I remember being a teenager. It was a while ago now, but the maelstrom of growing up is still very immediate. In fact, I don’t think it really stops. It’s a myth that you emerge from your teens as a fully formed mature adult. I’m still learning, changing, developing every day, connecting new experiences and ideas with old ones to update and develop my own personal map of the world – and I stopped being a teenager in 1994. Take my last metaphor, for example – I robbed it from a TED talk I watched yesterday by John Green on Paper Towns and Why Learning Is Awesome, in which he likens learning to a cartographic enterprise. I liked it and I’ve already woven it into my own way of thinking about education.
The same thing happened as I was reading Carrie Hope Fletcher‘s book All I Know Now: Wonderings and Reflections on Growing Up Gracefully. Carrie is a polymath: currently starring as Eponine in the West End production of Les Miserables, she also runs a YouTube channel with over half a million subscribers on which she sings, talks about books, conducts an ongoing “Dear Tom” video conversation with rock star brother Tom from McFly/McBusted, and makes vlogs full of advice and thoughts about life, relationships and her experiences.
One of these videos, Honorary Big Sister, provoked the All I Know Now blog which became the book I read at the end of the summer term. In it, Fletcher offers her take on growing up from her own perspective – the coverline bills it as “The essential guide to surviving ‘the Teen Age'”. The point that Carrie makes in the video, to her largely teenage audience, is that:
it’s always harder to talk to people who are older than us, who we see as authoritative figures. People who we feel judge us or look down on us for the silly decisions we make as teenagers. Namely, our parents. We see our parents as people who couldn’t possibly understand what we’re going through because it was forever ago that they were teenagers and times have changed since then.
Substitute “teachers” for “parents” and you have the reason that I’m so interested in Carrie’s channel, blog and book. We do, I think, a great job as teachers of providing advice, guidance and structures for the teenagers we teach to help them grow up safely. Most parents, though with some horrifying exceptions, also do the best job they can. But there is always this chasm dividing them and us: we’re grown-ups. We can’t possibly understand what it’s like for them.This is where the internet comes in. The online age has created new communities, especially for teenagers. As John Green said:
these places exist, they still exist. They exist in corners of the Internet, where old men fear to tread.
Teens watch YouTube more than television. They connect with vloggers. The teenagers in my classrooms spend hours with Dan and Phil, Zoella, Jack and Dean, Sprinkle of Glitter and the rest, watching their channels and following them across the media. Events like Summer in the City draw massive crowds. They’re turning to the online world for advice and guidance from personalities they see as understanding them, from their world – #relatable, if you like.
There are dangers to this approach. Many vloggers and online celebrities have abused their position and the fans who idolise them. But these bad apples make Carrie Fletcher and her ilk all the more valuable. Carrie takes her position as a role model seriously, and has shouldered the “honorary big sister” yoke willingly and enthusiastically, online and in book form. And reading All I Know Now was a real pleasure. Her advice, simply put and peppered with anecdote and aside, is wise and sensible, taking in friendships, bullying, relationships, ambition and success. Perhaps most powerfully, she devotes a whole section to life online:
Her guide to Internetiquette is absolutely brilliant. It should be required reading before anyone is allowed to sign up for any social media account. I could recommend it to some tweeting teachers in fact. And this is the point – although I’m completely out of the target audience bracket, twenty years beyond my own Teen Age, I found myself nodding along to Carrie’s advice – and taking some of it myself to weave into my map of the world. In particular, her section on “it’s easier said than done” has become a little mantra for me – “nothing worth doing is ever going to be easy.”
My tweet joked about putting Carrie onto the school curriculum, but of course that would kill it stone dead. The minute her advice is endorsed by an old grown-up like a teacher, it would become immediately invalid. Luckily, no young people are likely to read this endorsement. They’re all too busy watching YouTube. But, hopefully, some of them will subscribe to Carrie and read her book. If they’re getting advice like hers from the internet, they’re in safe hands.