JIM DODSON: Important Research on Crazy Teens
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I was sitting at freshman orientation at Pinecrest High School a couple weeks ago when a friend I hadn't seen all summer waved and hurried over.
"Why are you here?" she demanded to know with a stage whisper that could easily have gotten us both strict detention.
"My son thinks he wants to go here," I whispered back, nodding to the big kid two seats away. He was politely listening to a school official welcome students to the big adventure of entering high school.
"Isn't he a little large for a freshman?" she asked, sounding either impressed or sympathetic.
I explained that my son was a rising junior back in Maine. After a summer in the Sandhills, he'd decided Pinecrest might be just the place for him. He said he wanted to stretch his mind and seek new academic frontiers.
"He really likes the golf, girls and great weather down here," I elaborated.
She smiled and shook her head. "These crazy teenagers," she said. "I've got one, too."
She pointed out her daughter, sitting down in front of us with a group of other teenagers. Next to her sat a young man with his Panthers ball cap on backwards. He appeared to be grabbing a short nap.
"That's the new boyfriend," she said. "My husband can't stand him. They haven't actually been out on a date yet, but she's pushing hard. Driving us crazy, actually. Everything in our house is high drama these days. She's our first teenager. We have two more waiting in the wings."
"Don't worry," I said, trying to cheer her up. "She'll probably survive."
"It's not her I'm worried about," my friend admitted. "My husband is losing his mind. He keeps hiding her cell phone and wondering what happened to our cute little girl who used to live with us. Always laughing and sitting on his lap. Now she thinks he's a dolt."
"The crazy teenage years are full of stress and angst," I said, calmly sympathizing. "Even for the teenagers."
She laughed and stared at me. "You sound like a guy who has made a study of this problem."
"I have something that may make you feel slightly better," I said.
That very evening, I sent her my recent groundbreaking study of the Crazy Teenager phenomenon for the American Society of Highly Worried Parents of Crazy Teenagers.
As I pointed out, this study was the result of many years of careful observation of actual CTs in their native habitat and natural gathering spots (shopping malls, gourmet coffee houses, and the author's favorite leather den chair).
This data was provided, I said, with the sincere hope that she and her husband, worried parents of Crazy (and pre-crazy) Teenagers, might take comfort in the fact that they were not alone and possibly worrying about nothing whatsoever. Being a Crazy Teenager, I pointed out, was a perfectly normal phase of life -- like being a Highly Worried Parent or a graying fat guy ridiculously admiring Porsches in the throes of a midlife crisis. Whoever said God made teenagers so the rest of us can feel reasonably normal had obviously once driven his or her parents nuts, too.
In any case, I gave her a sampling of my more relevant findings:
-- The modern Crazy Teenager is very different from you and me. This may seem painfully obvious if you happen to have one living in your house, but this reality must be calmly accepted before a Highly Worried Parent can begin to find inner peace and happiness in the presence of a Crazy Teenager.
-- To begin with, the average Crazy Teenagers are physically fitter, substantially smarter, and better-looking than you and me by a country mile. They also know how to use a computer. Ask a Crazy Teenager for help with the new family PC, and with a few taps of the keyboard he or she can obtain VIP credentials to the MTV 25th Anniversary Party, download an illegal movie soundtrack, or hack into the National Security Agency mainframe in a matter of seconds.
-- Technologically speaking, it perhaps goes without saying, Crazy Teenagers are light years ahead of the rest of us and unusually comfortable with advanced electronic gadgets of every sort. A mother from Aberdeen recently reported that her 13-year-old daughter does her homework each night with her iPod plugged into one ear while talking on her customized mobile phone to her best friend and simultaneously Instant-Messaging a dozen friends and checking out hits on her official myspace.com Web site. The mother, on the other hand, reports being unable to operate her kitchen microwave oven without either a simplified owner's manual or proper teenage assistance.
-- Customized mobile phones are vitally important to a Crazy Teenager's lifestyle. (CTs don't have a life -- they have "lifestyles.") Intense mobile phone usage is one thing the modem CT has in common with traveling business executives and Middle Eastern terrorists. On average, a Crazy Teenager's mobile phone rings every 2.67 seconds with another CT phoning to find out where the party is that night. Determining the activities and exact whereabouts of a CT after dark is another shared behavioral challenge of these three unique consumer groups.
-- For this reason, a typical Crazy Teenager does not like to plan more than 15 minutes ahead -- including and especially when it comes to doing homework or cleaning a bedroom that has been officially designated a Federal Disaster Area. CTs live very much in the moment and prefer to keep their lifestyle options open in case (a) "The O.C." comes on TV or (b) their mobile phone rings.
-- A recent study by the Tide Institute shows that the average CT female changes clothes four times a day and generates 11 pounds of dirty laundry. This significant environmental challenge is balanced, however, by CT males, who rarely change clothes and actually prefer to wear dirty laundry.
-- Unlike their Formerly Crazy parents from a bygone era, modem Crazy Teenagers do not "date" in a conventional sense. They simply go out in prearranged groups to "hang out" wherever other groups of Crazy Teenagers are congregating (movie theater lobby, ice cream parlor, home of whoever's parents happen to be out of town). The good news is that nothing much happens on these group outings except mass consumption of junk food and the occasional house fire.
-- CTs beneath the legal driving age constantly require a ride to and from wherever the aforementioned friends are gathering, often disrupting normal parental sleep patterns. Licensed CTs, however, pose even more of a potential risk to domestic tranquility, because parents rarely sleep when a CT has the new family Buick on the road after midnight.
-- Because medical science has determined that portions of their brains have not yet fully formed, Crazy Teenagers tend to be emotionally unstable at times and subject to significant mood swings. Compliment a female CT on her physical appearance, for instance, and she may demand to know what you are really trying to say about her weight. Suggest to a CT male that he learn how to properly replace an empty roll of toilet tissue before he goes to visit the prospective in-laws, and he may stare at you as if he can't believe what a total toilet Nazi you've become.
-- Remember that nearly everything you say of a thoughtful guiding nature will be sharply challenged by your homegrown CT. Also, be prepared to be informed in no uncertain terms that other CTs have parents who are far more "trusting" and permissive than you are. Experts suggest you accept this news calmly and remind your agitated CT that life is indeed unfair, no question about it -- but that this is merely nature's way of telling your kids how much you really love them.
-- All Crazy Teenagers have an annoying best friend you wish would go home from time to time, if only for Christmas and Easter.
-- Crazy Teenagers communicate in a clever minimalist code only other CTs can understand. Not long ago, the author of this study secretly recorded this actual conversation on Broad Street between two CT males approximately 15 years of age:
CTM No.1: So, dude, what do you want to do tonight?
CTM No.2: Dunno.
CTM No.1: Wannahang?
CTM No.2: No problem.
With the help of an older sister/decoder, the conversation rather impressively turns out to mean:
CTM No.1: Can you believe the International Astronomical Union meeting in Prague this week plans to demote Pluto from planet status to that of dwarf ice clusters?
CTM No.2: It's simply beyond comprehension, man.
CTM No.1: And what about that federal judge who ruled the NSA's wiretapping program unconstitutional?
CTM No.2: Let's go have a quick double mocha latte, Macaca. I'm helping my dad clean the garage tonight.
As I said to my Highly Worried Parent friend of the Crazy Teenage freshman when she phoned to thank me for my keen observational insights, maybe the best thing about modern Crazy Teenagers is how they can surprise you with such deep thoughts and meaningful gestures when you least expect them. Obviously there is more to the average CT than meets the eye.
In the end, for instance, my own CT male scholar decided not to attend Pinecrest this year but instead to return home to Maine in order to complete an advanced writing program and play on the varsity golf team and get ready for another winter of downhill skiing.
Truthfully, being a former CT myself, I was a little disappointed by his highly pragmatic decision to temporarily skip the girls, golf, and great Sandhills weather. It seems to suggest my Crazy Teenage son is finally growing up.
Call me crazy, but I'm really going to miss the kid. For one thing, it means I'll have to go look at Porsches alone.
Jim Dodson can be contacted at email@example.com.
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