Monday, 11 May 2009, 8:00PM – 8:30PM
“I love Katie Price because she’s dead, dead pretty. People look up to you when you are famous. I’d just love that, people looking up to me. I would love to have her hair and people writing into me email and stuff like that saying, ‘I love you, you’re a great singer’ and stuff like that. I’d just love it.”
Fourteen-year-old Emily Ruman like most teenage girls loves make-up, magazines and hair straighteners and has a burning ambition to be famous like her idols.
She and her fellow students at Baines High School near Blackpool have been brought up on a diet of Skins, celebrity culture and reality TV. They are obsessed with fake tans, clothes and the latest gadgets.
But despite all these material trappings and apparent enhancements, surveys have shown that the self-esteem of British teens is worryingly low.
Out of a list of the wealthiest countries in the world, UK youngsters were among the least likely to enjoy school or to rate their happiness levels as above average. Overall, they were the most likely to admit to feeling left out, awkward and lonely.
In this two-part programme, Tonight embarks on a unique social and scientifically-tested experiment, stripping 12 typical teens from Baines High School of the material trappings of 21st century Britain and changing the way they live for an entire month. Will breaking the cycle of rampant consumerism, make-up and mobiles make them any happier?
Leading the experiment is Deputy Head Carol Robinson who has taught at the school for 20 years. She hit the headlines last year when she asked parents to stop their children from wearing fake tan to school.
And supervising is child psychologist Emma Kenny. She explains the rules, “They must have no contact with anything cyber related, so no computers, no games consoles, no mobile phones. They must do things like volunteer and get involved in community experiences. They are not allowed to wear make-up or fake tan, they’re not allowed to wear short skirts if they are female and the boys have got to have all of those things that they think are important taken away like iPods. Basically it’s stripping childhood and adolescence right back to its very basics.”
In part one of the programme, which is aired on Monday 11 May, we meet the teens that will soon be “binning their bling.”
Footballer Lucy Cook does her hair and puts on her make-up before she heads out for a kick around the park with her sister and Baines Head girl Emily.
She says: “I feel like I play better if I look better and obviously people are going to be watching me and I look my best.”
Fifteen-year-old Iona Garrow is dreading having her TV rationed and not being able to get her fake tan or wear her fake nails.
Megan Hassett believes she is addicted to her mobile phone. “I think I’m addicted to my mobile phone because I’ve been known to use 300 minutes in less than a week. My mobile phone goes everywhere with me – even when I go in the shower, it’s there in the bathroom – it’s just all the time with me. I feel I’ve not got contact with the outside world if the phone’s not with me.”
And 14-year-old Joel Clark spends hours a day on his laptop – watching TV shows, messaging on msn, and poking his mates on Facebook much to his mum’s annoyance.
His mum Julie explains: “Joel spends sometimes three hours a day on his laptop…that’s been a regular occurrence since he bought it. He’s got a paper round and he gets a lot of money and so he decided that’s what he wanted to do with it and it seemed like a good idea at the time. I think for me, and probably for a lot of people we felt it was detracting from the time we had together as a family because previous to that he’d always been very sociable, enjoyed going out.”
Before the experiment begins, Emma gives our 12 teens the highly regarded Rosenberg self-esteem test which shows how young people perceive their self worth and acceptance.
Emma is surprised by the results. “I’d imagined that most of the young people would probably have quite good self esteem from initially meeting them but actually, some of these results are quite concerning and were showing very low self esteem, and even the average results were kind of the low normal.”
After binning all their material trappings, the teens find the first week difficult.
Joel says: “It was pretty boring doing my paper-round without my iPod cause all the customers coming out and I had to actually listen to them this time.”
Megan says: “I just hate it because I feel really bare and I feel like everyone is looking at me and saying, ‘how disgusting she looks.’”
The programme follows the students as they attend family functions, meet up with boyfriends and hang out with their friends but without their usual styling and gadgetry. With little time now needed to get ready for a night out, no music to listen to and TV rationed, more time is devoted to homework and their families.
On the weekend, instead of hanging around at the shops all 12 of the teens have been enrolled on a volunteer programme which will benefit the community as well as boost their self esteem.
And Emma Kenny takes three of the girls, who are struggling to come to terms with not wearing make-up, out to the street to find out what other people think of their clean faces.
Emma shows photos of Emily, Abbie and Zoe wearing make-up to passersby and asks how old they think they look.
The majority guess that the girls are in their twenties and one woman thinks Zoe looks 40 years old. Ninety per cent of the shoppers think that the teens look better without makeup. They are shocked by the results.
Zoe says: “I think it’s made me realise that I’m growing up too quick like trying to make myself look older and I actually do look a lot older with make-up on.
But as the girls begin their journey of self-discovery, cracks are starting to surface from the other participants.
Will the entire group make it until the end of the month? And if they do, will the experiment make a noticeable impact?