Thursday, October 10, 2013

What is teen?

I spoke to a young friend the other day.  And when I say young, I mean age 16, slap bang in the middle of her teenage years.  And when I say friend, I don't mean "student", "niece", "friend's daughter" or "some other name label for the teenagers I know".  I actually mean friend.

So what's with the distinction, I hear you ask?

Simple.  I'm thirty two, too old to be a teenager by a very long shot.  However, that doesn't mean I can't relate to those of younger years.  In fact, it's a vital part of being a YA writer that I DON'T treat teenagers as if I am their authority figure, or they are my inferior.  Yes, I'm old-fashioned and do believe that people should respect their elders.  I respect mine.  However, I'm also modern enough to realize that understanding that teenagers are just as mentally capable as adults are is vital.  The difference between adults and teenagers is widely based on LIFE EXPERIENCE.  Adults have it, teenagers need it.  What doesn't change is emotions, mental processing and personality type.

Sure, all these things can be adjusted as you grow.  You learn not to be the school bully, you get more confidence, maybe you get less confident.  Life shapes and moulds us.  However, if you really want to learn what it is that makes teenagers different from adults, you need to go straight to the source.  And you need to listen.

While some people might think listening to the topics teenagers talk about is boring (my I-pad broke and it's a disaster, I don't have the right shoes for school, Davie asked me out, I got a freaking facebook account at last,  my parents are always on my ass), the savvy YA writer LISTENS.  And observes.  And then talks.  Finds out WHY these things are important.  Here's a little highlight into what I learned:

1)  My I-Pad broke and it's a disaster = I'm cut off from my peers.  A part of my independence is restricted.

2)  I don't have the right shoes for school = I don't fit in.  No one will like me.  I'm not as normal as everyone else.  I'll stand out and look bad.

3)  Davie asked me out = I feel accepted.  I feel beautiful and popular.  I feel I've achieved something.

4)  I got a freaking facebook account at last = I'm no longer an outcast.  I have some extra freedom.

5)  My parents are always on my ass = I need room to be me.  I feel stifled.  I need space.

So, while the topic they choose to express themselves isn't one you relish talking about, why not listen to the EMOTION behind it.  I'm sure you've felt cut off from your peers, that no one will like you, that you feel accepted or beautiful, you have freedom or a lack of it.  As adults, we just have them on a different level (I lost my work contacts, I can't afford that party dress, my landlord is on my ass, etc).

For me, when someone asks me "what is teen"?  I say:  "It's me...without the life experience."

Because in essence, we are who we are.  I'm still going to be me at 104.


  1. What a great post! I love your teen translation here. Great things for us to remember every day we write.

  2. And here I am at 16 with a Nokia :) *checks translations* oh, I'm cut off from my peers. Great!

  3. Thanks for the compliment, Lori! :-)

    Loonyteen - ha! Now I don't feel bad for having a nokia! :-)