Can parents learn teen-talk?

For many parents decoding their
children’s teen-talk can be tricky and embarrassing. Hilary Frankel and Lara
Fox, both 17, are the authors of “Breaking the Code” (New American Library), a
new book that seeks to bridge the generational divide between parents and
adolescents. It is being promoted by its publisher as the first self-help guide
by teenagers for their parents, a kind of “Kids Are From Mars, Parents Are From
Venus” that demystifies the language and actions of teenagers.

They authors began writing more
than a year ago after hearing a talk at their school by a psychologist who
aimed to help parents make better sense of their children. The girls thought
they could do even better. Encouraged by a teacher who put them in touch with a
literary agent, they offered themselves as scouts showing the way across the
forbidding terrain of the adolescent mind.

Their intention, they tell parents
in their introduction, is to provide a “guide to what teens really hear when
you speak, and how you can make them hear what you are actually trying to
say.” 

Writing on consecutive Saturdays
from November to June between homework assignments and preparation for their
SAT’s, the girls tackled issues including curfews, money, school pressures,
smoking and sibling rivalry.

Neal Marshad, a Web and toy
designer and television producer in New York, and the father of a 15-year-old
boy, said a book like the one the girls wrote might be useful, to a point. “The
writers have not yet raised a child,” he said. “It’s an experience as different
as going out for a walk is from scuba diving, and it changes the way you interpret
things.”

The most common missteps in
interacting with teenagers, they said, stem from the turf war between parents
asserting their right to know what goes on under their roof and teenagers
zealously guarding their privacy. When a child is younger, they write, every
decision revolves around the parents. But now, as Ms Fox told me, “often your
teenager is in this bubble that doesn’t include you.”

The book is laid out as a series of
parent-child dialogues, charged with emotion and followed by alternative scenes
meant to prevent family battles and resentments.

Ms Fox and Ms Frankel acknowledge
that they and their peers can be quick to interpret their parents’ remarks as
dismissive or condescending and respond with a hostility that masks their
vulnerability. “What we want above all is your approval,” they wrote. “Don’t
forget, no matter how much we act as if we don’t care what you say, we believe
the things you say about us.”

Nancy Samalin, a New York
child-rearing expert and the author of “Loving Without Spoiling” (McGraw-Hill,
2003), said she didn’t agree with everything the authors suggested but found
their arguments reasonable. “When your kids are saying, ‘You don’t get it, and
you never will,’ there are lots of ways to respond so that they will listen,”
she said, “and that’s what the writers point out.”

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