John Dolan: It’s frustrating that kids want to party like it’s 2019 but sending in the troops is not the answer

I appreciate that anxiety levels around Covid are rising but Generation Z needs to be cut a little slack, so says John Dolan in his weekly column
John Dolan: It’s frustrating that kids want to party like it’s 2019 but sending in the troops is not the answer

A sign at Glasgow University in Scotland.

AS a responsible adult, I know what my expected response should be when I see those grainy images of young people partying, socialising, laughing, drinking and joking in close proximity on our night-time city streets.

I’m supposed to throw my eyes to the heavens, narrow my eyes in disgust, and either hurl my remote control at the TV, or hammer out an angry message accompanied by an emoji on my phone — like most of the folk in my age group.

“Outrageous!!”

“Shameful!!”

Even the odd “Murderers!!” pops up. Dearie me.

You see, I can’t quite bring myself to work up a smattering of such hot-headed emotion. In fact, the best words I can come up with to sum up my feelings about these people are ‘frustrating’ — ‘annoying’ at a push.

Oh, and perhaps I’m a teeny bit jealous too, that my carousing days are soooo last century!

I appreciate that anxiety levels around Covid are rising, and that the more cases we get, the more curbs there will be on all of society.

I get that seeing young people so flagrantly break the rules — or at least break the spirit of the rules — is particularly vexing for those people who are vulnerable to this illness, and for those who have cut all contacts with loved ones because they are concerned about passing it on.

Yes, it’s disappointing that some — but by no means all — of our young people are not with the programme on Covid-19.

But I think Generation Z needs to be cut a little slack.

Let’s look at this with some cool logic. Even better, let’s look at this from their point of view.

Young people come with an in-built invincibility shield in their approach to life — none of them think they will die in a car crash if they drive too fast; none of them believe they will be killed by drugs if they move on from smoking the odd joint of cannabis to snorting a line of cocaine; and none of them think they will be one of those extremely rare cases of a young, healthy person being laid low by Covid-19.

On that last point, they are probably right. Covid-19 seems to have little, if any, adverse effect on healthy people under 30.

Moreover, most of these young people have suffered six months of deprivation, locked up, with no sporting life and no social life. That might be no bad thing for people like me, who had no sport or social life before (I’m too busy being a dad, not lazy, honest!), but to young people it’s taken away half a year of what was shaping up to be the best year of your life.

Think about that.

Added to that, for the students among them, has been the anxiety of awaiting exam results, wondering if they will get the course they desire, and whether college will even resume. For the freshers, it is their first taste of freedom away from the Irish mammy — do none of you recall how heady and exciting that felt?

These young people trying to party like it’s 1999 — or even 2019 for that matter — have endured all of that for half a year, along with the nagging feeling they will be the generation left to struggle to find a job, then pay the bill for this pandemic in the years ahead.

I don’t want to offer excuses for what some of them have been doing. But, as usual, the reaction to the sight of young people partying — gasp, pass the smelling salts! — has been off the scale, lacking any real compassion, understanding, or common sense.

And they are the three things the Government and the rest of us old farts will need to have in abundance before we can start to find a way to stop these gatherings.

Let’s be clear: Calling in the army, as one Galway city councillor did this week, would be the very worst thing to do. We are better than that.

Similarly, we need those bandwagon-jumpers who want to blame all this on the evil drink and pubs industry to step back from the debate.

With a wearying predictability, it didn’t take long for Fianna Fáil TD Éamon Ó Cuív to call for the minimum pricing regulation on alcohol to be implemented immediately, on seeing the scenes of young people mixing on the streets. Ah, that old chestnut.

It wasn’t cheap drink that drove hordes of young people into the streets of Cork and Galway cities this past week. It was the urge to socialise and mix with their own at a pivotal time of their young lives.

It’s worth pointing out, too, that the vast majority of students will have the intelligence and cop-on the morning after to understand that their actions may have put them in added danger of catching and transmitting Covid-19.

I hope — and believe — this will mean they will avoid being in close proximity to older family members and those who are vulnerable to the virus, that they will stay cocooned in their student bubble, and that they will go through a period of isolation before they venture out of it.

Now, that’s a message worth getting out to these young people, rather than sending in the army or slapping an extra fiver on a bottle of vodka.

Certainly, if I had a child at college and feared they were not following the rules on Covid-19, I wouldn’t be welcoming them in my front door with a bundle of their laundry too fast.

I repeat, I am frustrated and annoyed by these images that show people failing to social distance... so, how do we stop these gatherings?

Close the pubs, I hear many of you cry. What, and leave them to gather in houses instead? Places that are not monitored by landlords and other pub staff when it comes to social distancing and othe hygiene rules?

More gardaí on the streets?

Yes, but only if they can police the cities in a low-key way — the last thing we need is to create a ‘them and us’ situation.

Get the message out to them on a medium and in a manner they will understand?

Ah, now you’re getting somewhere.

Our Taoiseach, a man who doesn’t lack compassion and understanding, you have to say, floated a good idea recently, with an in-passing suggestion that teenage social media influencers ought to be drafted into the bid to reach out to young people.

Because while older people slag off these partying images on their chosen social media feeds — mainly Facebook and Twitter — younger people are blissful ignorant, on Instagram and TikTok.

While older people see these images in the TV news and their newspapers, younger people scroll on down through Spotify and YouTube and wonder what this fuss about Covid-thingy is about.

Micheál Martin had a point. The Government needs to find people and media that young people can relate to if it wants to get its message across.

So, step forward social influencers; it’s time to do your duty to your country. Urge your generation to follow the rules and help us all beat this damn virus.

If nothing else, it would prove to the world — and in particular old farts like me — that you actually have a useful function in society.

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