This week I hung out with a teenager. She is my friend’s daughter who came across from Glasgow for a few hours. At the edge of her teenage years, but still lingering at the fringes of late girlhood, she is grappling with the changes and challenges of university; changes that demand a very fast emotional growth spurt. At the other end of the growing up spectrum is my niece, here in Edinburgh, who has certainly left childhood but is still at the cusp of tipping into being a teenager. How beguiling youth is; both of them are lovely, and thoughtful, and considerate, and curious; quite the opposite to some of the mixed press that teenagers get these days. They have a lot levelled at them, teenagers: presented as being detached from the generations above them; nicknamed the ‘snowflake generation’ by those fearful they have been overly insulated from hardship; and, apparently, they are more anxious than ever before. None of that bears out from my sample of two!
It’s 25 years since Kurt Cobain of Nirvana penned the now iconic anthem, ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, with its louche lyrics demanding: “Here we are now, entertain us / I feel stupid and contagious”. Cobain makes teens out to be vacuous, thrill-seekers, needing constant attention and distraction – well, that is certainly not the sole domain of teenagers. Would I live those years again? It’s a pointless question, I can’t, but my answer is: probably no. I recall them as being tough years to navigate, or am I just remembering the hard bits? C., now in his fifties, tells me his overwhelming memory of being a teenager was the interminable boredom of growing up in a small town. “You’ve got false memory syndrome”, his mother tells him, “besides, boredom is the kindling for creativity.”
Teenagers speak a language I don’t understand. They literally say literally all the time (they don’t, but I’m trying to use the word after the fashion of a teenager). I’m picking up bits and pieces, but not literally. My latest is the verb: ‘To Neville-Longbottom’ (teenagers make verbs like Mrs. Doyle makes cups of tea). Those Harry Potter aficionados out there might understand this reference, I didn’t. Apparently, ‘to Neville-Longbottom’ describes a young person who, contrary to all indications (i.e. having been a slightly awkward and ungainly child or teenager), grows up to be strikingly handsome. Seemingly this was the trajectory for the child actor who played Neville Longbottom in Harry Potter. Complicated.
Never mind your inner-child, I think we all need to hook up with our inner-teenager from time to time. To sit around day-dreaming, drawing pictures of the full moon, watching YouTube videos, and trying to pin-point the precise moment that Neville Longbottom shed his ugly-ducking skin. And then there is also fancying the boy or girl next door – a practice definitely not restricted to teenagers!
‘Teenage Kicks’, The Undertones
“Are teenage dreams so hard to beat?
Every time she walks down the street
Another girl in the neighbourhood
Wish she was mine, she looks so good.”