I’m going to try something different this week, so bear with me.  My third book is currently with my editor, one which I’m hoping to release later in the year.  It’s another romantic comedy but deals with a number of serious themes, a few of them being social anxiety, low self-esteem and generally feeling inadequate.  I think a lot of people can relate to this.  Kudos to you if you have never felt any of these things, though I think you’re in the minority. 

It got me thinking about young people today, which in turn had me questioning when I stopped being a ‘young person’ myself, then mentally slapped myself for going off on one of my many tangents.  Anyway, young people today must have it bloody hard.  It was bad enough when I was at school but now? Now you cannot escape anything because certain areas of the media seem to have taken over like a plague infecting your confidence, giving rise to your anxieties and has you believing you will never be worthy enough.  I could go into mental health issues and talk about an amazing course I went on for school training, but instead I’ve gone in a sillier direction, though hopefully one that still puts the point across.

Initially I thought about starting with the girls, but quickly decided against it.  I think boys have it just as hard yet don’t get the same recognition for it.  Now, I’m not a boy and haven’t had boys.  In fact, most of the boys I come across are seven years old or younger.  However, I’m going to have a go at it anyway.  Below I’ve imagined what it would be like for a teenage boy interviewing for the role of the ‘popular boy’ at sixth form/high/senior school. Please let me make it abundantly clear I do not think teenage boys are like this at all, but it is what seems to be being thrown at them through some  areas of programming, advertising and social pressure.  It’s also just for fun!

Interviewer: Welcome, do come in and have a seat.

Teenage boy, we’ll call him Zak: Hi, yeah, thanks.

Interviewer: So, you are here to interview for the role of ‘popular boy in a high school setting’, correct?

Zak, who laughs nervously: Er, yeah.

Interviewer: Before we begin, you need to sound more cocky.  You know, sure of yourself.

Zak: ‘Cocky’?

Interviewer: Yes. All of those lessons in which politeness is encouraged and where being mild-mannered rewarded you with friends and a great reputation amongst your teachers and peers?  Scrap ‘em.  Don’t worry though, there are a number of routes you can take to achieve this.

Zak: Such as?

Interviewer: Well, you have the cocky, clownish, pretty boy who everyone laughs with, particularly when he’s being an arsehole to the teacher or a fellow student.  You have to be able to smirk, bite your bottom lip and expertly cock your head to the side at precisely the right moment.

Zak: Like this?  (Zak attempts to tip his head to the side but looks more like he’s been in an accident.)

Interviewer: Not quite, but don’t worry, there’s always the silent, brooding type.  He speaks sparingly, drops in quotes from classic novels and theorists, perhaps even the odd poet.  He looks down his nose at everyone and is also an arsehole but without the humour.  Borderline psychotic too.

Zak: Right. I don’t read classics.  Can’t say I’m interested in theorists or poets either.

Interviewer: Hmmm, oh dear.  Mind you, your name is not quite right for the moody arsehole anyway.  How about the beefy, jock, sportsman extraordinaire?

Zak: I play football at the weekends?  (Zak gestures with hope in his voice.)

Interviewer: Perfect!  Take off your shirt and let’s have a look see, shall we?  What are you, seventeen?

Zak: Yeah…why have I got to take off my shirt?

Interviewer: You have to have the right physique to pull this one off.  Oh, and you’ll have to wear a few more labels.

Zak: Oh (looks a little uncomfortable).  See, dad works two jobs already and I have to help mum look after the twins.  She was recently diagnosed with MS so it’s tough, you know?

Interviewer: Inconsequential, now remove the shirt.

(Zak removes his shirt, turns and looks a little awkward.  Interviewer silently assesses him with a frown on his face.)

Useful fact: about one in three people struggling with an eating disorder is male, and subclinical eating disordered behaviors (including binge eating, purging, laxative abuse, and fasting for weight loss) are nearly as common among men as they are among women. (1)

Interviewer: No, that’s not going to work. Where’s the muscle?  You should be looking as twice as big as you are.  How tall are you?

Zak: About 5’9”.

Useful fact: 5’9” is the average height of a 17 year old male in the UK. (2)

Interviewer: Oh dear.  Tell you what, let’s come back to this later shall we? You can put your shirt back on, though might I suggest you do a bit of tanning.  You’re far too pasty to pass for the sun-kissed variety and there are very few who can pull off the vampire aesthetic.

(Zak puts his shirt back on and takes a seat.)

Interviewer: Now, girls.  Are you a virgin?

Zak: Wait what?!  That’s a little personal isn’t it?

Interviewer: Not for boys. They need to have that information widely available to everyone.  And you need to have the sexual prowess of a porn star.

Useful Fact: A BBC study found that most young adults had had sex by the time they were eighteen, half by seventeen and a third before they had reached the legal age of sixteen in the UK. (3)

Zak, who is by now blushing like a tomato: Er, well, I…

Interviewer: Thank you, I shall mark that down.  Now, how would you go about pursuing a girl you like?

Zak: Gee, I don’t know (rubs back of neck awkwardly, still with a radioactive blush).  Make friends with her, maybe buy her flowers, take her for coffee or to the cinema?

Interviewer: No, no, no! (Laughs) Initially, you blank the poor girl, then you build this up into being a complete bastard to her.  Bully her to the point whereby she questions her very existence and self-worth, then you corner her, aggressively kiss her, pin her to a wall and make it known you could violate her if you so choose to.

Zak, who looks horrified: Jesus!

Interviewer: Don’t worry, she’ll love it.  You want to aim for borderline abusive.  In fact, if you can add a little abduction in there, all the better.

Zak: Isn’t that illegal and totally immoral?!

Interviewer: Well, yes, but so long as you are attractive it’s also considered sexy.  If you’re wealthy too, even better!

Zak: Gee, I don’t know…

Interviewer: That won’t do either, you need to be sure of everything and be able to make a decision with unfaltering conviction. Oh, one more thing (leans in closer) you need to add in a lot more f-bombs to your everyday speech.

Zak: My parents hate swearing.  They would literally stick me in my room for the next month if they caught me swearing.

Interviewer: Well, you shouldn’t be bothered by what your parents think either.  It’s all about what your peers think.  If they say jump, you jump. If they say cheat on your girlfriend, then you cheat.  If they say shave your head and dye your wing wang purple, then you bloody well do it. Now smoking.  Do you smoke?

Zak: Er, no, my grandparents both died of lung cancer through smoking.  That and it’s pretty costly.

Interviewer: Yes, yes, it kills people, but it also makes you look dangerous.  You want to smoke enough to give you an edge, though not enough to smell or have you looking too thuggish.  Throw in a bit of weed, maybe something stronger too.  If your friends are doing it, so should you!

Useful fact: according to a report from Truth Initiative, “While You Were Streaming”79 percent of the shows most popular with young people ages 15 to 24 depict smoking prominently. (4)

Zak: Oh, ok.

Interviewer:  So to sum up Zak, more muscle, more height, learn to cock your head, bite your lip, be funny, be brooding, be intelligent but don’t let anyone know about it (just drop the odd quote or multisyllabic word every now and then), wear branded clothing, be disrespectful, treat girls like shit, be a little psychotic, borderline abusive, smoke, don’t smoke too much, take stimulants, sleep around, be a hero, be a villain, lower your voice, get a tan, be confident, be cocky, be the bully, be the nice guy, swear, speak eloquently, don’t try too hard, be pretty, be thuggish, only listen to your friends, and…maybe change your name?

Zak: I’m out!

Now, there are a few Zaks out there, who would thankfully stick two fingers up to this, however, due to outside influences, it wouldn’t surprise me to hear a lot of boys will feel the pressure to conform.  I can’t blame them for when you have TV, films, magazines, adverts, social media and peers all telling you to be a certain way, it’s bound to have an effect. I don’t have answers to this problem, neither do I fully know where it all originated from.

What I will say is this, like many mental health problems, it’s not as simple as telling someone not to do something.  So many people will tell their children to just not go on social media, to not listen to what their peers or society have to say, however it is age appropriate to care about what other people think of them.  There is a science to anxiety and the way we react to it, including blood flow through the brain and how this effects our thinking. I have suffered with OCD since I was eleven and I can assure you being told to not worry about my fears, or to stop washing my hands because they were cracked and bleeding, did not help. If anything, it only made me try to hide it more.

If you want to find out more about anxiety and the way people behave and think, particularly young adults who are desperately trying to find out who they are in the world, I recommend seeking advice from a professional.  There are also lots of books out there on the way the brain thinks, including ‘The Chimp Paradox’ by Professor Steve Peters.

Next blog: “Mummy, how did you know you were going to marry daddy?”

  1. Eating Disorders in Men & Boys | National Eating Disorders Association

Also:

The following is taken from Eating Disorders in Men: Symptoms, Risk Factors & Treatment (psycom.net)

‘Body image pressure is one of the strongest predictors of an eating disorder in men. The media and society portray the ideal male body as being muscular and toned, and many advertisers for weight-loss and fitness products and programs focus on this ideal. One study found that roughly 90% of teenage boys exercise with the purpose of bulking up.’ Kathleen Smith, PhD, LPC

2.Source: Average Child Height | Onaverage.co.uk

3.Source: What is the right age to lose your virginity? – BBC News

4.Source: Why smoking is still glamorized in media and pop culture in 2018 (truthinitiative.org)

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