Alas, Maybe Teenagers Speak Another Language

Published October 29, 1987. I’ll be the first to admit it, I don’t understand teenagers. I don’t understand how they think. I don’t understand how they act. And I don’t understand what they say. It is as if they speak a different language. And with our three teenagers – Tammy, Brian, and Jon – Susan and I sometimes think we need a host of United Nations translators in order to communicate with our older children.

Take, for instance, the periodic parent-teacher meetings at the local schools. We try to find out from the kids how they are doing before we go. It is like trying to talk with someone from Mars.

Parent-teacher conferences all tend to come during the same week, so there are some interesting words and expressions being tossed around in our home during those few days. We were preparing to go down to the junior high and talk with some of Jon’s teachers. We were concerned how he was doing in one particular class, so we asked him about it. Are you ready for the reply?

Jon paused and then replied, “I’m pretty sure I got a solid C+.” He assured me it was locked in. Tucked away. There was no way he could get lower than a C+ at this point in the class.

I told Jon when I went to high school there was no such thing as a “solid C+.” I asked him if he could try for something like a “weak B.” He said that was a little beyond him at this point. But he would give it some thought.

Then there is Brian. He uses some strange phrases. I asked him about his homework in one of his difficult classes. He assured me, and I quote, that it was “caught up.” We congratulated him for his efforts, but upon checking with his teacher later that week at the conference, we were somewhat alarmed to find he was “missing two assignments” in the class in which he said he was “caught up.”

We confronted Brian with the discrepancy. His teacher said that two assignments were missing. He didn’t skip a beat in his reply. He said the reports were in but were not finished. I tried with no avail to argue that if the reports were “not finished” then he really wasn’t “caught up.” He disagreed.

Our teenage son said he didn’t understand the two assignments, so he did part of the work and turned them in. I still maintained they were technically missing. He seemed unimpressed and then asked to borrow a dollar for a Big Gulp down the street at Circle K. You see what I mean?

And Tammy. She uses some interesting, but confusing words. The other day she and her friends were driving around in one of the family cars. The car was getting low on gas, so Tammy took some of her money and put some gas in the car, so they could get home.

Upon her return, she described the running-low-on-gas incident and how she had to spend some of her own money to put gas in the family car.

Now get this. Tammy asked me if she could be “reimbursed.” Somehow it just seems out of place for a teenager to ask a parent to be “reimbursed.” Reimbursement suggests that one “owes” the other something. Tammy believed I did. Maybe I could have handled it better if she had asked to be “paid back.” But “reimbursed?”

Tammy also informed me that while they were driving around there was “a little light blinking on the dashboard.” I asked her which light it was. She said she couldn’t remember. But she thought I said something like “oil.”

That . . . I understood.

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