Teen Speak

by Patricia Eggertsson

       Ever wonder why it’s so hard to figure out what your teenager is thinking as he gives you that blank look when you ask him a question?  You know what I'm talking about: that glazed-over look, like the one on my friend Maria’s face when her doctor told her that she was going to have her seventh child, two children after she thought she was done with all that.

      Last week I read an article in Newsweek that said the reason teenagers think so much differently than adults do is because their brains are different. No kidding! This is news? I hate to be the one to tell whatever foundation laid out the money for that grant, but they could have gotten the information a lot cheaper, from a very reliable source: any parent of a teenager in this galaxy! The gist of the article is that while scientists once thought that the maturation of the brain was completed by age 10, they now know that the brain develops through the teenage years and into the 20's. This is small comfort to parents everywhere whose teenager comes home one day and says, “Maybe I won’t go to college. There’s this really cool band that I want to follow all over the country. Can I get a van?”

     Of course parents, since the beginning of time, have known that teenagers are a breed of their own and therefore one to be curiously wary of. Eve herself was exasperated by her two boys and their sibling rivalry, and was constantly telling them, “If you boys are going to play rough, take it outside.” Unfortunately for Abel, she said that one too many times.

     Parents of teenagers will attest with amazement that they put their sweet, cooperative child to bed one night and woke up the next morning to find a moody, challenging teenager (not me, of course, my kids are perfect—at least they will be when I let them out of the cellar next year). In extreme cases, the difference in attitude is so pronounced you’ll start looking for the 666 that you know must be imprinted somewhere on their bodies. Clued in parents will recognize the onset of puberty as the impetus for the change in attitude and will be somewhat prepared as they observe the physical changes in their child. To be forewarned is to be forearmed. Woe to the parent who has no indication that the teenager has hatched out of his pod, and is completely ambushed by the creature standing before him, who looks the same but has started speaking in one syllable words which seem to have no bearing on the conversation.

            Parent: Good Morning.
            Teen:    Frumph.
            Parent: Sleep well?
            Teen:    Hnpht.
            Parent: That’s good!

     Boys seem to be more prone to these types of conversations than girls, although don’t get too excited. Girls have their own TeenSpeak too, which takes some practice to translate. Boys kind of hang their heads and mumble, although the experienced parent becomes adept at removing the virtual marbles that seem to garble the male teenager's speech, and can decipher sentences like this without missing a beat: imgoiojfgrgnandijhedbjblinhg. Until someone comes up with a Pocket TeenSpeak Translator, rookie parents of teenagers are on their own trying to figure out that the teen just said, “I am going with Jeremy and Ed to the bowling alley.” Translating a conversation with teenage girls is a little different, although not necessarily less challenging. Sometimes a parent can pick up few verbal clues by the inflection in their voices and by facial expressions. For example, if you ask a teenage girl if she thinks the boy across the street is cute, you’ll get, “As if! He is, like, such a buster! Maybe if, like, Um…never!” Translation: “No”. See, that’s not so hard, all it takes is a little practice, and since there are roughly six years of adolescence and pre-adolescence, you will be fluent in TeenSpeak in no time!

     Is it nature’s cruel joke that this is a time when kids are compelled to venture forth on their own, but have few or none of the tools that enable them to make the transition smoothly? Not only do they lack the impulse control, emotional maturity, or judgment skills to navigate the slippery slope of adolescence, they don’t want the benefit of a parent’s experience to help them. We can only pray that common sense will kick in (yeah, right!) when they are making decisions that they may regret later, such as getting a tattoo, piercing various parts of their bodies, or wearing gauchos.

     The teenage years, and I emphasize “years”, as in DOG years, are a necessary evil to entering adulthood. Intellectual and physical changes aside, the hallmark of adolescence is the separation from childhood into the murky unknown of adulthood.
This is when kids exercise their independence…

Through their choice of hairstyles…
          Parent: My God! Joey Turner has a PURPLE MOHAWK!
          Teenager: Dude! You rock!

And their choice of clothes, which has been an ongoing battle between teens and parents since Biblical days…
          Jacob: Joseph! What, suddenly you’re Mr. Fancy Pants? You couldn’t be happy with a simple brown coat like your brothers? Mr. Big Shot has to have a coat of many colors! Oy!

And even through their choice of friends….
         Teenager: This is my new best friend, Tommy No-Thumbs and his bodyguard Big Vito.

     Parents can find comfort in a few powerful words: Drink Heavily. Just kidding. But take heart-- parents as well as teenagers are learning the ropes of adolescence and a little love, respect and patience goes a long way in making the journey a little easier for everyone.

   Recently I gave my daughter a colored stone with the words “It’s a Process” imprinted inside. We talked about how hard it is to be a teenager, and a teenager’s parent, and that we are all feeling our way through it. It’s a process, and this too shall pass. Thank God!

For more information on surviving the teen years, check out
Wolf, A.E.: Get Out of my Life, But First Could You Drive Me and Cheryl to the Mall?  Farrar, Straus and Giroux Publishing, 1991
ISBN 0-374-52322-3

This piece was written by Patricia Eggertsson.
Copyright 2000 All rights Reserved.

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