They are our most valuable asset and our single biggest headache. The country's teenagers carry the burden of being the great shining hope for the future, the ones who will grow our economy and pay our pensions, and link us on our Zimmer frames around the grounds of the perfect nursing homes they'll thoughtfully choose and lovingly run for us.
But at the same time they're the spoilt, pampered, instantly gratified product of a generation of paranoid parents. They've never been denied pocket money or video games or liberty to misbehave. They're binge-drinking, acquisitive, self absorbed, promiscuous brats. They want the latest fashions at whatever cost; they go through sexual partners like a dose of Epsom salts; they drive with no regard for other road users and they exploit their parents' tendency to indulge their every whim.
They're growing up with the view that money does, actually, grow on trees, blithely unaware of the fact that there is no such thing as a free text. They're oblivious to the concept of saving money. Instead they are financially irresponsible and reckless with their parents' cars and credit cards.
So let's remind ourselves again that they're the ones we're relying on for the comfort and security of our golden years. Not a very comforting thought, is it?
So shouldn't we worry about the capabilities and priorities of the people into whose hands we will commend our fate in the years ahead? As doctors, politicians, business leaders will they be any more responsible, caring, altruistic or dependable than the crew we've got at present?
Certainly if nurture wins out over nature in deciding the shape of a personality then the next generation of professionals and leaders and opinion formers ought to be a model bunch. These are the Penelope Leach babies, born in the late 1980s and early 1990s at a time when the baby-book industry was just taking off, and their parents had the benefit of any number of expert advisers to hand.
They also grew up alongside political correctness, so they never saw Noddy and Big-Ears sharing a bed in case they acquired alarming prejudices about homosexuality. Instead they got Barney the Dinosaur singing about irregular family units, playground equality, racial difference and not letting the water run when you brush your teeth.
So is it inevitable that they'll differ from those of us raised at a time when "parenting" was not in anybody's vocabulary, much less "quality time" or "child-centred care options", and will it be for better or worse?
Brian Cowen, for example, was a young boy in the 1960s. He was probably walloped in school if he forgot his eight-times tables. It's unlikely his parents agonised much over whether Mission Impossible was too violent for his developing mind, and he most likely learned that there was a direct link between saving your communion money and owning a bike. He came from a community of rural Irish families who prided themselves on never being in debt, and knew that, however flashy the trappings of the HP lifestyle, hard cash in your pocket was what gave you power.
The finance minister can identify and manipulate the short-sighted weaknesses of a society that expects largesse without sacrifice precisely because he is of a generation that learned you get nothing for nothing, and that money and the authority it confers are hard won.
Contrast the messages schoolchildren get today, with some schools replacing the concept of exam failure with "postponed success" so that nobody feels bad. The idea of children doing chores to earn pocket money -the connection between effort and reward -has almost vanished. And even young adults are being fed the message that you don't have to deny yourself what you want. Car ads offer ridiculously painless financing deals, and the only discussion of the maturing SSIA scheme centres on how quickly we'll spend the loot.
There's evidence, too, that all this equality lark we've been feeding our youngsters since playschool is taking its toll on the quality and nature of the services we can expect from the next generation of professionals. More girls are going into medicine, but trends indicate that they don't fancy the gritty end of the job, such as late-night accident and emergency work, preferring softer and more family-friendly roles. So if our youngsters continue to clog up weekend emergency rooms after their binge-drinking exploits, there will be even fewer of them on duty to pump stomachs in future. And the rest of us can look forward to longer hours spent on trolleys when our dodgy hips finally pack in.
So are we rearing a generation of selfish, spoiled, over-indulged teenagers who will change the shape of society in the future in a way we may not recognise? Perhaps the pay-off for your library of Contented Little Baby Books is that the secure, assertive child you wanted is secure in asserting his right to the most comfortable, materially replete, self-centred and hassle-free life for as long as your money lasts.
It was an eye-opener, then, to see the results of last week's survey of teens by the National Children's Office. It suggested that all our agonising over "parenting issues" and "quality time" has succeeded in producing a generation of teenagers who are ... exactly the same as every other generation of teenagers.
They like talking to their friends -100% of 18-year-olds own a mobile phone and "hanging around". They watch television, play computer games, listen to music, go to the cinema, look at shops. Only one-third have part-time jobs, almost 90% play sports, and between 30% and 40% spend most of their free time studying. They have hobbies, read books, go to discos less than once a week. They'd like more leisure facilities, and worry about how they look. Girls worry most -so much for all that confidence and equality guff.
In other words, they seem boringly normal, their interests and priorities entirely predictable. Apart from the fact that few seem required to spend any time helping around the home, their lives are wholly unaffected by their over-anxious parents' efforts to turn them into pampered divas or precocious prodigies. They're not radicals or rebels. Instead they're heading for a life of responsible, tax paying, law-abiding, Fianna Fail and Green party-voting, paranoid parenting themselves.
It seems that no matter what we do, they're still going to turn into us.
My son is a spoiled
brat (teenagers) but I know for a fact that when he grows up he'll turn into another version of me.