far less liberal about smoking and drugs than their parents, with only nine per cent of young people considering it acceptable to smoke cannabis, compared with 32 per cent of the older population.
As for the idea that young people are relentlessly shagging around, catching something itchy for their troubles - again that’s untrue. As Nelson also noted, STIs are most rampant among the over-45s. Today’s young are also more likely than earlier generations to visit sexual-health clinics, keeping piss-cup manufacturers in business by offering themselves up for medical investigation after every one-night stand.