By GK Teh
‘I hope I die before I get old’, proclaimed Roger Daltrey in 1965, in The Who’s classic ‘My Generation’ half a century ago. The hit would soon become an anthem for the glorious era of debauchery, alcoholism, destructive ‘art’ and all the other laddish ways of Rock n’ Roll.
While your regular Economics fresher from Trevs would hardly be prone to putting away a bottle of brandy a day or throwing televisions and luxury cars into swimming pools, it is important to remember that The Who’s Baby Boomer generation were the pioneer ‘kidults’. Born into a world keen to move on from the atrocities of the Second World War, these kids spent their teenage years idolising Elvis and their early adulthood years basking in their newfound freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom to make jangly new noises on their guitars that really annoyed parents, freedom to conscientiously object, freedom to experiment with substances. Marriage, desk jobs and parenthood were simply empty threats; guns that the parents would brandish from time to time to bring the young’uns in line. It must have been an amazing time to be young, but the glorious revolution against the traditional milestones of starting and providing for a family inevitably impacted military and university intakes. Throughout the 1970’s, desertion rates climbed rapidly in militaries across the Western world.
Let me anticipate the question you want to ask. No, the phenomenon does not contradict the well-known observation that children ‘grow up too fast’. Overall, children do begin emulating adult behaviour at an earlier stage than before. Children do begin demanding that adults treat them as their equal at a younger age. However, the desire to ‘grow up’ younger widens the valley between the youthful perception of adulthood and what adulthood actually entails – a valley which we see no need to bridge until an increasingly later age. This, then, is the crux of the ‘kidulthood’ phenomenon.
While it would be far too simplistic to blame the increasing competition in tertiary education and the workplace on delayed mental development, it is undeniably one of many prominent factors. The ‘kidulthood’ phenomenon is most clearly seen in elite colleges on both sides of the Atlantic: a tendency towards later mental maturation, an increasing emphasis on an all-rounded student body, and an exponentially growing human population do not bode well for Ivy League hopefuls. The majority of us enter University not at the peak of our maturation, but while mental development is still work in progress. The trends do not lie. The antics of the Bullingdon Club have become increasingly wilder over the years. The University of Exeter has seen two deaths and over a dozen hospitalisations in the last nine years due to excessive drinking. The antics of Oxford’s Buller boys are getting wilder as time passes (to think the Bullingdon Club was once a hunting club!). Closer to home, the Durham constabulary has noticed an increasing trend towards excessive alcohol consumption with the passing of time – with consequences that we are, unfortunately, too familiar with. This certainly is not to suggest that everyone who starts their first year under 21 (or even 25) is an alcoholic in training. While the But these figures irrevocably support the notion that University is now less about rigorous academia and the development of thought, and more about getting pissed and having a good time.
Despite all this, the argument that we are less prepared for university is grossly untrue. At the risk of sounding like a Darwinist groupie, the Homo Fresherus (common name ‘Fresher’) are a highly intelligent, adaptable species. We mature quickly: those who don’t are simply phased out. I should know: I came to Durham at the tender age of seventeen. What a journey it has been indeed.
Illustration: Mariam Hayat