I always enjoy watching episodes of Father Ted. One of my favourites involves the hapless Father Dougal struggling to grasp the size difference between small toy cows and ‘small’, far away cows, grazing in a distant field. It is a moment of simple comic genius, but also a reminder of the importance of perspective.
Today’s teenagers live in a fast paced, complex, and apparently unforgiving world. They feel under pressure to wear the ‘right’ clothes, acquire ‘trendy’ accessories, have lots of friends, appear attractive and perform well in school. It was ever thus. The difference for young people growing up with omnipresent social media is the almost total lack of respite from these pressures. Media reports last week cited research by a Cambridge academic that found 12% of adults surveyed felt they could comfortably go without food for longer than they could go without social media.
Parents and schools have a challenging task in supporting teenagers and helping them differentiate between worthwhile concerns and issues of little real consequence. It can be hard for young people to see the bigger picture when their main frame of reference is peer group chatter on Facebook or Instagram.
On 11 November schools across the land will rightly halt their timetables at eleven o’clock to remember those who died in armed conflict. At The Perse we will remember the 92 former students and staff who lost their lives in World War One, and those who survived but were physically and/or emotionally injured by their experiences. Many of their stories are recorded in the 1914-18 Pelican magazines which contain moving accounts of young lives ended or forever changed in the trenches. Private O.G. Bampton Taylor was “a stretcher bearer, and went about treating and caring for the wounded in the bravest possible manner….he was killed by a shell bursting in a rest-billet”. Private J.W. Whittet was wounded in the leg. “He succumbed to meningitis and died aged 19. He was a favourite in his regiment and absolutely the life and soul of the hospital ward with his theatrical abilities”. Lieutenant E.H.H. Woodward who had captained The Perse 1st XV died on Christmas Eve 1916. He was shot dead by the German lines. “Patrols tried to recover the body, but could not, so they put up The Notice Board, asking that the Germans would bury him which they did”.
Three Perse alumni dead before the age of 20.
One hundred years on, 1914 can seem ‘far away’. But remembering the lives lost, the suffering endured and the horrors experienced brings a valuable sense of perspective. We must give thanks that the teenage concerns of today are not the problems faced by the class of 1914-15. Adolescence can be confusing, but most of its preoccupations pale into insignificance compared to the carnage of one hundred years ago. In remembering the ‘lost generation’ we should reflect on the good fortunes of the current generation, recognising the benefits of twenty first century living and the need to keep twenty first century problems firmly in perspective despite the influence of twenty first century media. 1914 may be ‘far away’ but most of the problems of 2014 are ‘small’ in comparison.