x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Teen life: Little people dreaming of the future

Teenagers have grand schemes for the life ahead.

It's that time of the year again, when you are inundated with text messages from friends finishing school this year smugly announcing, "Gs wot I gt nto u pen 2! omg omg omg!" If you had no idea of what our sole topic of conversation had been for the past two weeks, I wouldn't blame you for assuming that they were getting excited over a piece of stationery, as teenagers are inclined to do. Most of our sentences end - and start - with OMG anyway, regardless of any absences of earth-shattering events. For once, though, TJ had not been getting worked up about whether the guy she sits next to in English looked at her or not, but about getting into the University of Pennsylvania. She now had another reason to celebrate, having already received offers from about 10 other universities around the world.

I have clearly stated to her my aversion to people who snap up all the places in universities and are the cause of so many of the youth nowadays failing to pursue higher education. Knowing her only raises the bar for me. In another couple of years it'll be me desperately telling interviewers: "Spilling coffee on you was a statement. I am a conscientious citizen concerned about the people who grow coffee beans going hungry." Or something similar while another candidate, a straight-A student like TJ, walks off with the place that was meant to be mine. A harsh world we live in. Four of this year's sixth formers from my school will be diligently reading maths or architecture or Beano journals in Oxbridge. Really.

I've noticed, though, that most teenagers usually don't dream of being high-fliers at all, but would just be happy with a nice job and family when they grow up. And then they go off to Yale, as someone I know is doing. We've been talking about what we would like to do with our lives after GCSEs, and the point that everyone keeps raising is how much money they will make. It's easy to tell we are Dubai residents. There was a time when people - 13-year-olds - all wanted to be investment bankers, including my deranged best friend at that time.

I remember being very impressed when she told me and asking tentatively, hesitant to display my ignorance: "What's a vesting banker?" She didn't know either, but apparently "they make pots of money". She's still not quite sure what they do but she doesn't want to be one any longer because her dad says that they are the cause of all the world's problems. If the recession has done anything good, it's to prevent a rise in the investment banker population. I do not fancy entrusting my money to future investment bankers who don't know what an investment banker does.

I was going through Time magazine's list of the most influential people today (yes, it's what I do) and was surprised to find it included little Taylor Swift. She's 20, barely out of her teens. A couple of people I was talking to want to be singers or songwriters - and here we go again - because they can get rich quick. Never mind that people anxiously ask if they have toothache when they're actually just casually humming Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. Apparently all it takes to succeed in today's music world is a firework-emitting top - just ask Lady Gaga, on the cover of the Time issue.

For those who are contemplating a more stable career, getting into the right university is still a big deal. A family friend we bumped into at the mall eagerly rattled off all her son's achievements so far, and how he can't wait to do his engineering course at the University of Toronto. I doubt it: the last time I saw him, his only obsession was football and Arsenal. With friends' brothers and sisters getting accepted to the likes of Stanford and Yale, you suddenly realise that you are seeing a lot more of them lounging around at home. Now that their applications have been accepted, they don't feel the need to frantically practice the violin so they maintain their position of first chair in the orchestra, or pretend to be a Model UN enthusiast. No more organising bake sales for charities. And you thought we sold you all those greeting cards for nobler motives.

I am still unsure of what I want to do after finishing school: maybe I could go through the tedious procedure of getting a university to accept me, and then convincing them to let me stay after I've been there for a week. Or maybe I could open a career consultancy service and tell everyone that getting a higher education is a dated concept. Elimination of competition is a survival instinct, after all.

Lavanya Malhotra is a 14-year-old student in Dubai.