TWO stories. One a lie; an exercise in myth-making and disinformation. The other, the plain and simple objective truth.

Both tell us everything we need to know about young people in this country. One shows us how our kids are falsely – cruelly – perceived and portrayed; whilst the other, crucially, reveals what young people are really like, and gives us an honest measure of their attitudes and values.

First, let’s explore the lie, the so-called ‘child identifies as a cat’ story. Let’s be clear from the start: no child identified as a cat. It’s another moral panic whipped up by the right-wing press, a caucus which now has an almost pathological desire to stoke dangerous, fallacious culture wars.

Last week, some audio emerged of teenagers at a Sussex school debating whether someone can identify as a cat. The story quickly turned into: ‘Child identifies as cat’.

READ MORE: Youth violence: Whose to blame? Adults are

‘All-out war on parental authority’, screamed the Mail, because, hysteria is what the Mail does. The Telegraph collapsed on its chaise lounge clutching smelling salts under its nose, claiming a school ‘allowed’ a child ‘to identify’ as a cat. Piers Morgan got in on the act – of course. If there’s festering manure to stick your head into, be sure, Morgan’s head will be in it. The Christian Institute hollered ‘teacher bullies 13-year-old girl for debunking classmate’s cat identity’. Except, to reiterate, there was no cat-kid. It was rubbish.

Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer were soon in the mix. That’s what politicians do today. It doesn’t matter if they’re being asked to comment on unicorns in the Cairngorms, if there’s a mic under their nose, politicians don’t care if they’re reinforcing disinformation, they just flap their lips.

Tory cabinet minister Kemi Badenoch, the culture war’s Napoleon, demanded the Sussex school be investigated.

To repeat: no child at the school identifies as a cat – “or any other animal”, as staff were forced to explain to the serried ranks of idiot reporters and politicians.

Here’s what happened: there was a class discussion about identity and one youngster brought up the notion of someone identifying as a cat. Bang. All hell breaks loose. A hypothetical conversation became reality.

Soon came reports of mass outbreaks of ‘furries’ in schools – folk dressing as animals – and we entered an hallucinatory world filled with outlandish claims of kids identifying as ‘holograms’. If it weren’t so damaging it would be laughable.

READ MORE: Please save me from anti-woke hysteria

The general secretary of the Association of School and College leaders, Geoff Barton, had to say: “To be clear, we have never heard of any issues arising at any schools over children identifying as animals.” He accused politicians of “grandstanding”.

This isn’t just an example of how culture war rots the brain and how very online people are very susceptible to nonsense. It’s a study in how quickly – how readily – so many of us are prepared to believe the worst of our children: to see them as strange, creepy, dangerous.

To these adults, one could say: projecting much?

Now, for a very different take on young people – one which much more accurately reflects who they really are and how they live their lives – watch Lewis Capaldi’s Glastonbury set on iPlayer. Throughout the performance, Capaldi visibly struggled with the tics which are part of his Tourette’s condition.

During his best known song, Someone You Loved, Capaldi’s voice failed him. His vocals were gone. He couldn’t manage to sing. What happened next was extraordinarily beautiful to witness. Around 200,000 young people in that Glastonbury field – nearly a quarter of a million folk – sang the song for him.

READ MORE: The Scots parents saving starving kids

But it wasn’t just that they helped him finish. It was much more. They emotionally put their arms around him, carrying Capaldi through the set. Here was a man struggling, and in response he was given the gift of pure empathy by the very young people our press and politicians routinely mock and denounce.

I’m not into Capaldi’s music. He’s a great guy, but his songs just aren’t for me. But I will remember watching that Glastonbury set for the rest of my life. It wasn’t about the music. It was about kindness being shown to someone in need. It was – and I hesitate to use this word glibly, as it is a notion which really matters in human life – a display of almost unconditional love by a group of strangers towards another stranger. That’s so rare it could break your heart.

So here we are, in a country where those in authority – the press and the politicians – treat young people as if they’re toxic and dangerous. Yet the truth is, the vast majority of our kids today carry more decency in their hearts than the combined assembly of the nation’s newsrooms and parliaments.

The people who have failed in this country aren’t the young. They are fighting like hell every single day of their lives to live with the consequences of our mistakes: the ruined economy, the shattered state of politics, the ticking deathwatch beetle of climate change. It’s not teenagers storming the Capitol Building or threatening to hang doctors who vaccinate patients.

We handed our children a land of food banks and poverty, a country where the rich trample over the poor, and we dare tell them they should listen to us? They should respect us? They should emulate us? It wouldn’t surprise me if in ten or 15 years, when today’s teenagers come to run society in their 30s, that they decide to lock us all up for the catastrophe we made of the world they’ve inherited.

The people who have failed are us, the adults. We’ve bequeathed our children a hellish future and what do we do? We make them punching bags and laughing stocks. Not only that, we make them punching bags and laughing stocks based on nothing but lies and the stupid, cruel fairy-tales we tell each other.

Our young people have more moral fibre in the hem of their jeans than most British adults today have in their entire bodies. I respect today’s kids, and have only contempt for those who belittle them, and belittle them not with the truth but with lies. A special place awaits that sort in hell.