The Awful Things Your Teen Says, Translated

by Anna Lefler
Originally Published: 

Hey, friend.

Yes, you. I see you there – white-knuckling it in the passenger seat of what was once your very own car, nodding off on the weird plastic mall bench outside the Apple store, draped across the shopping cart handlebar as you ponder how the 400-gig data allowance in your wireless plan has been exceeded. Again.

Greetings, fellow parent of a teenager.

OK, don’t cry. Sure, it’s challenging at first. It feels like just last week you were lovingly buckling them into their 5-point harness and marveling at their tiny, perfect toes. Now suddenly you’re barking at them for the twentieth time to buckle their damn seatbelts and marveling at your daughter’s tiny, very imperfect shorts.

But take heart; it gets better. I promise.

You see, I was once like you: punch-drunk from the realization that I’d gone to bed one night as a child’s revered “Mama” and woken the next as a barnacle-crusted nuisance known as “Mom!” It was about that time that a kind-hearted stranger reached out to me with the gift of enlightenment – the same gift I now offer you.

In your struggle to be a committed and loving parent to your newly minted teen, you have overlooked a critical fact (just as I had back then): your teen now speaks a different language.

Explains a lot, doesn’t it?

What you may be hearing as disrespectful snark or thoughtless, repetitive demands are actually sincere attempts by the teen to communicate with you – the devoted parent – under the constraints of this new and unfamiliar language. Like helpless tourists who struggle to compliment a chef in his native tongue but succeed only in informing him that his daughter has genital warts, the teens wrestle with their newly acquired barriers to communication, some of which are so severe that exchanges with parents are reduced to nothing more than monosyllabic grunts.

I see you nodding. You know these grunts, don’t you? You’ve got the hollow-eyed stare of a parent who’s watched an adored child’s demeanor morph from Caillou to Internet troll in the span of a bad weekend. Isn’t it a relief to know that they’re involuntary passengers on this crazy developmental train and they can’t help how they’re talking to you?

Wait – why are you backing away? Oh, I see. You don’t believe me. I understand.

Allow me to help you by decoding some common phrases you are likely encountering in your household these days. Once you get the hang of it for yourself, you’ll soon be effortlessly translating your own teen’s attempts at communication into what they would actually be saying – if only they could.

Teen: “Tell me you are NOT wearing that.”

Translation: “Mom, not only does that ensemble further enhance my appreciation of you as a fashion iconoclast, it also makes me take a more critical view of my friends’ moms, none of whom even own macramé garden clogs.”

Teen: “Why do I NEVER have clean underwear/jeans/clothes/leggings?!?”

Translation: “I don’t thank you often enough for all that you do, Mom. But I’m worried. I sense that you are feeling a tad overwhelmed these days. Please enjoy this biscotti and mug of herbal tea and tell me in detail how I may be of help.”

Teen: “Get out of my room!”

Translation: “I’m so grateful that you have provided me with a clean and climate-controlled sanctuary that I may call my own. If you don’t mind, I’ll retreat there now for some much-needed solitude and quiet reflection.”

Teen: “My friends think you’re SO weird.”

Translation: “I don’t think I truly valued your strong sense of individuality and fearless commitment to your personal brand until today at lunch when some of the other 11th graders were doing impressions of you in the cafeteria. Have I told you today how proud I am to be your son/daughter?”

Teen: “Seriously, you NEVER let me drive!”

Translation: “Let me first say how much I appreciate your faith in allowing me to pilot this almost-paid-off vehicle and your sole method of transportation, especially in light of last week’s incident with the patrolman. If you were to give me another opportunity to refine my driving skills under your calm and always-constructive direction, I would be pleased to oil all the kitchen cabinetry in return.”

Teen: “Omigod, you’re SO mean!”

Translation: “I just want you to know that I respect your backbone and diligence in pointing out those things of which I may not be aware and which are critical for me to assess with a cold eye as I move into adulthood. To this end, I thank you for your candid and wise feedback regarding my friend Nadine’s impromptu vulva piercing.”

I see that you’ve stopped picking at the buttons of your cardigan. I will take that to mean you have found our conversation constructive and calming. I’m happy to hear that because it’s quite helpful to me as well to share coping strategies with other parents.

In fact, my kids don’t get home from school until 4:00 today, so maybe we could get some coffee and—hey! Where are you going? A bulk pork chop event at Costco, you say? Oh, OK …

Well, it was nice talking and maybe I’ll see you around sometime. Are you usually here on Tuesdays? What? OK, well, goodbye and best of luck to you, fellow parent of a teen!

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