My boys spend a lot of time watching YouTube. They see all the latest trending videos, as well as a lot of others which are funny or interesting. Sometimes they learn from them. A lot of the time they take pleasure in watching people being really stupid. They also spend a lot of time on Snapchat and Instagram. For them, it’s all about the group chats and the ‘streaks’. Instagram isn’t much about sharing photos.
When my younger son talks, he tells me a lot about what he’s seen on YouTube. He talks about his latest game obsession (something he has been doing since he was about 6 and playing Club Penguin). I smile, nod and try to understand, although it’s really a mystery to me. My eldest tells a lot of stories from school. I don’t like his stories – they always seem to revolve around someone being horrible to someone else – whether another pupil or a teacher. He finds them funny. Even if he’s not involved in the incidents, I don’t like that he finds them funny and that pretty much every story is about someone being horrible.
The other week, we were on a train to London and had the misfortune to be sat by five young men in their late teens or early 20s. Their topics of conversation were like my boys’ conversations, but much, much worse. And I realised that my boys are merely trainee men and this is what they could turn into in a few years (although I really hope they don’t).
They were all on social media or watching videos constantly, but they still found time to conduct a non-stop and very loud conversation, which involved showing each other what was on their phones every few seconds. Every other word was a swear word, which was bad enough, but that was the least of my worries. It was the choice topics of conversation that were bothering me. My daughter was sat sniggering at the swearing, but I just hoped she wasn’t taking in the actual detail. They were saying demeaning things about girls and a recurrent theme was being nasty about someone who was ginger.
There was absolutely no filter and no consideration for the people around them. There weren’t any little kids on the carriage, but my daughter is only 10 and she doesn’t need to be hearing things like that. Nor do I. Nor did anyone else on the train.
The thing that really stuck out for me was when one of them said ‘Have you smelled his cock?’ and the others agreed that they had. The mind really boggles at that.
Hearing them was a real eye-opener for me. I’ve heard about social media being such an influence on young people and about young men being sexist, but hearing it for real was a bit of a shock. I could see that a lot of the things my boys talk about were there in the conversation, only hugely magnified. It’s like seeing elements of my daughter’s ballet in a professional performance or elements of my son’s football in Man Utd.
I know that being a bit thoughtless goes with the territory when you’re young, but I’m pretty sure that we wouldn’t have behaved like that ‘in my day’.
I try to bring my kids up to be thoughtful, considerate and pleasant members of society and I really hope I’m succeeding. I don’t want my trainee men to be horrifying fellow passengers on a train with their conversation in a few years.