how to cook a teenager


I adore teenagers. Best people on the planet, IMHO. If given even a 16th of a chance to be so, most are earnest and straightforward. I’ve worked with many a teenager: counseling, teaching creative writing or volunteering at teen shelters.

The goal of all child-rearing should be to raise a decent, thinking, heart-driven person who considers others but not at the expense of Self. Here’s some tips:

  1. Listen more; talk less.
  2. It’s not about you. Focus on what your kid requires, not on how you look as a parent. See #17
  3. Ask yourself what your kid needs instead of how to “fix” their behavior.
  4. Communicate honestly even if sometimes you say: “I’m uncomfortable answering right now.” Teenagers have precise bullshit meters. You’ll put nothing over on them even if they’re too polite to tell you so. Yes, I said polite.
  5. Please be kind. People speak to their kids as if they’re deadwood.
  6. Be compassionate. Please don’t talk about them in front of them; they have ears.
  7. Tell stories to tell stories–not as “morals” or “lessons.” Trust they’ll get it; it’s just fun to hear a story.
  8. Stop being so serious all the time; they’re not things to teach but people to interact with. Have fun with them.
  9. Don’t tease them. It’s scary and difficult enough not knowing how all the parts of you are going to fit in this f-ed up adult culture (I’m still trying to figure it out) without someone being condescending or acting as if what is felt or thought is a joke.
  10. Don’t bite on the bullshit. Ask, don’t argue.
  11. Be willing to repeat and repeat and repeat. Maintain neutral tone over and over and over.
  12. Be vulnerable. These are people. (I can’t say this enough). Tell them about your life–your floundering, your triumphs, your feelings—just to share. See #7
  13. Model behavior you’d like from them. They’re still kids and even though they’re attempting to define themselves into the larger community instead of just family, teenagers still take cues from you. You want respect? Give respect. You want humor? Be humorous. You want them to work hard without whining? Then…..
  14. Embody integrity. If you say you’ll do something Follow Through. Excuses? You hate it when they do it, so don’t. See #13
  15. Often when teenagers make “know-it-all” statements, they’re actually asking questions by “trying on” ideas. Let them. Instead of discounting or dismissing, ask why they feel that way (without a tone!) and then…Listen To The Answer. Have a conversation. Let them practice expressing those feelings, beliefs. You don’t have to agree but you don’t have to trash or ridicule them either.
  16. A teenager’s job is to discover and to risk, not to modify their behavior so you’re not alarmed. Deal with your fear. You can tell them how what they’re doing or not doing makes you feel. See #12
  17. Trust your kid regardless of some acting out behavior; you have no other intelligent choice. It takes tremendous courage when the rest of the panicky parents are watching and ready to blame you and your kid as “bad influences.”
  18. Tame your child, don’t break them. Do this by honor & respect, not control & fear.
  19. Listen more; talk less.

deaf dismissal and the female voice


Some years ago, when I lived in San Francisco, I knew a woman who interpreted for the deaf. She worked in everything from concerts to court dates, funerals to drug rehab. All interpreters—she told me—wear colors that contrast with their skin color and with no patterns, as the goal is to be “invisible” and just be the “voice” of the deaf person speaking. Sometimes she said she feels lost because she’s never her own voice or hands.

One difficulty she’d encounter was to make sure she got the “tone” right. A playful fuck you is way different from a FUCK YOU!; her hands and facial expression would have to accurately display this. Another hurdle was an intriguing gender issue: speaking aloud for a deaf man to hearing men.

When working with prison guys in therapy groups she knew she had to “talk like a man” in order for her male clients to be heard the way they intended. It was no longer just getting the tone right; it was that her voice being a higher pitched woman’s voice meant—and maybe because she was a petite woman—that a deaf man could potentially not be respected as much; he might not come across as manly as he “should” and thereby not be taken as seriously, or as macho, or as threatening…

This makes me wonder about a reverse scenario of, say, a deaf shriveled ancient lady paired with a male interpreter—maybe even a 6’6″ buff one with full sleeves of skulls and snakes—if she would garner extra respect than if her interpreter were a small Asian man or a girlish woman. Just wondering.