A FAILURE TO COMMUNICATE, by Dave Barry


Now that my son has turned 13, I'm thinking about writing a self-help book for parents of teenagers. It would be a sensitive, insightful book that would explain the complex, emotionally charged relationship between the parent and the adolescent child. The title would be: I'm a Jerk; You're a Jerk.

The underlying philosophy of this book would be that, contrary to what you hear from "experts," it's a bad idea for parents and teenagers to attempt to communicate with each other, because there's always the risk that one of you will actually find out what the other one is thinking.

For example, my son thinks it's a fine idea to stay up until 3 a.m. on school nights reading what are called "suspense novels," defined as "novels wherein the most positive thing that can happen to a character is that the Evil Ones will kill him before they eat his brain." My son sees no connection between the fact that he stays up reading these books and the fact that he doesn't feel like going to school the next day.

"Rob," I tell him, as he is eating his breakfast in extreme slow motion with his eyes completely closed, so that he sometimes accidentally puts food into his ear, "I want you to go to sleep earlier."

"DAD," he says, using the tone of voice you might use when attempting to explain an abstract intellectual concept to an oyster, "you DON'T UNDERSTAND. I am NOT tired. I am ... SPLOOSH" (sound of my son passing out facedown in his Cracklin' Oat Bran).

Of course psychologists would tell us that falling asleep in cereal is normal for young teenagers, who need to become independent of their parents and make their own life decisions, which is fine, except that if my son made his own life decisions, his ideal daily schedule would be:

Unfortunately, this schedule would leave little room for, say, school, so we have to supply parental guidance ("If you don't open this door RIGHT NOW I will BREAK IT DOWN and CHARGE IT TO YOUR ALLOWANCE"), the result being that our relationship with our son currently involves a certain amount of conflict, in the same sense that the Pacific Ocean involves a certain amount of water.

At least he doesn't wear giant pants. I keep seeing young teenage males wearing enormous pants; pants that two or three teenagers could occupy simultaneously and still have room in there for a picnic basket; pants that a clown would refuse to wear on the grounds that they were too undignified. The young men wear these pants really low, so that the waist is about knee level and the pants butt drags on the ground. You could not be an effective criminal wearing pants like these, because you'd be unable to flee on foot with any velocity.

POLICE OFFICER: We tracked the alleged perpetrator from the crime scene by following the trail of his dragging pants butt.

PROSECUTOR: And what was he doing when you caught up with him?

POLICE OFFICER: He was hobbling in a suspicious manner.

What I want to know is, how do young people buy these pants? Do they try them on to make sure they DON'T fit? Do they take along a 570-pound friend, or a mature polar bear, and buy pants that fit HIM?

I asked my son about these pants, and he told me that mainly "bassers" wear them. "Bassers" are people who like a lot of bass in their music. They drive around in cars with four-trillion-watt sound playing recordings of what sounds like aboveground nuclear tests, but with less of an emphasis on melody.

My son also tells me that there are people called "posers" who DRESS like "bassers," but are, in fact, secretly "preppies." He said that some "posers" also pose as "headbangers," who are people who like heavy-metal music, which is performed by skinny men with huge hair who stomp around the stage, striking their instruments and shrieking angrily, apparently because somebody has stolen all their shirts.

"Like," my son said, contemptuously, "some posers will act like they like Metallica, but they don't know anything about Metallica."

If you can imagine.

I realize I've mainly been giving my side of the parent-teenager relationship, and I promise to give my son's side, if he ever comes out of his room. Remember how the news media made a big deal about when those people came out after spending two years inside Biosphere 2? Well, two years is nothing. Veteran parents assure me that teenagers routinely spend that long in the bathroom. In fact, veteran parents assure me that I haven't seen anything yet.

"Wait till he gets his driver's license," they say. "That's when Fred and I turned to heroin."

Yes, the next few years are going to be exciting and challenging. But I'm sure that, with love and trust and understanding, my family will get through them OK. At least I will, because I plan to be inside Biosphere 3.


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