Thinking about learning a new language? Here's lesson one: translate "fine, whatever."
Parents and grandparents of adolescents trying to decode and interpret teen speak can sometimes feel they have been transported to a 21st century Tower of Babel. And the language barrier isn't the only obstacle. The nonverbal shrugs, sighs and eye rolls can often lead to fighting words.
Grandparents, especially, can find themselves frustrated by the new lingo, says Barbara Greenberg, a clinical psychologist specializing in counseling teens and their parents. "They have to have some understanding that when a kid says, 'That's really sick,' it means, 'That's really cool.' "
Greenberg has co-written a handbook aimed at bridging the generational language gap. ''Teenage as a Second Language: A Parent's Guide to Becoming Bilingual" (Adams Media, $15) offers advice for parents and grandparents to better understand their teens. Her website, talkingteenage.com, also has numerous tips.
Because most grandparents don't see their grandkids daily, it is important to make the get-togethers rewarding. To avoid monosyllabic responses, grandparents should have patience and a strategy. "They need to persist," Greenberg says. "Just because a child gives a one-word answer doesn't mean that they don't want to talk."
When talking to teens, avoid direct questions about their relationships and daily activities. For example, asking teens about their boyfriend or girlfriend is almost certainly going to lead to a monosyllabic dead end. Instead, talk about places where the two may have gone on a date, such as a movie they saw together. "If you ask indirect questions, they will start talking because they don't feel pressured to give information," Greenberg says.
Teens are seeking support and empathy, Greenberg says. This is sometimes more easily provided by grandparents, who are a physical distance away and two generations removed from the daily battles of "clean up your room" or "I don't like your friend with all the piercings."
Grandparents should understand that while teens may seem dismissive, many want to talk. Being nonjudgmental and sympathetic may get the conversation rolling, especially when teens know their grandparents won't overact the way Mom and Dad sometimes do. "Grandparents tend to have a calmer style, and kids are more likely to talk to people who remain calm," Greenberg says. "It gives them an opportunity to get a little break from the conflict at home."