I was really pleased to read this week that at last someone is doing something to help our teenagers. A headmaster in Tyneside has suggested that rather than make teens get up early, they should be allowed to start their education at 11 am, which would have a “profound impact” on learning.
This proves what I have long suspected — that teenagers are in most respects very different to real people. Apparently teenagers are programmed to wake late and their performance peaks later in the day.
I have dim memories of this from my own youth. On one occasion, while at university, I failed to make it out of bed in time to watch Blue Peter at 5pm. At the time I was tough on myself but in retrospect I am angry at Leeds University for timetabling lectures before 5.45pm. But that kind of callous disregard for the rights of the teenager was rife back in the ’80s.
I’m glad that someone is finally showing compassion for them because, as we all know, this is a uniquely scary time. There is that constant, gnawing worry that there may be drugs and drinks out there that they haven’t yet sampled. And then there is the terrible forgetfulness. I would make myself a mid-afternoon breakfast of a cheese-and-pickle sandwich, take it to my room, then get sidetracked by an attack of angst about whether I would ever have a girlfriend, and neglect to eat it. As a result I was perpetually hungry for no reason I could put my finger on. And from time to time my mum would mysteriously find sandwiches covered with a green fuzz, under the bed.
The teenage brain is also hardwired to make a mess. My room was a unique cocktail of ingredients: Clash albums, Asterix books, Coke cans, strewn clothing, pickled cucumbers, A-level course work (a very small component of the overall mess), empty crisp packets, two Japanese soldiers who didn’t know the war was over, Shoot! annuals 1972-79 and various acne treatments.
However, I did get one good break. Like thousands of other Jewish teenagers, I went on kibbutz — the perfect half-way house between being a teenager and a grown-up. Of course, we poor teens didn’t have a chance to get up, have a strong coffee and, like, get our heads together before starting work at 11am. No, we were up and in a truck heading for the fields at 5.30am, giving us an awkward decision about whether to go to bed first or not. On the other hand, there was plenty of time to hang out with the kids after finishing our stint picking oranges (or in my case, the truly pioneering work of assembling solar panels). And the great thing about the fatigue engendered by actual work, exacerbated by sleep deprivation, was that you felt like you were taking drugs even though there were none to hand.
Oh, and the sun was very good for acne, meaning I came back bronzed, muscled and able to get up in the morning. All of which meant I was able spend a lot more of my time worrying why on earth it was I was unable to get a girlfriend and why I was so hungry all the time, when I spent so much time making sandwiches.