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Why students have become more boring than their parents

16th January 2014

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Ask any recent graduate to describe their typical student and you’ll probably hear words like “lazy”, “drunk”, “stoned” and “poor”. However, take away the stereotypes and look at the facts, and you’ll see that modern students are some of the most conformist, risk-averse and conservative in recent history – probably even more so than their parents.

But what about all the drugs, alcohol and sex? The facts show that students and young people are drinking, smoking and experimenting with drugs much less than they did 10 years ago. A study by the Health and Care Social Information Centre found that 43% of 11-15 year olds had tried alcohol in 2012, compared with 61% in 2002. Only 17% of the same group had taken drugs in 2012, compared with 27% in 2002.

Furthermore, when students and young people do drink, they’re much less likely to get drunk. Back in 2005, more than a quarter (27%) of 16-24 year old women drank more than six units of alcohol on a big night out, compared with 17% in 2011. It’s happening with men too, with 32% drinking more than eight units of booze in 2005 compared with 24% six years later.

It’s the same with drugs. A Guardian survey into student drug use found that 90% of students think their colleagues have tried drugs, when in fact only 55% have – and the numbers are falling further. As for sex – well at least students are more knowledgeable about safe sex than their parents. The growth rate of STIs among those 45 years or older has doubled in the last 13 years.

Obviously, the rising cost of booze and better awareness of health issues is having an effect, but it’s not just about sex and alcohol. Student mindsets are more conservative now. Far from being the open-minded, horizon-expanding university campuses of old, student unions now ban and censor at will. The Sun. Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines”. Pole dancing societies. Basically anything that offends students’ increasingly prudish, politically correct feelings. To put it another way – students in 2010 protested against tuition fee rises and marched on Millbank. In 2013 they banned a pop song.

That’s not to say that the Sun or Blurred Lines are necessarily good things, but the desire of many students to jump on the banning bandwagon, cover their ears and shout “lalalala this isn’t happening”, rather than actually engage with issues seems to run against the purpose of university – to expand your mind.

But maybe that’s just it. In a world where university has become an expensive necessity, graduate jobs that pay well are few and far between and the cost of living is spiralling – don’t even think about being able to buy a house -  it’s unsurprising that students are become harder edged and more conservative.

So students... make 2014 the year you engage with the world rather than hiding away in a box. Stop banning things, stop following empty marketing trends to brag about on social media (Movember, Dry January, Veganuary?!) and start actually doing something different – thinking for yourselves.

The views expressed in this comment are not those of The National Student or its editorial staff. All opinions expressed are the writer's own.

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