The biggest secret parents keep? The life-changing brilliance of teenagers

This article is more than 1 month old
Emma Beddington

They are always talked of in terms of bad attitudes and wet towels. But the truth is, while their lives are painfully hard right now, they remain creative, compassionate and funny

‘Teens are great, but, for all the ebullience, emojis and TikTok routines, they are fragile.’ (Posed by model)
‘Teens are great, but, for all the ebullience, emojis and TikTok routines, they are fragile.’ (Posed by model) Photograph: Hello Africa/Getty Images
‘Teens are great, but, for all the ebullience, emojis and TikTok routines, they are fragile.’ (Posed by model) Photograph: Hello Africa/Getty Images

Last modified on Tue 26 Jan 2021 09.33 EST

A friend has fallen in love with Depop, the Gen Z fashion eBay, and its teen sellers. I downloaded the app on her recommendation, but I am bamboozled by the listings: a “perf lil crop top” appears to be a shirt collar and sleeves without any other shirt parts; a corset is “for dat peek-a-boo bad b lewwkkk … wear her alone and sessi or over your fav big T”. I feel 1,000 years old.

“I message them questions because the listings are lacking useful info, such as what size it is, and they answer almost entirely in emojis and put kisses after everything, and I love them,” says my friend.

The fashion is emphatically not for me, but I understand. She has stumbled on something that is, mysteriously, a closely guarded secret: how great teenagers are. There is a sort of omertà among parents of teens to talk only about the attitude and wet towels. Why? Do we want to keep them to ourselves?

Because nothing is as life-affirming as a half-hour audience with teenagers. I am not just saying it because I have two: I used to have toddlers, and you would never have heard me say they were basically misunderstood and a delight to be around.

Teenagers – not mine specifically – are creative, compassionate and careful of others; they are stoic about their constrained lives. Mine make me laugh and think constantly: this week alone about my attitude to other people’s success (wrong), my upper body strength (abysmal) and Japanese abstract expressionism (unexpected).

When we do talk positively about teens, it is in a breezy, how-marvellous-is-Greta-Thunberg way. This “young people will save us” discourse is well meant, but I hate it: it is a shrug of helplessness. Their mental health is in freefall, their present bleak and their future grimly unknowable. Teens are great, but, for all the ebullience, emojis and TikTok routines, they are fragile. It is still up to us to try to make things OK for them: we are the grownups, after all.

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