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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.

How well do you know young people?

Over the last 50 days of The Teens' Speech, we've learned quite a bit about young people in the United Kingdom. Now it's time to check who has been paying attention. Take a deep breath, furrow your brow and dive into our pocket-size teenage Britain quiz. The answers may surprise you. Keep a count of your score and we'll let you know how in tune you really are with the lives of young people. And let us know how you get on in comments.

1. What percentage of pupils overall achieved five GCSEs at grade A*-C?

A. Between 40 and 50%
B. Between 50 and 60%
C. Between 60 and 70%
D. Between 70 and 80%

Click to reveal the answerC - 69.7 per cent of pupils overall achieved five GCSEs at grade A*-C.

2. What percentage of teenagers think their teachers believe in them?

A. Between 40 and 50%
B. Between 50 and 60%
C. Between 60 and 70%
D. Between 70 and 80%

Click to reveal the answerD - 71% of teenagers thought their teachers believed in them

3. What percentage of children aged 14 are being bullied?

A. Between 10 and 20%
B. Between 20 and 30%
C. Between 30 and 40%
D. Between 40 and 50%

Click to reveal the answerD - 47% of 14 year-olds are bullied

4. What percentage of girls aged 11 to 16 would consider cosmetic surgery to make themselves thinner or prettier?

A. Between 10 and 20%
B. Between 20 and 30%
C. Between 30 and 40%
D. Between 40 and 50%

Click to reveal the answerD - 46% of girls aged 11 to 16, and 50% of girls aged 16 to 21 would consider cosmetic surgery to make themselves thinner or prettier.

5. 23% of all deaths of young peopled aged 14-24 are due to...

A. Knife crime
B. Traffic accidents
C. Drug taking
D. Suicide

Click to reveal the answerD - 23% of all deaths of young people aged 14-24 are suicides

6. How many children in Britain have families with no savings?

A. Under 1 million
B. Between 1 and 2 million
C. Between 3 and 4 million
D. Between 4 and 5 million

Click to reveal the answerD - 4.9m children have families with absolutely no savings

7. How many British children live in poverty?

A. 1 in 2
B. 1 in 3
C. 1 in 4
D. 1 in 5

Click to reveal the answerB - 1/3 of British children live in poverty

8. What percentage of young offenders are from single-parent families?

A. Between 30 and 40%
B. Between 40 and 50%
C. Between 50 and 60%
D. Between 60 and 70%

Click to reveal the answerD - 70% of young offenders are from lone parent families

9. 1 in 3 children carry...

A. A knife or gun
B. A mobile phone
C. An mp3 player
D. A book

Click to reveal the answerA - One third of children admit to carrying a gun or knife

10. What is the age of criminal responsibility in the U.K.?

A. 10
B. 12
C. 14
D. 16
E. 18

Click to reveal the answerA - The age of criminal responsibility in the UK is 10 years old.

How did you score?

1-3 Click here
You're way out of touch. But it's not too late to take more interest.
Watch The Teens' Speech on Christmas Day.

3-5 Click here
Looks like the youth are a mystery to you. Change it. Watch The Teens'
Speech on Christmas Day.

5-7 Click here
Not bad. You're pretty in touch. We're sure you'll be watching The
Teens' Speech on Christmas Day.

8-10 Click here
You're clearly in touch with young people. Stay that way. Watch The
Teens' Speech on Christmas Day.

We are family

As family week draws to a close, I'll leave you with a clip posted to YouTube yesterday by Will, Sam, Anna, Claire, Richie, Stevie, Fabian and Matt.

The level of technical sophistication, editorial instinct and downright honesty that we've seen since the start of this project is something we never could have imagined.

If you're aged between 13-19 and have something to say about family, then go to our YouTube channel or MySpace page and tell us what's on your mind.

What happened to reading, writing and arithmetic?

Violence in the classroom

The Government intends to introduce mandatory classroom instruction in gender equality and violence against women and girls.

The classes in preventing violence in relationships will be compulsory for children aged five to 15 within 18 months and will be launched as a part of an official campaign to tackle violence against women and girls.

The campaign will target intimate teenage violence following recent research which showed that a quarter of teenage girls suffer physical violence such as being slapped, punched or beaten by their boyfriends, and a third of those in a relationship suffer an unwanted sexual act.

Is school the right place for this kind of instruction? We already know that our children - and their teachers - are feeling stressed and depressed enough as it is; so is this a subject too far? Do teachers have the right kind of expertise to deal with this kind of sensitive area? Should we be thinking of empowering them to do so? And what about resources - where is the money to fund this going to come from?

Government figures show that in the 2006/07 academic year there were 3,500 temporary exclusions and 140 permanent exclusions from schools in England for sexual misconduct, including incidents such as groping, using sexually insulting nicknames, daubing obscene graffiti and serious sexual attacks.

Is, then, school precisely the place where this kind of discussion needs to take place - to be told, among your peers, that sexual and physical violence toward women is totally unacceptable?

I mean, if not in school, then where?

We care a lot

On 11 August, 2007, Sophie Lancaster and her boyfriend, Robert Maltby, were attacked by a gang of teenagers in a local park. The apparent motive was that Sophie and Robert - both goths - dressed differently.

When he sentenced the gang, the judge, Anthony Russell QC, said: "This was a hate crime against completely harmless people who were targeted because their appearance was different."

Sophie Lancaster did not die because of her race, religion or sexuality. She died because she was a goth.

Lancaster's mum, Sylvia, a youth worker, has used the contributions from well-wishers to set up a special fund known as 'S.O.P.H.I.E' standing for 'Stamp Out Prejudice Hatred and Intolerance Everywhere' aiming to "provide an appropriate memorial; a lasting legacy to raise awareness of the injustice perpetrated against Sophie Lancaster and to work towards a more tolerant, less violent society."

Lancaster's mother said: "it will also help fund group sessions with young people to teach them about alternative cultures and to respect everyone."

It's incredible that Instead of retreating into themselves and sinking into all-consuming grief, parents like Sylvia Lancaster and Neville and Doreen Lawrence are able to transform their sadness into well organised, focussed and effective campaigns for a just and tolerant society.

The internet helps, of course. Its immediacy, cost-effectiveness, reach and popularity among young people means that campaigns like S.O.P.H.I.E can gain momentum very quickly.

I guess the real challenge is in making an impact on society as a whole.

Anyway, watch this short film about Sophie called 'The Dark Angel' by Fursy Teyssier featuring music by Portishead. It will move you.