Think of the children. What do you think of? Jumpers for goal posts, orange squash, playing hide and seek? ASBOs, rioters, looters, sex maniacs, cyberbullies?  Tweenagers, slags, ‘grown up too soon’?

Every generation is convinced the one below it is more uncontrollable, more alien than any generation before.  And now the chorus seems to be ‘But no, really this time it really is, honest, I mean there’s the internet and Facebook and stuff’. You can imagine the commotion when the written word was introduced – ‘But now kids will be able to invite 3,000 mates around for a party via cuneiform tablets and they’ll all turn up and trash our ziggurat!’

The kids don’t really change, the panics do. Our kids aren’t ‘growing up too fast’. If they were it wouldn’t really be a problem, as more of them might be able to cope with what’s thrown at them. The issue is that pre-adolescent children are still children. Having seen a man and lady do a rude thing doesn’t confer some form of maturity in anyone’s eyes but the kids’, yet we often respond as though it does. Children, according to the media, should be ‘innocent’, skipping around in frills and short trousers, lisping and playing with dollies and hobby horses until around the age of 16 or so, it appears.

Until then, they’re prey for paedos in real life (should they happen to be allowed there) or online. After about 16 they’re mostly criminals, looters or teenage Lolitas queuing up to be spitroasted by Premiership footballers, or feckless, skill-less idiots who can’t be trusted to tie a shoelace until they have a degree.

Although people say we are pushing kids to grow up, we’re actually taking the opportunities to be really responsible for anything away, and shunting the goalposts of adulthood swiftly towards the horizon. School becomes mandatory until 18 in 2013, and now Cameron’s saying no housing benefit until you’re 25, so at home with parents (assuming they’ll have you).

Flogging make-up to three year olds or violent computer games to ten year olds might be distasteful and unhelpful, but it’s not producing a generation of mini-adults. Just because kids might have ‘seen more’ by age eleven than older generations might have done doesn’t mean they’re any wiser. They’re still children, albeit ones who might know what ‘wolfbagging’ is, and whose older brother’s mate is selling skunk.

An adolescent was expected to be pretty self sufficient in the early part of the last century. My grandfather left school at 14 and got his first job as a radio repairman for a shop (this consisted of him turning up at people’s houses, tapping the radio a bit with a hammer and saying something like ‘I’m afraid this is too far gone, you’ll have to get a new one, Missus’). This is not to lobby for the return of child labour – I mean, we don’t need more people on the job market, for a start. But it is to say young people in the past had more access to constructive ways to express their maturity once they were ready to do so.

Along with the refusal to give responsibility, an increasingly risk averse society infantalises everyone, parents and children alike, as recorded on Lenore Skenazy’s fantastic Free-Range Kids website. Read and weep at tales of parents who won’t allow 10-year-olds in public toilets without them, or those who won’t let their kids take a simple swimming test to allow them to use a water flume because they’re scared they might fail it and feel all upset. I’m half expecting some years hence to hear people saying ‘You let him take the bus on his own?! But he’s only 32!’

This sort of attitude was exemplified in an article on G4S’s alleged use of ‘A-level students’ for Olympic security. Now, I’ll agree with any sane person that G4S are as useful as a sack of crap, and it remains at utter mystery as to why they win government contracts to so much as pick a crisp packet up off the floor, but to say ‘Security experts expressed alarm that youngsters aged 18 and 19 had been entrusted with searching spectators and bags’ seems deeply unfair. Why shouldn’t an 18 or 19 year old be capable of conducting security searches? It may well be that G4S, in its wisdom, has managed to select a bunch of utter morons, but this doesn’t mean that therefore any young person still in education is incapable of doing anything responsible.

So how do you express your adultness in this context?  When you’re not allowed out on your own, when you can’t live independently, when you’re seen as a probable liability for anything involving skill or responsibility, even in your late teens?

Through the stuff that’s filed under ‘Not for kids’ – drugs, sex and disobedience for the hell of it. Teenagers are naturally inclined to do this, and pushing those boundaries is part of growing up, but the government and societal norms are stretching out adolescence ever longer, leading some kids to pushing those boundaries nearer to breaking point in their frustration. Now it seems as though any young person between about 13 and 21 is seen as a child, a bit of a burden, not very capable of anything productive but all too capable of, say, rioting or nicking your iPad.

At the same time as being frightened that our children are growing up too fast, we are holding back young people’s ability to genuinely grow up when they have the smarts and the resources to do so.  Removing responsibility, choice and independence ultimately pushes many of them to take the search for the Holy Grail of adulthood into all the wrong places.