Friday, May 28, 2010

The Only Rule You Need To Know When Talking To Teenagers

Lots of people have no idea how to communicate with teenagers. Some of the responses to this blog have highlighted this sad truth for me, though its something that I experience frequently in my daily life as well. When adults disagree with you when you are a teenager, its rarely because its because your viewpoint is inferior, and more often because you as a teenager are inferior. Many people assume that because you are younger, it is impossible that your opinion is actually a valid point based on sound reason, not a function of your age.

This is definitely not to say that all teenage viewpoints are well developed, or that all adults are unfairly judgmental when it comes to conversing with teens. Plenty of teenagers are incoherent, and plenty of meaningful exchanges happen between non-judgmental adults and the teens to whom they listen. I am beginning, however, to think that these cases are exceptions to rules, and that a problem does exist-- a problem that is impeding productive communication between adolescents and adults. The good news is that this problem is a lot simpler than you’d think, and if we worked together to correct it, we could form the basis for a prolific cross-generational relationship.

I polled my friends on what they found to be the biggest problems with the relationship between teens and adults today. People were really helpful and we generated a long list of gripes that we have about the way that adults treat teens. I was going to post the whole list, but I realized that the entire thing could be summed up in one simple rule that, if followed, would help to foster a less hostile relationship between generations. So, without further ado:

The Only Rule You Need to Know When Talking to Teenagers

1. Don't make assumptions.

Following this guideline will ease a lot of intergenerational tension, and allow kids and adults to communicate more comfortably, which is something that is entirely worth pursuing. We, the people in my generation, are the first people to be raised with the internet as a permanent fixture in our lives. We are the lab rats for a new kind of culture, and the first generation to wholly embrace a web-based way of perceiving things. It goes without saying that there must be some practical application, somewhere, for this new way of thinking. We can’t possibly explore this option, though, unless we overcome the communication gap between teens and adults.

I can’t offer any advice on closing this gap for teens from the adult perspective, but I can say that following the above advice will at least help bring teens closer to a state conducive to conversation.

To clarify this rule, here are some things that adults shouldn’t make assumptions about:

Don’t assume that teenagers need things “dumbed down” for them. Don’t assume that just because you know and understand one teenager that you know and understand all of them. Don’t assume that our opinions are a function of our age. Don’t assume that when a bunch of us are hanging out that we are up to no good. Don’t assume that what we are going through is exactly the same as what you went through as a teenager. Instead of assuming your journey to adulthood was the same as ours, simply offer us what you learned from your experiences, and allow us to pick and choose those that seem applicable to us. Don’t assume that everything we do is the result of an insatiable desire to be cool or liked.

These things may be true, but don't assume them at the outset!

I know it is easy to fall into making these sorts of assumptions, because we as a society very much subscribe to a, “kids these days…” way of thinking about adolescence. These assumptions are also helpful for adults to cut down on the awkwardness that sometimes ensues when trying to talk to teens. In the long term, though, these assumptions are hurting us by creating an environment that makes it difficult for teens and adults to collaborate. Ceasing to assume will ultimately benefit everyone—teens and adults alike.

If anyone agrees that this is an issue and would like to write some adult advice to teenagers on cross-generational communication, I would definitely be interested in cross-posting it here. Feel free to email me any thoughts on this topic, or post them in the comments.


  1. Might I suggest that adults may often disparage teens' opinions or fail to listen properly to what teens have to say out of a sense of insecurity and a subconscious need to be right, to be smart, to be knowledgeable, mature, and/or experienced.

    In some people's minds, it may not be about thinking of teens as being inferior, so much as it is about satisfying a personal need to prove to oneself and to others that one is superior - that one has learned and grown since being a teen.

    That doesn't make it any better, but I just wanted to suggest this as a possibility as well.

    High schoolers are in fact far more intelligent, knowledgeable, well-informed, and well-rounded than I think society gives them credit for. I, for one, know that I used to be a lot more knowledgeable about a lot more things - when I was in high school, I often contemplated the possibility of competing on Jeopardy. Now that I'm older, and my work experience and grad school experience have narrowed my expertise dramatically, I wouldn't dream of even attempting to get on Jeopardy, unless it was Japanese history Jeopardy, or something like that.

    Good luck with your continuing project here :)

  2. I fully agree with your thoughts on this subject - it IS a problem (& most likely always has been - each generation lives in an entirely different society & lifestyle than the one that precedes it). I think your rule is excellent - and my advice, from an adult to a teen, is the same: don't assume. Don't assume that the adult CAN'T understand - if they're willing to try, & suspend their own assumptions, let them in. Don't assume that the adult will make erroneous or harsh judgments - while they might, they also might not. I think one thing that I find most difficult about communicating with teenagers (as a whole - this is a huge generality) is that teens often appear to not want to communicate. Or, they choose to communicate in ways that adults don't understand. So, while adults should try to understand teens, & where they're coming from, teens also (IF they are interested in facilitating communication) need to attempt to communicate in fairly transparent ways. Without communication on both sides, one is left with nothing to do but assume.

  3. I'm in complete agreement over here. The majority of the news media I read is not necessarily targeted toward my age group. This does not affect me for the majority of the time, but the occasional news stories about "kids these days" are extremely disparaging. Even positive new stories often take a patronizing tone both in the article and in the comments. After all, a story about a high-achieving teen is "astonishing" due to the rest of us being completely insolent and unintelligent of course.

  4. Hey! A friend referred me to your blog, and I just want to say I think it's a fabulous idea. I'm also curious where you're from in PA, as I am a native myself (reppin' Green Lane, AKA Bumblefuck). Check out our blog, if you're into sex/feminism (; I know I'll continue reading yours!

    And for the record, I agree that adults have no concept of how to address teenagers without insulting your intelligence the whole time. As a rising college senior, my summer job is to work with teen girls in a science camp, and even I (someone about 6 years older than most of them) am stunned by how intelligent they are and how much they GET what I'm saying. I don't know why or how that shift occurs, but unfortunately, it does. :/

    -the Albright Sheriff

  5. I would like to teens to assume that I am a person. I find that many teens - certainly not all - will pass right by an adult they know without saying Hi. I am not sure why. They will say Hi if I say Hi first. Perhaps they are assuming I don't want to hear from them or be bothered with them. Maybe it only happens to me. Can you poll your friends on this? Perhaps I will poll my adult friends to see if they notice the same.

  6. Hey, I'm enjoying your blog! I haven't run across this problem yet, since I don't really know any teenagers (I'm 25 and all my relatives are in their 20's or older). But I think your advice would be applicable to any person, of any age. For example, I've definitely had guys assume I didn't know something (when I really did) because I'm a woman. I find maturity does not correlate very well to biological age. It seems to depend on people's life experiences, their values and decisions they make, rather than age. So I agree, it's silly to treat any age group as monolithic.

  7. I submit that in most cases, adults aren't assuming your journey to adulthood is the same as theirs, but rather, they don't remember what it was like when they were your age. Many adults look at a teenager and see what looks like an adult, and don't think about the fact that they thought very differently when they'd had the limited life experience of a teen.

    That said, I also realize many adults make assumptions. It's been difficult for my kids at times, because when they weren't into the mall culture, their grandparents were buying them Aeropostale and Tommy Hilfiger stuff, and they sometimes assumed the kids were ungrateful if they didn't seem enthusiastic over their gifts.

    As a parent, I think the most valuable thing one can do is do their best not to forget what it was like for them when they were whatever age their kids are at a given time. I actually enjoyed my kids' teenage years, and am enjoying them as young adults even more. It was fun finally being able to share the more mature humor that they just didn't understand when they were younger!

    Aside from that, I think many adults are resentful when a younger person professes to know something they don't. As long as conversation is kept respectful, each generation should be happy to see that younger people are learning things that they didn't know - where would our country be if each generation didn't build on the knowledge gained by the one before? How would we compete in the world? Older generations should be proud to know that they built new knowledge based on that learned from previous generations, which enabled the current generation to advance even further!

    I'm Nefertiti, a.k.a., Carol, age 49; I have a 19-year-old daughter and a 26-year-old son.

  8. First, I would like to compliment you on your extremely well written and insightful blog. I feel that you will go quite far as you journey into adulthood.

    Now for the bad news. I had an interesting conversation with some of my co-workers just yesterday on the topic of age. Both of these young women are in their early 20's and in their first full-time job, and they were lamenting about growing older. I told them that I was so happy when I turned 35. They were flabbergasted, until I explained to them that 35 seems to be the magical age when you are suddenly considered "experienced" and people actually start giving some weight to your opinions.

    I'm 40 now, and I have three children who are around your age. In fact, I attended my son's high school graduation just this past weekend. I had a conversation with him regarding his choices -- he's going into the Navy first rather than going directly on to college -- and when I asked his reasons, I was stunned by the mature response. Obviously, I have to rethink my own prejudices when it comes to interacting with teens. And here I was, thinking I was so aware!

  9. Anon- I don't think it's being rude if a teenager doesn't greet an adult they know. Maybe when you were that age it was, but you also need to realize that standards of acceptable behavior change over time. A different generation grows up in a different set of circumstances and thus behaves differently. It's not rude, it's how they (we) learned to act and consider acceptable.

    In response to the post itself, I agree wholly with you. As a 14-year-old, I am subject to this quite often. I don't think anyone has pointed out yet the additional problem that adults try to analyse the behavior of teens and tend to be extremely patronizing. For instance- a teenager asks her mother for advice and she replies not in a manner trying to relate to her daughter/son's problem, but with an air of smug superiority, trying too hard to be the Responsible Adult instead of an unbiased source of knowledge. I think perhaps adults tend to believe they are wise(r) and thus should be treated and perceived differently than their younger counterparts. This, in turn, frustrates the teenager- who can blame them? I imagine an adult would be quite upset to be patronized in the same manner. There is a preconceived notion that the, as an adult, have a vastly superior intellect. When one person is convinced they are more mature and the other feels patronized and frustrated, no wonder there is a communication gap! I think the internet is actually a good example of what goes on here- two people interacting in, say, a forum (provided they are not inclined to cause Ridiculous Internet Drama) can have a perfectly civilized conversation because neither party assumes they are more mature. If it turns out that one person is in fact a teenager and the other is a young adult, this dynamic can change dramatically, even between friends. This shows perfectly that this communication gap does not NEED to exist- it is perhaps not a gap at all but more a metaphorical "wall"- built of assumptions and immaturity. (Apologies for making a bad metaphor worse.) Yes, there are many teenagers who are quite immature and incapable of holding their own in a respectful argument (I have learned this from personal experience), but when we assume that this is true of ALL teens we really go nowhere because we are not providing the opportunity for them to fully speak their minds.
    I'm just repeating myself here, so I will conclude thusly:
    Basically what I am trying to say is that everyone eats and poops and it doesn't change that much as you get older.

    If you would like to continue discussing this subject with me, please contact me at (Yes, I know it is a ridiculus email address but it's the only one I have that doesn't contain my real name.)

    If you've read this far through my wall of text, I sincerely appreciate you taking the time to do so. Have a nice day.

  10. I think this is definitely an issue. One of the things I think is really a problem is how shocked adults can be when they see teens can have actual substance and intelligence. I can see this as a problem of both sides. As a teen I do realize that not all my peers are the best at proving that, but many of us are polite, well-behaved, and intelligent. It's a stereotype that all teens are rude troublemakers. I understand that some can be and that's a problem, but to be so judgmental from the get-go about such a wide range of people is really not OK either.

    An English teacher of mine really summed it up well for me. She started off the year saying that she had respect and trust for every one of us and would keep that respect as long as we didn't do something that broke that trust and respect. It seems like some adults (not all! we can't stereotype all adults either!) give other adults that respect from the beginning, but teens have to EARN the respect. If we were given more respect from the beginning, maybe more teens who are the basis of the stereotype would feel like they were respected and give adults respect in return.

    Great post!

  11. While I fully agree with you that there is a communication problem between adults and teens, and that this is something I struggled with during my own teenage years, I'd warn you against looking forward to being able to liberate yourself from this issue when you reach adulthood yourself. In my experience, since reaching adulthood (I am now the ripe old age of 26), I have learned that other people are just as likely to treat me and my opinions as inferior and uninformed now as they were when I was 16. Very little has changed in the last 10 years other than the realisation that not only do adults struggle to take teenagers seriously, but ALL people struggle to take ALL other people seriously, regardless of their age. Sad, but I fear true.

  12. I'm so guilty of this myself. At the age of 34 I still (like many adults) feel like I'm straight out of university and so fondly imagine myself to be "youthful" and identify with 18-year-olds... in theory. In practice, I'm always rather taken aback to, say, read a blog by an 18-year-old that is so mature, intelligent, well-informed as this one. (And others. There are plenty out there.) I know I wouldn't have been nearly as confident with sociological discourse at that age. I've even doubted the authorship of at least one blog because I couldn't quite believe that an 18-year-old boy would really be as self-aware and articulate, not to mention a really talented writer, as he was. Assumptions. They happen.

    I have to disagree with Jackie, above, though (at risk of entrenching my old-fart status). The fact that she doesn't see this behaviour as rude doesn't mean it isn't. In fact, it's hard for me to read her comment without having it entrench my own stereotypes about teenagers: the belief that they know better than they really do (seriously, in many aspects of life, you don't know what you don't know; the more you learn, the more ignorant you feel) and adults Just Don't Get It. I can definitely understand the frustration at feeling patronised, and it sucks that interaction with adults should leave you feeling that they aren't listening and are convinced they're smarter than you, but here's the thing - we may not be smarter, but by and large, yes, we are more mature. That's how it works. You do learn things as you grow, and thank god for that or we'd just be stagnating... I do remember being 14 and feeling the way she does. But I also know that when I look back at myself then, well, I wasn't as smart as I thought I was.

    So I guess assumptions go both ways. Adults need not to assume that teens are just dumb kids. But teens need not to assume that they don't have anything to learn (and that the adults they're dealing with don't know any better than they do; sometimes, honestly, we do).

    Oh, and sometimes people are idiots, of course, so frequently you will be smarter than the adult you're talking to. No doubt.

  13. you are the best.

  14. Perhaps you can tie this into your Seventeen experience. Maybe adults see the media generated FOR teenagers -- like teen-beat magazines and reality/MTV shows -- and "assume" (ahh that word!) that what teenagers are supposedly digesting also reflects who they are.

  15. Your post is well thought out and well written. And might I offer that not making assumptions is a two way street, and one that can get people of any age to communicate better. Including teenagers when talking to their parents. Don't assume that your parents don't/won't understand or won't get it. This always seems to me like a cop out for not wanting to talk about something that is insulting to boot. Don't assume that you have your parents/teachers all figured out. Most people are far more dimensional then that assumption would allow. Don't assume your parents are trying to make your life miserable. Most parents are just doing the best they can.

  16. I was thoroughly enjoying your blog, reading through backwards from 1st post, when I arrived at this one. I have not been reading the comments, because I am already using valuable time away from other duties, but have to leave one here. You are obviously a good communicator, have a firm grasp on your future and this blog is awesome. It is a fabulous analysis of the media and commercial influence on our culture, specifically youth culture and female images. If this is not being written as an assignment then you should be receiving some sort of recognition from NOW or a similar group. I hope your peers are reading and enjoying this, as well as learning how to read between the lines and analyze advertising and media reports. If there are naysayers making derogatory comments here, they have obviously not learned the lesson yet. Or have not read thoroughly. Nolite te bastardes carborundorum.

  17. maile, your second paragraph really gave me pause. Thank you for making such a great suggestion.

  18. The first part of Generation is genes.

  19. I'm 28 years old and work in an environment where my employees are teens and quite a lot of my customers are also teens...I've been thinking about this a lot lately and, thanks to BoingBoing, was directed to your fantastic blog (secret confession: I have a closet full of Seventeen and Vogue magazines from my own high school years at my parents' house...I abandoned Seventeen in favour of Vogue long before I reached 17 years of age, but Cosmo was the published drug of choice among the girls in my high school. I still think I wouldn't be caught dead with a Cosmo...ha ha).

    As an "adult" I think the biggest barrier for me when I'm interacting with a teen is the lack of actual interaction. I get a lot of blank stares and emotionless expressions where some emotion would be appropriated. I feel like part of that might stem from a disinterest in interacting, but I also get the feeling I'm being dismissed by them as too old to understand and get the "humour her because I'm buying something" treatment.

    This isn't to say that all of my experiences with teens are like this, but the vast majority of the teens I encounter who do not know me on a more personal level end up in this pattern. Thinking back, I was probably the same way: adults didn't really care what I was up to and I felt likewise. Perhaps they did care and I just assumed they didn't.

    I wish the problem of ageism was easier to dissect and break down - I think it would make me a better employer. I know I certainly enjoy the rare moments of interaction where I get to hear about school projects, family stuff and whatever else is going on in their lives. Sometimes I get to offer a anecdote from my own teen years, but most of the time I just enjoy their problems - they're not the same as mine and sometimes you need to hear a completely different set of problems to gain perspective on your own.

  20. Your simple rule serves not only across generation gaps in either direction, but within them as well. Most people tend to assume that they are normal, and therefore other "normal" people much think the same way. The fallacy here is that there isn't actually any such thing as "normal." Normal is the average that doesn't exist in practice. Assuming another person has your worldview will not work 100% of the time even if it seems to be accurate 80% of the time.

    I found that I was generally happier and got into fewer arguments once I realized that I was never going to be normal, and furthermore "normal" wasn't even desirable, and it's worth taking the time to ask for clarification when someone reaches a conclusion that I don't, and find out how that person's worldview differs from mine to provide this different perception and insight.

    You're a very insightful young woman, and this blog sounds like something I might have done when I was your age if the Internet wasn't still this strange thing that geeks did back then. I thank you for this.

  21. As a 23 year old who has recently made the transition from 'teen' to 'real person' and still has a few 19 and under friends, I have to say I don't agree with this post.

    I remember feeling, when I was your age, that adults often treated me as inferior simply because of my age, even though I felt I had viable and reasonable opinions on all manner of things. Having completed the transition now from teen to adult I can tell you for sure: you are both right and wrong.

    On one hand you are right because the sad truth about the "real" world is that most people never progress past a 14 year old maturity level (if that). And no matter how old you get, *this* particular piece of the population is always going to treat you with jealousy and disdain and if they're older than you they're always going to hold that over you if they can. When you say adults disregard you, I think these are at least some of the people you're really talking about. Honey, they never go away.

    And on the other hand, there's also a large section of adults who have every rightful reason to talk down to you. As you often say in your blog-- it's not fair, but for now, it's just true. You live in suburban PA, a place I'm very familiar with, and you're very smart-- so smart that if you don't learn a damn thing in college (and you might not)-- it won't matter, you'll still be able to do well for yourself. BUT you have yet to have some very crucial life experiences from which you will gain a wisdom you can't grasp yet (just the act of going to college would qualify as one). And if some people with a little more age than you read your words, they *might* justifiably feel that you're a little over-confident for someone your age-- or take some other (age-related) issue with your writing.

    Just reading through your blog here, I feel a kind of bittersweet feeling for you. Because at 18 I liked to do rebellious little self-experiments like this too (I even blogged about them myself)... but then I went to college, moved out of my parents place, got a job, had to move back into my parents place, am currently attempting to purchase a first home... aaaand I gotta tell you, all my similar interests in analyzing the little cultural quirks of life has completely disappeared. Age does interesting and unpredictable stuff to you. I don't really know how to explain it.

  22. As a 26-year-old who has many friends in their 30s, I can tell you this isn't just a teen-adult problem; it's an adult-slightly-older adult problem. I think it has a lot to do wanting to feel superior and "knowing better" than our younger counterparts. It's surprising, since this isn't exactly a culture that reveres its elders.

    I can't tell you how many times I get this attitude from slightly-older adults, and it really pisses me off, especially since there's absolutely nothing constructive about it. It doesn't seem to matter that I'm out of college, running my own business, about to get married (which I think we can all agree is a relatively "grown up" thing to do); I still get that "I'm older, therefore I must know better" attitude from people all the time.

    Maybe I need to find new friends?

    Love the project, LOVE the writing, can't wait to see what's next!

  23. This is a really interesting post, and one that speaks to my heart quite a bit. I'm 27, but I remember being a teenager and feeling *exactly* the way you describe here. On the other hand, I have some friends who teach high school now, and some of the things that they describe about their students saddens my heart.

    I do think that teenagers have every capability to be mature, intelligent, and respectful when conversing with older adults, and you are absolutely correct that at any age there will always be idiots. Society DEFINITELY underestimates its teenagers.

    I think part of the reason for the way adults speak to teenagers though is that everyone changes... and from my experience, most people do the most changing and growing during your twenties.

    That said... despite all the changing I've done between my teen years and now... I was a pretty smart cookie back then, and the choices that I was making and wanted to make were relatively good ones. Lots of people will say the opposite, but I know it's more than possible to make good choices as a teen. Would I make the same choices now? Maybe, maybe not. I understand myself better now, and I understand the world better too. That doesn't diminish my intelligence 10 years ago - I was making good choices with the information I had at the time, and it all worked out well for me in the end.

    Teens and adults have plenty to learn from each other. Adults can benefit from the intelligence of a fresh perspective... and teens can benefit from our experiences. That doesn't mean that teens are any less deserving of respect than we are. Experience is something everyone gets with time, though not something that everyone learns from. Sometimes we learn the wrong lessons from experience. You can't blame us for wanting to be helpful... some of the lessons we learned were damn painful to learn the hard way. And we can't blame you for not always listening to our advice. Some lessons have to be learned the hard way. Other lessons won't be learned by today's teens simply because the world changes.

    I know this is a very long and rambling comment, so I'll try to sum it up:

    Adults should always give respect to teens until proven otherwise. Likewise, teens should do the same with adults.

    There are idiots of any age, and every age can benefit from the wisdom of another.

    The lessons of this generation of teens are not always the same lessons of older generations.

    BUT... teens should keep in mind that they have most of their experiences and changing years still ahead of them, and that there are some really intelligent adults out there whose advice and comments you could benefit from.

    And try to forgive us (and nicely point it out) if we act superior or condescending. It's usually with good intentions.

  24. I have never had this problem before when I was growing up. I understand the feeling, but I've never had to go through it first hand. Why?

    Well, my mother always thought of my sister and I as "little adults" ever since we were children. We participated in mature conversations about money, relationships, careers, and choices in life. They respected my opinions, and I respected theirs. Growing up, I was always able to speak well to adults and be received well in return. How? Respect. I respected their opinions, actively listened, and said polite, intelligent things in return. In turn, my opinions were heard out of respect as well.

    Did I always say the smartest things? No. Looking back at some of my old blogs I realize that I was naive in some aspects of life. I still am. Something that all people should realize is that they never stop learning in life. I believe that this applies to both teenagers and adults (because let's face it, some adults act like children). Treat others as you would like to be treated. Respect others' opinions and yours will (hopefully) gain respect in return. Now, it doesn't always work that way, but it will work much better than demanding respect when you have nothing to show for it. (not saying that you are demanding to be heard right now, but some teens do) An interesting business concept that I came about was the idea of credit. If a business builds good "credit" with their customers (by being responsible, having excellent service, and going above and beyond the social responsibilities that is required from them), then customers are way more likely to forgive them for major transgressions. An example would be Tylenol and their tainted aspirin scare. Do you remember when that happened? Neither do I. To educate adults on how insightful teens really are, work on your "credit" and educate as many adults as possible through example, would be my suggestion.

    Also, sometimes there are some things that just need to be learned by experience. I don't know the same things that I did when I was a teen, and there are definitely some things that I would have liked to tell my teenage self back in the day.

    I think you have a very insightful blog and it appeals to my inner sociologist. You communicate very well, and I find it hard to believe that you are not taken seriously by adults. I look forward to more posts in the future! By the way, I'm 23. :)

  25. Jamie, I left a comment on your latest post upon discovering the blog, and by now I've gone back and read the whole thing. This is my favorite post. I am now an "adult," but I still strongly believe that progressives (and the culture at large) are far too quick to forget that ageism operates against old people AND young people.

    I strongly disagree with the anonymous commenter from June 15th at 3:20 PM. Here are some of my main objections:

    "there's also a large section of adults who have every rightful reason to talk down to you"
    There is never a "rightful reason" to talk down to any person based on that person's social group membership. That is prejudice.

    "BUT you have yet to have some very crucial life experiences from which you will gain a wisdom you can't grasp yet"
    If her ideas are flawed in some way, point out their flaws. Simply saying "you're young so your ideas are less informed" is, again, prejudice.

    "Age does interesting and unpredictable stuff to you."
    Age acts differently on different people. It's not fair to tell the generic "you" what "age does," based purely on one's own individual experiences. It would make sense to say "age did X for me / my friend" or "participants in a recent study, on average, changed in X ways over the course of X amount of time."

    Any time someone attempts to claim that an idea is less valuable purely because of the social group membership of its originator, I am extremely suspicious. If it is true that teenagers lack "life experience" and "judgment," then that lack should be evident in their ideas, and it should be possible to criticize the ideas themselves without explaining them away based on group membership.

  26. One of the more fascinating classes I've taken as part of my (largely useless) psychology degree was a third-year course on adolescence. It was interesting because, while University is a very different experience from high school, and we no longer fit most definitions of adolescence--although social science is notoriously messy in its classifications, so according to some people we still did--we weren't so far removed from it that we couldn't remember and relate. One particular lesson really jumped out at me:

    Present in all people to varying extents, but typically stronger in adolescents, is a desire to meet the social expectations they're given by others. As a consequence, people who tend to think that all teenagers are disrespectful, selfish, horrible delinquents will make teenagers want to behave like disrespectful, selfish, horrible delinquents when they're around. Shopkeepers who follow young people around the store make those young people more inclined to shoplift. Parents who think that their children's teen years are going to be the most painful parenting moments of their lives might be setting themselves up for a lot of arguments and slammed doors. Better, then, that we think of teen-aged people as, you know, people, with individual differences in personality and opinion just like anybody else.

  27. I would first like to say that I find your blog incredibly insightful and hilarious. As a fourteen-year-old, I have noticed that adults more secure with their own knowledge are more likely to have a conversation with teenagers without making assumptions. For example, a biology teacher at my school would speak to all of her students without "dumbing things down" and was respected for treating them as intelligent individuals. Meanwhile, the other teacher for the grade was especially disliked due to his condescending tone and ability to make students feel inferior when they spoke their opinions. I've been coming across this more and more lately, especially after being kicked out of a store simply for having a group of more than three teenagers enter at once. Thank you once again for your insightful post and thoroughly entertaining blog.

  28. As a card-carrying "adult" (30-something, married mother with a mortgage, and I had the education and professional career too, but I gave that up for the baby) I have to agree with everything seburke said about the anonymous commenter on June 15th at 3:20pm.

    I was immediately set-off by the distinction they made between "teenager" and "real person". Talk about loaded terminology there! Try "reaching the age of majority", "becoming legally recognized as an adult", "joining the workforce full time", "gaining financial independence" anything at all but "becoming a real person". What an amazing way to set up a great divide using only words!

    I'm also vastly amused by the whole "I've reached the ripe old age of 23 and I remember WAAAAY back when I was your age" approach to dispensing wisdom. The cherry on top had to be the irony of including a comment that less enlightened people will hold any tiny shred of age difference over you as evidence of their superior wisdom.

    The bit that annoyed me the most was their last paragraph. They've obviously given up on having any curiosity in life, and to imply that is normal or even acceptable is rubbish. Based on my experience with my friends (some of whom are creeping up on retirement) doing odd experiments and documenting your results purely for the joy of doing it is something that you certainly can keep doing as long as you're passionate about it.

    Getting to the point... I heard you today on NPR, only the last 30 seconds or so unfortunately, but I was interested enough to come home and look you up. You are obviously passionate about writing, researching and documenting your experiences. I'm really enjoying reading about your little experiment here and I'm looking forward to reading your future adventures! And I'm certainly not going to say anything condescending like "you write well for your age". You write well. Period.

    As an adult, I think I can with authority say the only piece of age-related wisdom I have gleaned is that you really should enjoy every minute of free time you have up until you join the workforce full time. You will never again have as many hours in the day to do with as you will. Learn a new language, practice an art, piss it away in a hammock watching the shapes the clouds make, whatever you like, just realize that the older you get, the less time you get for stuff that isn't obligations (work, errands, housework) and make sure you use the time in a way that you will be happy with. Oh, and the older you get, the more stuff hurts and the longer it takes to recover, not that you can really do anything with that particular tidbit, but there it is. There really is no other lesson that age alone can teach you. Anything else you may learn is more a function of what you encounter and experience than how many candles are on your cake, and you're just as likely to encounter any one of those situations now as when you're a senior citizen. We'd probably all get along a lot better if we figured out that there is no magic correlation between age and wisdom or experience.

  29. This goes for both teens and adults - listen. Just be quiet & let the other person get it all out. Doesn't matter whether you are 13 or 30, if you can learn to listen to others, you will be doing good.

    And yes, teens as a whole are much, much smarter than the "adult world" thinks they are.

    Unfortunately, there are those teens who give the rest of us a bad name... i.e. the ones who can't seem to talk to anyone out of their age range, are disrespectful, etc., etc.

  30. Hey--

    I've been enjoying your blog quite a bit! I think there are just mutually respectful things that people should do when they talk with each other. Suzette Hadin Elgin has a wonderful little book called Peacetalk 101 that has worked for me to bridge all kinds of gaps, and "make no assumptions" is one of her precepts.

    I am 46 years old and make no pretense of having gained some kind of wisdom (although I have gained experiences) as I've grown older, nor can I say that I feel the same as I did at 20. Although I've encountered several generational differences as I've grown older, none are insurmountable if we listen to each other with respect, kindness, and attention. Easier said than done, but nonetheless, critical for people to understand others, regardless of age.

  31. Let me start by saying that your blog is both entertaining and interesting. One method I use to talk to anyone, not just teens, is to initially find out what thier interests are. Using this infomration, I can usually find common threads to join them with. The thing I find interesting about this, is that age doesn't matter when you take this approach. I also read a lot of E. Mavis Heatherington (psychology of the children of divorce). I think that not only children of divorce have psychology but applies to many people. For instance, when children are between the ages of 12-18, they require more confimration of themselves from peers than parents. I understand this and talk to my 3 girls (13, 15, 16) withn this in mind. I am not judgemental and keep in mind that they still like to be around me and talk to me. I find this to be the case with many children I know from middle school to college.

    I guess what I am saying is that I don't assume kids are the same just as I don't assume adults are the same. A violent adult at a bar, drunk, soon gives themselves away. The same is true of kids with interesting conversation. Don't ignore it, bask in it. It can be refreshing to see things from another point of view, like yours, for instance.

  32. When I was your age (ha ha), I was active in a couple of "alternative" communities online. And one of the most consistent experiences I had when people learned my age was to tell me that my advice - which had been fantastic three emails before - was childish and ill-advised, and that I wasn't really a member of those communities because I was just going through a phase and would grow out of it and become "normal" later, because that's what teens do.

    I was amused when, a decade later, I was still in those communities, still active and doing my weird thing, often in much the same way as when I was seventeen or so, and all of those grownups had moved on to be more mainstream.

    Funny thing, life.

  33. I am 24 now, and in school to be a teacher. I work as a substitute during the school year, and I can honestly say being a teenager is a difficult thing to be sometimes. I absolutely admire your maturity and conscientiousness at the world around you being 18. It is only now that I am even giving serious thoughts to these kinds of issues- ie consumerism, body image, society's view of "the perfect life", etc.

    I think I do really well communicating with teenagers, though the younger the teenager the more I can see how "young" they are in the scheme of things. However, I think that a lot of the teen/adult relationships are skewed by the idea (of adults) that teenagers aren't mature enough in general for anything.

    Now, I have a brother in high school, and I can tell you that yes, in some ways he has A LOT to learn. However, he is much more savvy than I am about cars, computers, bartering, haggling, finding stuff for a good price, putting stuff together, fixing stuff, and the list goes on.

    The one thing I will always try to keep in mind is that teenagers are supposed to be immature, but not in every single way. If you want to feel respected, you in turn have to respect them. I really value the opinions of these "kids" and look for ways to help the expand their views while they expand mine.

    The other thing to consider is that everyone does stupid things. I probably did the stupidest things when I was in my teens. Sometimes its hard for adults to overlook their own foibles from their teenage pasts, and not project those expectations on to others.

    I think your blog is wonderful, and it blows me away that someone your age can be disciplined enough to balance school, a job, and a socially conscious blog experiment at the same time. It takes so many people so much more time to figure out what you are presenting here, and I admire you for bringing it into such a global forum.

  34. My top tip to adults?
    Treat teens the way you want be treated.
    I try and treat the teens I know the way I try to treat anyone of any age - with enthusiasm and encouragement and an open mind to their ideas. After all everyone has different experiences and some ideas can be absolute genius if your willing to listen.

  35. You're absolutely right - you're super smart and sophisticated, and actually adults love you for this. But you don't know half as much as you will in another 5 years. You will recognize this yourself when it happens. And then you'll be just another adult "making assumptions" about teens. But it's actually really enjoyable to learn all these life lessons and you won't care that much that you have to say goodbye to all the certainty you currently feel. Yeah, I know, totally uncool to say you're not fully mature yet, but seriously, you have some of the best and most profound life experiences just ahead, and you're going to love them.

  36. I suffer from very intense periods with severe PMS. Because I was a teenager when this started happening to me, I think it was easier for my family to marginalize my emotions (and my inability to control them) as being "just a phase".