Yes, teenagers on the bus are annoying – but things could be worse

<span>Photograph: Toby Melville/Reuters</span>
Photograph: Toby Melville/Reuters

If you’re the kind of person who gets annoyed by teenagers on buses, you just shouldn’t get a bus at 3.15pm, especially if you live next door to a secondary school. And I know all that, but there I was, on a bus at exactly the wrong time, getting annoyed.

The sharper-eyed reader will know I have teenagers of my own, so I should lean towards infinite love and forgiveness for the whole generation. I also remember what it’s like to be the annoying teenager, against all the odds because I can’t remember much else from the 80s. My sister and I got a coach once from London to Leighton Buzzard – we were about 13 and 15 – and as we were getting off, this guy exploded: “Thank God! I couldn’t have taken one more minute – they’re like a pair of chipmunks.” We didn’t even realise he was talking about us until our mum said: “Try living with them.” We were just thinking, ooh, where are there chipmunks?

It’s never just chatting with young people, though, is it? They’re extremely loud and very sudden, liable at any moment to exclaim with a vehemence that would only be warranted if they were on fire, and instead is because someone dropped a receipt near them. They are enemies of the headphone and need to blare TikTok content out of their phones that is, somehow, even more inane than the conversation they’re having. There’s a lot of fake reaction: pretending to cry, pretending to fight, pretending to scream, and this creates a constant war of adult responsibilities, where you half want to check the crying-not-crying one is OK, and half want to mind your own business in the time-honoured way of the person on the Clapham omnibus.

I did once read something useful, though, about the condition of adolescence – that as you grow into your adult skin, you are driven to annex public space, stamp yourself on it and make it your own. This is not just natural – it is essential. Far from minding the noise, we should be pleased. If they weren’t doing that, they’d be doing something worse: marking their territory with urine.

• Zoe Williams is a Guardian columnist