7 ways being a teenager has changed in the last 20 years

This post is an old (sponsored) one I did for Mamamia.com.au but at the time, I forgot to put it onto my blog (I was in the throes of re-writing my novel – the throes are over but the waiting continues – endlessly, relentlessly, anxiously…)



25 years ago (or so) I was a teenager. It was a time of complex cultural issues (my parents wouldn’t let me watch Dirty Dancing with my friends) and even more complex clothing (I was still rocking the ruffle skirt two years after the fad had passed).

My daughter, aged 11, is on the cusp of her teen years and I ponder what kind of teenage world she will enter.

I know I swore I’d never say it, but When I Was A Teenager, the Commodore 64 was a revelation. We crowded around it at a friend’s house the way homo erectus must have crowded around fire. The first time I used a computer for research was in my second year of uni. The first time my son used a computer for research was in his second term of kindergarten.

When I was a teenager, my dad’s mobile phone was the size of a bible, we were not allowed to ‘touch the screen’ and it’s functionality was not intuitive to him or a toddler.

When I was teenager, if I had a question about life, I asked my mum, not Siri.

When I was a teenager I saw my four closest friends at school and only during the school holidays if they lived down the street. Today’s teenagers are constantly connected to the internet and therefore each other. They tweet, facebook, facetime, instant message and text each other. Their lives are instantaneously tracked – everything from the banal to the sublime is captured by status updates sent to their 1327 Facebook friends.

When I was a teenager we deposited our birthday money into the green dragon, or the bank-shaped tin our local branch gave us. My mum then took me physically into the bank where I proudly received my first passbook.  For today’s teenager, going into a bank must seem a superfluous activity. Online banking is just a natural extension of Mathletics, homework online and Facebook. It encourages and enables young people to save, using the tools they are comfortable with. I was terrified the first time I banked on-line (seriously, I started sweating) but for my daughter, she will never know any other way to deposit, transfer and track her money.

When I was young, the first thing I bought with my own money was a cassette of Whitney Houston’s debut album, the self-titled and timeless Whitney Houston. I went halves with my cousin because back in the day, those cassettes were expensive. Recently, my daughter’s friend bought herself an i-pad with her own birthday money.

My daughter regularly asks me for an iphone like some of her friends.  Every week she asks me for slushie money and almost every week I say no. Yes, I’m a cow.

When I was a teenager, I remember my dad talking about life in his village in Sri Lanka. He told me once that he and his brothers would walk several miles to school, to save on the bus fare so they could buy a rose-syrup milkshake, which they would then share amongst themselves. There were seven children and they couldn’t have everything they wanted. They also seemed to want less.

When my daughter asks me for an ipad, I panic – not because she wants an ipad but because she has no idea how privileged that request is. She has no idea how much she must have in her life (not just money, but access to education, freedom from war, access to a legal system) – when her biggest drama is that everyone else can facetime each other.

I panic, and then I take a breath. She’s a good kid and I’ve got time to teach her. A friend at school suggested I keep it simple, try not to lecture her about global issues, and tell her to “spend a bit, save a bit”. Tell her one ipad is worth 600 slushies and ask her to start saving, budgeting and prioritising, like the rest of us. 

Let’s talk about money: What advice do you give your children about it? Do you give them pocket money and is it for spending or saving? What is the best age to teach children about financial responsibility?