My daughter, who just turned 15, has recently entered, exited, and is still mildly obsessed with her “first love.” But I’m pretty sure she’d sooner pierce her own septum than openly share any of the details about it with me. And what makes this newfound abandonment by my previously adoring and forthcoming child that much more difficult to bear is that when I am graced by her presence, we struggle to understand each other. Literally.
Along with her 13-year-old brother, as their hormones started budding, so too did a strange vernacular. The words sound like English, but the meanings are strange and the more I try to understand them, the wider the chasm of our connection seems to grow.
They’re teens. I get it. I don’t expect them to care about much else besides themselves or their SOs (“significant others”). I also understand that their relationships often fade as quickly as their 10 second Snapchat “stories,” yet I wonder why it has become so increasingly difficult for us to connect. How hard should I push them on what I consider essential human skills, like maintaining eye contact and honoring human interaction as a means of sharing with each other, much less me?!
At least I used to sit and talk to my mother when I was struggling with a relationship. Now language is expressed through Tweets, Snapchats, posts, likes, and shares. Memes and Vines reduce entire worlds of complex relationship issues into pithy snippets, and status changes are encapsulated by animated emoticons.
And that’s just the beginning. It seems in my kids’ minds, somehow if you have nothing to share “socially,” you must not have a real relationship. And if you don’t have a real relationship—if you’re not “connected” to somebody—then you aren’t anybody.
For example, if you’re involved with someone and have enough comments on social media, you’re “FB approved,” or deemed “shipped” by friends, and will prominently place a heart emoticon next to his or her Snapchat and Instagram logos. This is meant to represent that you’re in a serious relationship. REALLY?!
For those who struggle, as I did, to translate teen vernacular, here are some more loose translations:
“Bae” is best friend, or more… It is not gender specific, but indicates that you have someone close to you.
When one such “bae” is significant enough, whatever they say and do somehow gets you “in the feels,” which means they have significant emotional impact on your every waking thought and action.
And when you’re really in love, you are said to be an “OTP”—one true pairing.
When it comes right down to it, however, all of this focus on being shipped, wrecked, in the feels, or FB approved means that without the recognition of someone else—including your peers and the world of social media—you are without value as an individual.
And that has me deeply troubled.
Where did I go wrong? All I ever wanted as a mother was for my children to feel comfortable in their own skin and content in their lives without needing another to validate their experiences—much less truncating the most powerful expression of our human experience, love, into blips, moving gifs, and six second Vines.
It’s an odd juxtaposition our teens are facing. On the one hand, the way they communicate is simplistic, childlike, and almost innocent in exchange. Yet at the same time these teens are texting X-rated animated gifs meant to be casually humorous, rather than shocking. This is the culture of what is informing our kids about sexuality and laying the foundation for their relationships.
My kids feel they are infinitely wiser and more capable of handling their physiology and physicality than I was when I was their age. Oh, how they are wrong. Yet far be it from me to convince them of that.
I know that some of these teens’ innocent arrogance is appropriate. We all went through it. And I know there isn’t that much I can do to limit exposure or access to the language, culture, or fast-paced nature of the world they live in. But I can do what my mother did with me. I can invite them to sit down (at least once in a while), look them in their eyes, and remind them that the best parts of life and love are experiences that are slowly developed, shared through human interaction, and built on love, trust, acceptance, and humor.
I recognize that part of growing up is growing through struggle. I pray my children won’t know too many heartbreaks and that the most important form of love is nothing they will experience through a smart phone, but rather through a wise heart full of self-love. I hope they hear my words,and, in whatever way possible, can understand them.