Friday, July 9, 2010

Talking to Teenagers (or, How to Make Them Roll their Eyes)

Millie writes:

I read a Yahoo! article yesterday entitled, Surefire Ways to Turn OFF Your Teen. The gist of the piece was that there is a right way and a wrong way to talk to your child in order to facilitate communication.

Reading between the lines, the message was clear: Parents are boneheads and teenagers, those delicate flowers, are so sensitive that you must plan carefully before you speak to them directly or their little heads just might explode.

The article was okay as far as it goes, but it was built on a faulty premise; viz., that there IS a right way to talk to a teenager. As far as some of them are concerned you are a bonehead, and the very fact of your existence is mortifying. Well, if you are stubborn enough you will live to see them outgrow this stage; meanwhile, here is Millie’s list of “Things it Doesn’t Matter How You Approach the Topic, Your Teenager Doesn’t Want to Hear You Say.”

“Do your chores.”
Half of our household children do their chores most days without needing to be told. The other half need to be prodded over and over, every single day without fail. In our small cross-section of humanity, this cluelessness crosses barriers of age, gender and genetics; some kids will do what they need to do quickly and fairly competently if for no other reason than to shut us up and get on with their lives, and some will make us pay for it every moment of every day. “You can make me do it, but you can’t make it easier than if you did it yourself,” seems to be their motto.

“Have you brushed your teeth?” Until they’re approximately juniors in college, they haven’t brushed their teeth, they don’t want to brush their teeth, and no matter what you, the hygienist and the dentist say, they’re not going to brush their teeth unless you’re standing in the room. They may go into the bathroom and wet the bristles on their toothbrush in case you check – they may even squeeze a little toothpaste into the toilet in case you look to see if the level’s going down (and by the way, that counts as “cleaning the bathroom” if that’s their chore) . . . but they’re not brushing. I don’t understand this, coming from a segment of the population that spends approximately 104 percent of its waking hours daydreaming about kissing other people, but there it is.

“Why don’t you bring your friends over for dinner so we can meet them!”
Even the rudest teenager probably knows better than to say, “Because I don’t want THEM to meet YOU,” but they’re thinking it. Remember: it’s embarrassing enough to have parents, let alone parents who love you. Nothing personal, Mom and Dad; they’d just be a lot happier if you took a long vacation and left them behind to mind the house - just until they’re 18 or start college on the other side of the country. Oh, and don’t forget to send money. Leave the car keys.

“Why would you DO that?” The answer to this question is, “Beats me,” but that sounds stupid even to a teenager. Truth is that most of the time they don’t know why they do what they do. If they DO know, it’s something like, “because the other guys were doing it, the girl I like was standing nearby and I didn’t want to look like a weenie for NOT doing it.” First, he’s not going to admit to you that there’s a girl he likes; second, he KNOWS how stupid that sounds. He doesn’t want to hear the “if all your friends jumped off a bridge” lecture either because the truth is – given the proper circumstances, he probably WOULD jump off the bridge. He knows it. You know it. Why make everyone miserable by discussing it?

“You’re wearing THAT?”
Yup. They’re wearing that. It’s the quickest way to show strangers that whatever else your teenager might be, said teenager isn’t YOU. Unless the outfit in question will a) get them knifed by a rival gang or b) shows more skin than you saw when they were born, let it go. Think long and hard about YOUR teenage years. Remember legwarmers, Madonna bras, off-the-shoulder tops and ringlet-ed mullets? Yeah. It’ll pass. Take lots of pictures though. Your grandkids are gonna want to see this.

“When I was your age . . .” Face it. You were never a teenager. You’ve always been middle-aged. You sprang full-grown from Grandpa’s forehead with a dull middle-class job and a few gray hairs. Your convictions, theories and morals came over with Noah on the Ark, you listen to old-fart radio and you know all the words to every Queen song ever written. Even though YOU know that you lived with zits, high-school drug pushers and backseat groping just a week or so ago, your kid will never, ever believe it.

Never mind. Four of my six are in their 20s now, so even though I’m mid-teen with the younger two I have seen the other side. This too shall pass and, knowing that, I’m better able to appreciate the quicksilver wit, deep thoughtfulness and fierce intelligence of this age.

As long as I keep my mouth shut.


  1. This both scares and, somehow, encourages me. Thank you!

  2. "Yeah. It’ll pass. Take lots of pictures though. Your grandkids are gonna want to see this. "

    LMAO. Oh, trust me... I AM! ;)

  3. Revenge is a dish best served . . .

    at their wedding reception where I told the "Dumbo" story!

    It's a good thing they start out as adorable little pooh-bombers, if we started out with smarty teens, who knows what would follow!


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.