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The Teens' Speech


On Christmas Day this year, teenage Britain delivered its own message to the nation. Find out more

The optimism gene

Which of these describe Christmas with your family (tick all that apply)

In the latest of our findings, it seems that the overwhelming majority of teenagers are looking forward to Christmas with a real sense of optimism. But, rather than being a product of our upbringing, is having an optimistic outlook a genetic predisposition?

Writing in the acclaimed research periodical, Proceedings of the Royal Society, psychologists claim to have identified an optimism gene.

"We've shown for the first time that a genetic variation is linked with a tendency to look on the bright side of life," says Elaine Fox of the University of Essex. "This is a key mechanism underlying resilience to general life stress."

This kind of research worries me. And depresses me. And fills me with pessimism.

Because, if it's all genetically predetermined, then how can we change? Or, to put it another way, what's the point in trying? Or, to put it another way, rather than being the conclusion of a reasoned argument, drawing upon my experience and understanding of the world, am I actually genetically obliged to reject this research and write this post?


In another study by scientists - this time from the Max Planck (love that name) Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, research indicates that making a decision may be a process handled to a large extent by unconscious mental activity. Even several seconds before we consciously make a decision its outcome can be predicted from unconscious activity in the brain.

Oh joy. My consciousness, that complex, beautiful sum of all knowledge and experience has nothing to do with the decision to be happy or optimistic - my brain has already done it for me.

So, when I say Merry Christmas, it's not because of the mince pies, or the fine wine, or seeing my daughter's face when she opens her gifts or watching The Teens' Speech on MySpace (you see what I did there). Its all down to my deoxyribonucleic acid.

It reminds me of that moment in The Phantom Menace, when The Force stopped being something that any of us could commune with and instead was dependent on stuff completely out of our control, some weird symbiotic organism called Midichlorians.

Talk about taking the fun out of everything.

Reading this article could seriously change your brain

His brain is changing.

Dr Gary Small of UCLA, one of America's leading neurologists, has written a book, iBrain - Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind. His research indicates that internet use and web-browsing has a marked effect on our brains, especially in the case of young people.

Although research at UCLA has revealed that just one hour of internet use per day can measurably boost brain function, there may be links between excessive computer use and conditions such as attention deficit disorder, depression and anxiety in younger people.

To counteract all this, Professor Small recommends taking regular breaks away from the computer. Researchers at Harvard University discovered that a quick 20-30 minute nap had the effect of significantly improving computer performance.

Right, I'm off for a kip.

Dying for a tan

An alarming quarter of a million 11 to 17-year-olds in England are risking skin cancer by using sunbeds, according to Cancer Research UK, raising the very real possibility that we have a generation of young people literally dying for a tan.

The government-funded study of more than 9,000 children found 6% had used a sunbed and in some areas of the country a whopping 40% of teenagers used them every week.

OK - the fact that 51% and 48% of 15 to 17-year-old girls in Liverpool and Sunderland respectively have used sunbeds might not be too much of a stretch - even though it's a blatant case of scientific research reinforcing cultural and geographical stereotypes. But, 23% of sunbedding children and teenagers also appear to be using sunbeds at home - completely without supervision.

Isn't that just a little bit odd? Fake tanning as a children's leisure activity? Have your tea, do your homework, watch yet another Friends re-run on E4 and spend an hour chilling and grilling on your sunbed?

Justine Sheils, a 37-year-old administrator from Liverpool, began using sunbeds when she was 15 and was diagnosed with malignant melanoma five years ago. Quoted on the BBC News website, she says,

"I see girls of 14 or 15 in their school uniforms going into that same salon I used to use and they come out looking like lobsters..."

The real issue here is that we have a generation of young women who are willing to sacrifice their well being in the (highly questionable) pursuit of looking good. What can we do to stop it?

You thought teenagers didn't get on with their parents, our survey said...

Do you think your parents believe in you?

What did noted psychiatrist, R.D. Laing, say about the family? That it was a social institution based entirely on self-interest and lying? Well, these stats debunk that particular chesnut of anti-psychiatry.

In a recent poll conducted by The Teens' Speech, a massive 88% of young people aged between 13-19 said their parents believed in them.

This paints a surprisingly positive picture of the U.K. and one that completely contradicts UNICEF's Child Poverty Report, which put the children of the United Kingdom 17th out of 21 countries in terms of their family and peer relationships and 17th out of 21 in respect of educational well-being.