This is what people always say when they learn that I’m the mother of three teenagers and a tween – “Whoa … I guess you spend a lot of time hearing how stupid you are.”
Usually the people who say this also are the parents of teens, and the comment comes as an attempt to bond over our presumed mutual suffering from the ill effects of our adolescent’s bad attitudes.
I heard a comment like this recently at the doctor’s office, when I mentioned that I have a 14-year-old son. “Oh, my kid is 15,” came the reply. “I never knew how dumb I was until now. But that’s just a teenager for ya. Right?”
Decision time: Do I say, “It is a dumb adult, indeed, who lets a teenager speak to him as though he is a potted plant,” or do I smile and nod in deference to the needle he holds in his hand?
I punt. “Well,” I say, “I never bought into that myth about teenagers naturally being snarky and disrespectful. I think that idea shortchanges teens. They’re actually able to be quite pleasant.”
The doctor doesn’t say anything, but instead stands there with the needle. “Or maybe we’re just lucky,” I add by way of backpedaling.
“You are,” the doctor says. Stab.
Where is it written that teenagers must necessarily speak to their parents as if we were pond scum or, worse, middle-aged adults?
Everywhere, it turns out. Pick up a parenting magazine or Google the words “teen attitudes” and you’ll find a million “experts” claiming that hormones, coupled with an age-appropriate desire for independence, understandably causes teenagers (and even tweens) to treat their parents rudely.
Sorry, but I don’t understand. Or maybe I do, but what I get is that American culture has created a sanctioned state of immaturity and selfishness, mired in emotion and punctuated by back talk, conveniently labeled “adolescence.” And now we learn this state of adolescence may extend into the early 20s. Great.
There’s a growing segment of our culture that thinks this caricature of American teenagehood does not reflect a natural urge to become “Attila the Teen,” but instead is the result of a cultural “dumbing down.”
Led by teens Alex and Brett Harris, founders of the Web site TheRebelution.com and authors of the best-seller “Do Hard Things,” this new breed is spurring a “teenage rebellion against low expectations.”
“The fact is, this is a time of life when young people are going through a lot of changes and some of it is difficult,” Alex says. “It’s convenient that there’s this assumption that we’re going to be rude or disrespectful because it’s easier for us than taking the hard way. No one expects more of us, so we don’t have to deliver.”
But Alex says this false assumption is also insulting: “We’re capable of much more and when given the challenge to live up to a higher standard, we can do it.”
Being a teen, Alex looks to his peers to disprove this “myth of adolescence.” But being a mom, I look to mine.
When parents feed that myth by consoling one another for enduring our children’s teen years, we do our youths a disservice.
Instead, we ought to raise the bar of our expectations so that as they grow, they gain the maturity and genuine self-esteem that comes from treating others with courtesy and respect.
Do my teenagers make me feel lucky? Every day of my life. Just not because they refrain from talking to me like I’m a potted plant.