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Page last updated at 10:14 GMT, Thursday, 20 November 2008

What's so great about being a grown-up?

By Laurie Taylor

Movember event in Sydney
Half of you can grow one of these bad boys, for a start...
Once children longed to put away their childish things and be adults. Today we are reluctant to grow up, wanting to stay forever young.

In the sixth form at my Catholic school we had a "discussion period" every week of term in which we were told that we could talk about any subject we liked. It sounded liberal enough but most of the class reckoned it was only there on the timetable so that Brother Adams, the headmaster, would have an answer to those who regarded our routine five hours of religious instruction a week as downright indoctrination.

Brother Adams' "liberality" even extended to the choice of teacher for the period. Mr Donovan was no doubt a thoroughgoing Catholic but the fact that he affected a check sports coat and flannels rather than a black religious habit made him, in that setting, look almost bohemian.

It certainly helped to lower the inhibitions of boys, who in all other classes were expected to regard any degree of introspection, any recourse to emotion, as a stepping stone on the path to eternal damnation.

But nobody in our group could possibly have predicted the 16-year-old boy who would take most advantage of Mr Donovan's permissive invitation to "talk about anything which interests or concerns you".

Laurie Taylor
Hear Thinking Allowed on Radio 4 at 1600 on Wednesdays
or 0030 on Mondays

Halsall was ill-fitting. His clothes didn't fit his body, his legs were badly suited to his trunk, his large ears sat uncomfortably on the side of his narrow face. He was not in general disliked. He was, though, universally ignored.

That all changed on Wednesday afternoon in the Christmas term when he was suddenly moved to respond to Mr Donovan's bland invitation to tell him what we'd most like to be in the future. As his eyes roamed along the rows of inky boys he must have spotted Halsall making a slight movement and interpreted it as a desire to speak.

"Yes, Halsall. What would you like to be?" We are all surprised by the volume and immediacy of Halsall's reply. "Sir. I want to be an adult. I want to be grown-up."

Mr Donovan had clearly touched a chord. All he needed to do now was tweak the same string. "And what's so good about being a grown-up, Halsall?"

When you're a grown-up you don't have to worry about finding a girlfriend and how to do things with her because you have a wife
Heartfelt plea of a schoolboy

"Because sir, when you're grown up you don't have to do stupid things like hobbies, you don't have to worry about tidying your room because you live in your own house, and you don't have to worry about finding a girlfriend and how to do things with her because you have a wife and children."

All Mr Donavan needed to do was nod.

"And when you're grown-up you can tell other people what to do, and you can say things like 'take my word for it', and you can play proper music on the gramophone instead of children's choices and read heavy books andů"

Halsall paused. Was there to be a grand climax to his wonderful tirade against the iniquities of adolescence? "And, and..." he looked at Mr Donovan for inspiration... "And, and - grow a moustache."

Here come the boys

Halsall would be a very lonely voice today. Nowadays it seems grown-up men aspire to being perpetual adolescent. Instead of moving from youthfulness to maturity, today's men want nothing more than to stay as young as their own teenage children, to share their TV programmes and computer games.

Father and son
Who's zooming whom?

They seek to avoid rather than assume responsibility. In the words of Gary Cross, the author of a new book Men to Boys: The Making of Modern Immaturity, they have transmuted what was formerly a stage of life into a lifestyle with no end in sight.

If a Halsall were to be found in any sixth form discussion group today, he would no doubt be asserting without any hesitancy at all (adolescents have long since abandoned their inhibitions) that all he desired in life was to stay at exactly the age he currently enjoyed - for ever.

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