Thursday, November 15, 2012

There must be some misunderstanding.

I know that parents and teenagers are not supposed to get along. It's a rule or something. But I have been doing fairly well with my elder teen. She is a couple of years into the teen age and still acknowledges me in public. I see this as a victory.

Truth is, she has little choice. I teach in her school and if she didn't accept my presence and even talk to me, how would she be able to soak me for money during the course of the school day? Also, I teach many of her friends and they don't say universally negative things about me so she has to deal with the fact that, though I'm her father, other teenagers think I'm not all bad.

I am interested, though, in the psychology of the parent-child divide. I have spotted a whole mess of reasons why adults and kids argue, some general and some specific to the dynamic in my house. I won't bore you with the details. I'll bore you with the generalities. Or not. I'll stick with the details. Feel free to be bored.

This morning, I was sitting in the car with my elder-spawn. I drive her to school every day. This way she doesn't have to catch the bus and I can be sure she gets to school on time. Win/win except for the part where I have to wake her up every morning and get her to be ready for the car ride. So this morning we were leaving extra early as she and her class are departing for a grade trip to Canada, our suburb to the north. The Great White Away, Land of Maple Flags and secessionist thinking. You know the place. I think there was a National Geographic special about it.

While waiting in the car, the youth spoke to me (huzzah). She said (and I quote), "I feel that Verizon texts are free in Canada." I paused and considered her statement. I know nothing of charges in Canada or of Verizon's pricing structure there. I barely know about them in America and I live near America so you'd think I know. I kept thinking about it while staring off into the distance in the car. I realized, though, that one should not completely ignore comments made by children as the day will come, too soon, that said child will refuse to talk to me all together. So I gave a phatic response of "mmmhmmm" to show her that I was listening. I imbued it with no emotion and said it in the noncommittal way you'd answer someone who says, for no reason at all, "I think that tulips are the tastiest flower."

Silence followed. A nice awkward, heavy silence. Then my daughter's friend, who was also in the car (as I was driving her to school for the trip as well) said "How do you know texts are free in Canada?" Child-A responded "My dad said so."


I pounced. "I said NO SUCH THING." I spoke now EMphatically. I did not yell, but I was speaking in all caps. "Yes, you just did" she insisted. Now, I know I was there in the car. And I know that not 30 seconds had elapsed, and I haven't had a drink in days, if not days. I stuck to my guns. "No, I never, ever, said that. I have no idea about Canadian texts -- why would I say that?"

She wheeled around to her friend, "Didn't he just say mm, hmm when I mentioned it?" Her friend agreed that I had said "mmm hmmm."

I said "I said that the way you would say 'mmmhmmm' if I were simply to say something crazy like 'I feel that the moon is made of green cheese,' or 'Clean your room' and you didn't want me to claim I am being ignored."

She came back with "You said texts were free." Very witty that child.

"No," I explained, "YOU said it. Did you ever hear me say those words?"

She admitted that she hadn't heard me say those words but ended with "But you told me that they were." We were getting nowhere, and not even all that quickly.

I tried to explain that I would have understood had she said "When I made my comment you didn't disagree and made a sound which I thought was agreement." I tried to explain that all she could attribute to me was (at best) corroboration, but to claim that "I said" it to her was incorrect. I tried to explain that this is why, in 100 other cases, she insists that "I said" something when I know I didn't, and I'm not a lying lunatic. I really didn't say them but she is projecting her having said it and not (caring to hear or) hearing a clear objection, imputing the actual saying to me. She interrupted me with a classic teenage response.

"Fine! Whatever!" That's kid-speak for "shut up jerkwad, if I wanted to hear you have an opinion I wouldn't have become a teenager."

Then the kicker. She tried to sum the entire experience up with "We just had a misunderstanding."

This is not a misunderstanding. A misunderstanding is when two people who generally share a common dialect find that one semantic tool within that dialect actually has divergent meanings and they do not encode/decode using identical schema. We would have had a misunderstanding had she attributed to me the validating "mm hmm" when I was using the phatic "mmmhmmm." What actually happened was that the teen aged brain created a reality -- she called an entire universe into existence in the car. She revised history to fit with her new universe, and then dragged me into it as the guilty party.

So if you want to know why parents and their teen-aged kids argue, don't ascribe it to some generalized age gap, or cultural differences or anything as mundane as that. The cause is simply that teen agers are insane and adults are not.

I'm glad I cleared that up for you.

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