Never mind a different generation, sometimes our daughters seem to inhabit a different planet — one that consists mostly of extraordinary eyebrows, Instagram filters, and graphic online chat.
‘It was the social media thing I struggled with most,’ admits 46-year-old Harjit Kaur, who lives in Leicester with her 23-year-old daughter Kiran.
Kiran is ‘Queen of the Selfies’ says her mum, with a wry laugh. ‘She can’t go anywhere or do anything without recording it on social media. It has caused all sorts of friction. We will be having a meal and she’ll be snapping her food to upload it. Why? Can’t we even have a meal in private?
‘And this need to take her picture 200 times, from every angle, all to get “likes” on Instagram. Again, why? It seemed such a waste of time and effort. All those hours filtering and editing, I thought it was damaging.’
It was also leading to a huge gulf between mother and daughter. Coming from a very traditional Sikh family, Harjit’s teenage years had been very conservative.
‘It was the social media thing I struggled with most,’ admits 46-year-old Harjit Kaur (pictured right with her 23-year-old daughter Kiran). Pictured left is Joanna Taverner-Averkiou and her daughter Devon
She’d met her husband when she was 18 at a Sikh wedding, and had her first child at 19. By contrast, Kiran is single, a student and a paid-up member of Generation Z, who regard the dating app Tinder as their tradition.
‘Tinder frightened the life out of Mum,’ says Kiran. ‘She thinks if you are seeing someone at all then you are in a relationship with them. No! You are just seeing if you like them.’
The one thing they do agree on is that they are poles apart.
‘It had got to the point where I was really worried about it,’ says Harjit. ‘Was I being a good enough mum? Kiran thought I didn’t “get” her. She was right. I didn’t.’
Every parent of a teen or twentysomething has been there, but how many would take the radical step Harjit did to try to understand the world of Gen Z? She, and four other mums, agreed to take part in a BBC documentary which would plunge them directly into the world they were so afraid of.
21 Again, a four-part series, forces the mothers out of their middle-aged existences and into a whirl of social media, online dating, and Instagram validation.
All five mums, chosen from different parts of the UK, agree to move into the same house in Liverpool and spend a month living as their daughters do — with the younger women there, too, to show them the ropes and cast an eye over their dress choices, lifestyles, views on religion, work and life.
The project sets them a challenge: by the end, can the mums fool strangers into thinking they, too, are members of Gen Z?
Rather scarily, this involves not only learning how to take a passable selfie, and handling themselves in the brutal world of Snapchat flirting, but also looking the part, too, and not just with caterpillar eyebrows.
They each must undergo a makeover to make them look 21. Cue lots of pink hair, contouring, impossible shoes and attitude. Oh, and fake nails. Once that’s done, they’ll have to go clubbing with their daughters, and even — yikes! — dating with them.
Joanna Taverner-Averkiou, 41, who runs her own fitness training company in Epping, Essex, admits the makeover was, at the beginning at least, the most terrifying part. She might have a figure many teenagers would die for, but she has always dressed carefully, tastefully and like, well, a grown-up.
21 Again, a four-part series, forces mothers Rachel Williamson (left with her daughter Taylor) and Monera Pamela (right with her daughter Elesha Bibby) out of their middle-aged existences and into a whirl of social media, online dating, and Instagram validation
‘They put me in a crop top,’ she reveals. ‘For someone who has spent their life trying to hide a mum tum, this was distressing. I hated everything they put me in. Everything was clashing.
‘Big clumpy boots. And they made me wear a beanie hat. To me, you only wear hats at weddings, or if it is cold.’
Actually, on TV, Joanna makes a convincing twentysomething, but it was her attitude, rather than her waistline that gave her away. ‘I worried constantly that I’d come across as really prim and not much fun,’ she admits. ‘I’m sure I must have done.’
Although Joanna was only too aware that her daughter Devon, 20, lived her life via social media. Devon had steadfastly refused to give her mum access to that life. Her Instagram was out of bounds to Joanna, ditto her Snapchat and Facebook — until all blocks were removed for this programme. What happened? Suffice to say Joanna was appalled at the content.
‘I’m not easily shocked, but I was horrified at the pictures she was posting of herself. They were overly sexual. There was one with her bending over, with a lollipop in her mouth. Why on earth did she feel the need to do that? It was so blatant. I do use social media. I understand wanting to put up a glossy version of yourself, but why put everything out there?’
Worse was to come. Joanna meandered into her daughter’s Tinder account — and felt the palpitations coming on. ‘The messages coming in. My goodness. I couldn’t believe the guys messaging would be so upfront. It wasn’t about flirtation, it was so sexualised. But Devon just laughed.
‘To her it was entirely normal. In fact, to all the girls in the house it was entirely normal. It was only the mums who were shocked.’ ‘Mum just doesn’t get it,’ says Devon. ‘It’s how everyone does it these days. It was easier in her days, when you just got chatting to a boy you liked in a bar.’
Transformed: (From left) Mothers Harjit Kaur, Rachel Williamson, Joanna Taverner, Salena West, Monera Glendinning following their incredible transformations based on their daughters
The programme may seem like frivolous froth at first, however it exposes not just a gap between these generations, but a chasm.
If you have a daughter of this age, it may well be painful to watch, not least for how cruel these youngsters can be towards their mums. The five young women here are (outwardly) sassy, assured and (whisper it) scary, at least at the start of the project. They certainly make no attempt to hide their contempt for their frumpy mums, stuck in the dark ages with their bottom-skimming tunic tops and their crazy ideas that you should meet boys in real life rather than online.
Inevitably, the mums start questioning their own age and attitudes, and find them lacking.
There’s a cringeworthy moment when estate agent Salena West, 40, acknowledges that she needs to be less uptight and more radical.
Her daughter Millie rolls her eyes, in the way that only a daughter can. ‘No-one says “radical” any more,’ she says. Ouch. In the house where they are all forced to live, there is much walking on eggshells, to begin with. Frankly, the mums can’t open their mouths without getting it woefully wrong.
It’s clear Salena and her daughter clash on pretty much everything — politics, gender and sexuality for starters. Millie is politically engaged, a proud Corbynista, and campaigner for LGBTQ rights.
Salena? Well, she’s mostly worried about using the correct terminology in her daughter’s presence.
Science teacher Rachel Williamson, 39, and her daughter Taylor, 18, of Hasland, Derbyshire, also argue about everything: Taylor’s work ethic (or lack thereof), the amount of time she spends online, how she spends her money, her bisexuality. When they started the project, their relationship had reached such a low that Taylor moved out of home and in with her aunt.
Yet it was precisely because the mums realised they had a problem communicating with their girls that they signed up for this show.
Harjit talks of feeling that she was “losing” Kiran. Joanna, ditto. ‘Devon felt I didn’t understand her, and that’s because I didn’t,’ she admits.
These two had an incredibly close bond, but very different lives. Devon was born with a rare genetic condition called PFFD, which means she has no thigh bone and wears a prosthetic. She is also deaf and uses hearing aids.
As the show develops, it becomes clear Devon uses her online persona to mask her disability, projecting a sexualised image that might disturb her mother, but gives her a confidence boost. ‘I came to understand why she felt she needed all those likes. It made her feel attractive,’ says Joanna.
‘My attitude was that she is gorgeous, and should be honest about who she is, and not try to hide her disability. A lot of the programme was about working through this.’
All the mums are schooled in how to take selfies. The comedic content is high as they suck their cheeks in and attempt pouts. They almost put their backs out arching provocatively for the cameras.
Joanna gives her daughter a taste of her own medicine when she posts a particularly saucy selfie. Yes, there was a lollipop involved, too. ‘I wanted to get my own back,’ she admits. ‘And it worked. Devon said: “Oh My God, Mum!”, and then I could say to her: “Don’t you see, Devon, I felt exactly the same when I saw that picture of you”.’
Eyes are opened (and not just because of those Instagram eyelash curling tutorials). Every mum becomes more sensitive to why their daughters need to have every selfie “liked”.
‘It made me glad I’m not 21 again for real,’ admits Harjit. ‘The pressure on young women now is intense, and I can see why it happens. It started to happen to us mums, too. You end up taking 50 pictures of yourself, just to get the most flattering one. When no one likes it, you feel deflated. I still think it’s dangerous to attach such importance to it, but I now understand why they do it.’
And the younger the mum, it seems, the more potential there is for her to be seduced by the Gen Z lifestyle. At 32, Monera Pamela, of York, is the youngest mum in the programme. Astonishingly youthful looking, she and daughter Elesha, 16, are often mistaken for sisters. ‘I get asked for ID,’ she admits with some pride. ‘When we started filming, I said: “I shouldn’t be here. I’m too young”.’
Elesha’s online presence has become a family battleground. With 1,500 followers on social media, she is convinced she can turn this into a career. Her mum, who had Elesha at 15, thinks she needs a “proper” job.
What happens when Monera becomes 21 again herself? Well, something quite astonishing. She ends up being so obsessed with looking at lip filler before-and-after pics on Instagram that she ends up in the cosmetic surgeon’s chair herself, acquiring a pout.
‘It’s seductive,’ she admits. ‘And I think the more you look at the pictures, the more it normalises it. I ended up thinking: “Why not?” ’ Mercifully, she’s the only mum who thinks like that. Rachel ends up in tears outside a cosmetic clinic where she has been trying to understand why Taylor is so obsessed with getting bigger lips and a bigger bum (on Taylor’s wish list is a Brazilian bum lift).
‘I got really emotional,’ Rachel admits, horrified at learning there is apparently a perfect “ratio” of the size your lips should be in relation to the rest of your face. Taylor, after seeing her mum’s distress, agrees to hold off on silicon injections until she’s 21.
All the mothers we speak to admit dipping a toe into the world of Gen Z has worked wonders for the mother-daughter bond. One of the most striking encounters comes when Kiran suggests that her mum is so private — prudish even — that their relationship has been compromised.
‘Because of her background, she would never even talk about periods, never mind sex,’ she admits.
Her mum admits: ‘I think it’s a cultural thing rather than an age thing, but in my family these things just weren’t discussed.’
She finds it hard in the 21 Again household when the talk is as frank as it gets. ‘But it did make me question myself a lot,’ she says. ‘This is her world. Maybe I have to embrace it a little more.’
Only to a point, though. She doesn’t hold with the idea that mums and daughters can ever be best friends, but she does say this experiment has made her closer to Kiran than she has been for years.
She even understands the interminable selfies. ‘I get it now,’ she says. ‘Although don’t ask me to do it myself for real.’
21 Again begins on BBC1 this Wednesday at 10.35pm