Parenting, Thing 1

The Secret Life Of Teens

Intoxicating cuteness to counterbalance an entry that forces me to think back to my junior high years.

Over the years as my oldest gets older (which, you know, is what they tend to do) I’m getting a new glimpse into the minds of teenagers. Both through my eyes while interacting with him myself, but also through his eyes as he interacts with others. And if I have learned anything it’s this: Things Are Different.

I don’t know if it’s because of the gender difference, the generation difference, or the environment difference (His very large public school v/s my very small Catholic school) but his experience is quite different from mine at the same age. Of course, he’s also much cooler than I ever was so I’m betting that a lot of the differences are just a breakdown of how different the lives are in the teen world of The Dorky Girl and The Cool Guy.

Either way, I’ve found myself not knowing what to say about a lot of the stories he comes home with. Often I just follow his lead, because he’ll never talk to me again if I feel the need to turn everything into a lesson. If he thinks something is funny? I laugh. If he thinks something is frustrating? I get frustrated. If he thinks something pisses him off? I get pissed off. And sometimes offer to be the getaway car if someone’s house needs to be rolled.

DUDE. I’M SO JUST KIDDING. I’m waaaaaay too big of a chicken to do that. Seriously. I swear. I was involved in one TP-ing incident when I was a teenager and I was so terrified of getting busted – even MONTHS later – that I’ve vowed to never do anything like that again.

Anyway…so I just try to commiserate with him on many of his stories and only try to turn the conversation into a lesson when I really feel like it’s important, like when evaluating the merit of Top 40 music.

But – there’s something that’s been in my head lately that I’m not sure how to process and I’d love your input. LilZ has come home with stories before of Teenager A telling Teenager B that they are [insert derogatory quality here]. For example…Girl #1 told Girl #2 she was fat…to her face. Or something similar. The kind of things that we’ve all heard people saying about other people behind their backs, but to their face? I never saw that much of the face-to-face attacks in Junior High. Of course, my 8th grade class only had 12 people in it, so maybe that’s part of it.

So…in a perfect world we would all do nothing but compliment each other and insults or snide remarks would never escape our lips. Right? But – which is better – to tell someone what you think about them straight on, or to talk about them behind their back and pretend you’re their friend to their face? I think back to my fragile teenage self and I would have much preferred to be talked about behind my back, even if those same people were nice to my face. I think I was waaaay too fragile for direct confrontation and such a thing would have scarred me for life. But – as an adult? I think I might feel the other way. If it had to be one way or the other with no other options to choose from.

I’m curious…when you were a teenager…which would have been worse? To have someone come up to you in the halls and say something like, “I don’t like you because you dress like a reject.” OR, would you rather have them be kinda nice to your face but say those things behind your back while giggling with their friends? Does this differ from how you view negative interaction as an adult or is it the same?

One last dose of cute.

40 thoughts on “The Secret Life Of Teens”

  1. GEEZE, Zoot – getting all deep on a Wednesday morning! That’s a good question.

    So, I think I’m like you – right now, I’d want someone to say it to my face. Mostly so I could punch them in the teeth and tell them they are really wrong! Or maybe so I could just have the satisfaction of saying, AND MEANING, “I really don’t care what you think about me.” But I was so not this strong when I was in middle school or High school. So, knowing how I was back then, I think the High School me would have preferred to be talked about behind my back. that would be the only way THAT me would have been able to ignore it. If someone saif that to my face at 14 or whatever, OMG, I would have cried, then melted into a puddle of mush and died for having cried infront of anyone!

    Kids today are so harsh, but I think the girls have it the hardest. I’m trying my best to raise my girl to be confident and proud of herself so if someone were to ever do that to her, she’ll have the courage at any age to say what’s taken me almost 30 years to have the courage to say “I don’t care what you think about me” and to mean it, and be happy that she is who she is.

  2. I am really interested in the responses to this post. As a teen and an adult, I think I would rather be told to my face no matter how much it hurt. Now because I have the confidence to pretend I don’t care. And as a teen because it would make knowing who was an actual friend and who was faking alot easier. I made a few mistakes as a teen of trusting people with information that I would have never given them if I knew what they were saying behind my back.
    Anyway, I agree that being a teen is very and navigating the social waters even harder. I hope both of my children have enough self-esteem to be as confident as LilZ seems to be.

  3. I was told something to my face in 7th grade, and it has stuck with me ever since but not necessarily in a bad way. (It was about my hair). To this day I am concious of what she said and it has affeceted what I’ve done with my hair ever since.

    So, my answer is I’d rather hear it to my face so I can at least do something about it if possible.

  4. I am the LEAST confrontational person, so I honestly would never know what to do if someone came up and said something like that to my face, EVEN now, as a 30 y.o. But having people say stuff behind your back… Hearing about it, suspecting it, thinking it was happening even when it wasn’t?? Was probably worse.

    I am so scared for my little guy to become a teenager already. How much worse will things be in another 10 years? Am i just being completely paranoid?

  5. I think as a teen, it’s A LOT harder to hear that to your face. I would have much rather it was said behind my back, and I only caught glimpses of it, than to be full-on dumped on.

  6. My high school was small (we graduated a little over 20). There were only 400 students in the whole school. However, I’ve seen this in my school. Kids taunting the overweight kids with “Fatty, fatty, two-by-four. Can’t fit throught the bathroom door.” I remember some guys making fun of a girl who was a couple of grades below me because she “allegedly” had a mustache (I never saw one). They called her “Bearded Bridget.”
    I was very skinny & short in high school; when I once asked a girl to a dance of some sort, she replied, “You’re too short. It would look funny.”
    Anyway, I’m sure that it still happens among teens now as it did at my school almost 30 years ago.

  7. I’m reading this and thinking that thank goodness the only thing that matters when you’re 7 is who has the coolest Hannah Montana backpack.

    I know my day is coming and I’ll bookmark these posts for that time in another universe

    Until then all I can say today is LA LA LA LA LA LA

  8. With having to deal with both… I much prefered it when people told me things to my face. I prefered being made fun of to my face, as opposed to looking on someones guestbook on their website (back before myspace) to see, “Kim is a man with a penis!” or something similar. That hurt more, because this girl acted like one of my best friends and I confided in her, just to find out that she’s possibly using that kind of information about me behind my back. Far more damaging, in my mind, than being told that you’re a lesbian to your face, simply because you only have a few friends.

  9. Wow. That’s harsh. I had the same experience as you, not LilZ. I had the mean people talking about me behind my back. I don’t think I could have taken having it said to my face. Maybe not now either. What does LilZ think?

  10. I don’t know how I would handle it. I prefer to be in the dark I think.

    I wish there were more kids like yours around though. Kids down here are HORRIBLE. My roomie is a teacher of 6th graders (age ranges she has had a 17 year old in her class) she gets death threats, has been assualted verbally and physically and CAN’T do anything!!!

  11. @secha – The social networks are a whole other issue. I can not even begin to talk about the stress those cause me. I have often said that LilZ’s generation is screwed. They have the new power of these social networking sites and the general access to the internet that adds benefits to their lives, but there’s not real norms established yet. Not enough horror stories in place to teach how NOT to use these things. A lot of lessons still to be learned. It’s scary.

  12. I’m a big girl and had a ‘friend’ tell me I looked like a pink marshmallow when I wore a mostly-pink outfit to school my sophomore year of high school. (It was 1988 if that makes that statement any less horrifying.) Given that it’s been 20 years since that happened and I still haven’t forgotten, I would’ve preferred she keep that observation to herself. If you want to tell me I’m too fat to wear pink pants, at least have the courage to say it nicely and come from a place of love.

  13. @Maxine – In general, that’s exactly how I feel. There are ways to convey thoughts out of love for someone. If you can’t do it that way? Keep it to yourself.

  14. I think either way sucks but I guess I was SO clueless as a young person (I also went to a small Catholic school through grade 8) I would probably have preferred a less direct method like say behind my back because dude confrontation sucks my hinny (even to this day I hate it more then words can describe.)

    I am terrified of the teen years because I think things have changed so much and even at my little Catholic school of yesterday kids are probably this blunt today. Do you think parents have to do with this? I do personally. I mean if we teach our kids it is okay to call people names, etc then they will take our cues and do it to their peers as well. Maybe not. SEE I am clueless!

  15. I think I’d rather be told to my face. That way I can decide for myself with certainty whether the person was full of crap or not. People talked about me behind my back in middle school and I never really knew what they were saying, only that it was bad. I hate not knowing things. At least if they said it to my face, I could address them back (or not).

    Also, I’m so glad you referred to houses as being “rolled.” Every time I say that people look at me like I have two heads or something. Apparently people not from the South say “papered” or “tp’d.”

  16. Honestly, I would much rather – even today – have things said behind my back. And it’s not because I don’t want to know what’s being said about me, it’s simply because, like Tamara, I HATE confrontation or being caught off guard in any way. I despise getting into any sort of confrontation, I hate watching other people in confrontation (even on TV!) – it just makes me feel uncomfortable. I mean, chances are pretty damn high that what is said about me will get back to me and I’d rather hear about it in some non-direct way…email, overhearing, some random 3rd party. I know it’s chicken-ish, but I need to be able to process and deal in my own manner and time and not on someone else’s. Weird thing is, I feel this way about everything – even the good things! I’d much rather hear about or receive a compliment indirectly – I’m a chronic overthinker and just need time to formulate a response/reaction or else I am completely caught off guard and I feel completely out of my element. So, all this to say: apparently I’ve got issues.

  17. I was one of the girls people were nice to my face, but I KNOW they talked about me behind my back and I HATED it. Don’t think I’d have enjoyed the insults in person, but I just couldn’t stand the two faced bullshit. I live with a lot of the same issues in my office now and it still infuriates me. There’s a difference between being cordial and professional when dealing with someone you don’t necessarily like, but don’t be all super sweet with me and then trash me behind my back when in the office setting, it’s sure to get around.

  18. Either one is horrible, I remember when I was in Junior High, I received a letter in the mail (during the summer) and it was a list of everything that was “wrong” with me, all my faults listed out in writing for me to read, and it was a long list. As it turns out, the “friends” that I called crying to……they were the ones who completed the list. It was horrible to go through, but I don’t think I would have liked the friends to tell me to my face what they were thinking…..I figured out….they weren’t my friends after all!

  19. I have a 14 year old son and some of the kids today are just horrible to each other. They say awful things to your face and are some of the most judgemental people you will ever meet. I do not know what is going on but my son knows if I ever hear him being unkind like that to anyone for any reason, heads will roll. My son has alot of friends and girlfriends but is not a jock but an artsy kind of guy who likes to draw and write. He dresses very normal (Levi’s and a tshirt, converse) but is made fun of because he does not wear Abercrombie or Hollister. They call him emo and they are hurtful and cruel and it is a scary place, junior high.

    My point is that even though he knows exactly who his real friends are, those comments to your face (why don’t you go kill yourself and put us out of our misery and comments like that) are so hurtful I wish they would just talk behind his back but he prefers to know where he stands. He is a great kid with a great deal of self confidence and maturity beyond his years and he deals with it alot better than his mom!

  20. Frankly, I’m wondering why these are the only two options being discussed. Is it that inevitable that teens will be snide, nasty, rude little harbingers of pettiness?

    Don’t misunderstand: I look back on my own teen years and shudder from the clarity of hindsight. It’s all such a rat race–a precursor to what’s to come, really, in adulthood. Everyone struggling to climb a little higher on the social ladder, doing whatever’s necessary to befriend those they aspire to be like (even if they secretly despise them) as well as find someone–anyone–they can safely label as “lesser.” Yes, I’m still talking about high school. But what do we expect when we live the example?

  21. Steffany –

    I didn’t mean to indicate those are the only options at all. As a matter of fact, I’ve proudly seen teens not choose either! There are a lot of “good” kids out there still, I hate to make them all sound evil! hehe.

    But I do try to show by example myself to my kids because I’ve been on the other side and can attest to how bad it hurts. I’m no where near perfect, that’s for sure! But I do try.

  22. One of the biggest lessons I ever learned was when I was in high school. I was sitting with a group of girls when “girl B” walked by. After she was gone, “girl A” then said “Girl B is such a slut.” To this day, I don’t know why I said this, but I said “Girl B is my friend, and I’d appreciate it if you didn’t talk about her that way.” I totally thought I was going to get my ass kicked. And it’s not like I was a goody-two-shoes, ’cause I let stuff like that slide multiple times every day. But that time was different. Later on, girl B came up to me and said something like “I heard what you said about me. No one’s stood up for me like that before.” And that was a really nice feeling. And a reminder that people are paying attention.
    If this is bothering LilZ, maybe he could tell Girl A that he doesn’t appreciate her comments.

  23. Elizabeth –

    Actually, this time I’m not even referring to anything happening to LilZ specifically. Just things he’s witnessed in the past. And really – he has stuck up for people more times than I ever did in Junior High. Where it sounds like you were MUCH braver than I would have ever been (as is he) but I couldn’t have ever stood up for someone. I just wasn’t that strong. Now – as an adult? I’ve actually done that before. And yeah – it felt REALLY good and I even bragged about it to LilZ! Who was all – whatever – I do that all the time. hehe.

  24. As a teen I much preferred the behind the back snide comments. Mostly because I would have been mortified if someone came up to me in the hallway and said something nasty.

    Nowadays I’d much prefer people tell me something to my face. I get a similar gut wrenching reaction to both, but when I hear about something being said behind my back, the gut wrenching is far worse. And usually vomit inducing. And I doubt I would have been ever able to convince my teenage self that I would have a change of heart in this matter, I was far to shy.

  25. I would rather they say it behind my back, then as well as now. People can be cruel, and if they are going to be cruel, I would rather not know.

  26. “As a teen and an adult, I think I would rather be told to my face no matter how much it hurt. Now because I have the confidence to pretend I don’t care. And as a teen because it would make knowing who was an actual friend and who was faking alot easier.”

    ITA with this comment. One of my pet peeves — then and now — is two-faced backstabbers. If you’re going to be a bitch, at least own up to it.

  27. I was made fun of in high school for stuff I would wear. It always happened when I thought I was wearing something “trendy”, too. I just couldn’t ever pull it off. The popular girls would snicker at me, and say things behind my back, and I always wished they’d say it to my face because I felt strong enough to talk back.

    BUT, on the other hand, there are kids/people that aren’t strong enough to hear the truth. There was a guy in high school that used to get made fun of all the time, and I always tried to be nice to him. One day, he came and sat at our table at lunch (mind you, ours was the not cool table, but not the loser table, either, just kinda middle ground). I told him he could sit next to me, and then all of these people that were more acquaintances than people I hung out with outside of school, started messing with his food and making fun of him, TO HIS FACE and calling him all sorts of names and throwing his food on the floor.

    Eventually, he got up and left and while walking away, he gave me the saddest look I have ever seen and I felt horrible.

    A few months later, he gave me a suicide note and I brought it to our principle and together we confronted the guy. I don’t know if he would have done anything, but I like to think that the little bit of kindness I showed him gave him the courage to give me the note, knowing that I would actually care.

    Basically, the loooooooooooooong drawn out point is, I don’t think that everyone can take the IN YOUR FACE stuff. I think that I probably could have, and now I KNOW that I can, but this guy couldn’t, and I have always wished I would have stood up for him a little bit more.

  28. I don’t have anything useful to offer. I’m more comfortable with the negative commentary than I am when someone is being nice. My mother was (and still is) a negative-in-your face person, so I can’t recall anyone else saying anything that devastated me. Niceness/compliments still make me uncomfortable.

  29. don’t have time for anything cuz i’m almost too busy to breathe but…. it’s NEVER ok to say those kind of things to someone’s face and i want to punish my children for thinking those kinds of things!! wrong behavior should be called out but hurtful and derogatory comments – NEVER!! i’m guilty of it myself, and should be called out when i do it! but i want to teach my children it’s not ok when i do it and not ok when they do it! and, you know if my child is in on this i want to know! this is one thing that i have zero tolerance for

  30. Hrm. There are a few instances of backstabbing/direct confrontation from my Jr. High days that stick out in my mind: The backstabbing was from “friends” who created a Hate Club in my honor WITH membership cards. When I discovered my best friend’s card, I was crushed. I think I’ve blocked out how I recovered from that one.
    Then, we had a bit of a racial problem (I guess?) and there was one or two girls who would harrass me regularly when I walked by, “Hey, WHITE girl!” in a derogatory way, and my hair was pulled a bunch of times.
    Honestly, I prefered the face-to-face animosity. At least it gave other people the option to react, and I could’ve fought back if I’d wanted to. The hate club stuff was much worse on my ego.

    But it all sounds like LilZ has his feet on the ground and tries to remind people that we all strive to have manners in this world and that none of it is ok.

  31. I am really, really glad i’m not in high school anymore! I got a lot of crap behind my back and to my face – including a lovely, “Everyone hates why. Why don’t you just go home and kill yourself?” (I really wonder if he remembers saying that and how he would feel if someone said it to the daughter he has now!) Ugh. Anyway.
    I’m quite the firm believer in the, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” (Hooray for Thumper!) If there are hard things to be said, and you love that person, then yes, say it, but say it in love. Otherwise? Shut yer yap, it’s none of your business.

  32. Everything hurt me as a sensitive teen…whether it was to my face or not. I have raised my kids not to say stuff about people to their faces OR behind their backs. As far as I know, they don’t. I guess I’d just be sure LilZ knows that’s not cool – and I’m assuming he does know that – and wouldn’t ever participate in something hurtful towards another person. You’ve done a great job raising him, so you know you don’t have anything to worry about with him personally. But maybe you can encourage him to be a good example to others, who do say derogatory things, if he gets the opportunity. Kids listen to one another.

  33. Oh, and this sounds so bad, but when I hear adults talking badly about one another….I just ignore it. And you may want to delete my first comment…I went off on my own little tangent there and completely deviated from your questions. I don’t know what’s gotten into me.

  34. Both suck. I was picked on (well, worse than that, turned on by pretty much ALL my friends) from when I was 16 to 17 and it’s made me so shy I can still barely come out of my shell around people. It was mostly behind the back stuff, but sometimes to my face as well. I don’t think either are much good.

  35. I went to a big comphrehensive school as in non fee paying. A lot of picking on people (bullying) went on to varying degrees. It was hard for the first 3 years as people you didn’t even know would be abusive and/or rude to your face in the hall ( I was a dorky kid too until I became a goth and known for being good at art). Hard to deal with when your a polite kid. Sometimes I would cat call back but you never know when that could cause you some real problems if the kid was aggressive. Mostly I dealt with it and its probably helped teach me to stand up for myself. I still don’t think I say as much as I could, which maybe is a good thing because I think I could have a sharp tounge if I hadn’t been trained from young to consider peoples feelngs. I try not to bitch about people behind their back but their probably have been times I’ve let off steam. I can regret it afterwards and kick myself and try and see a situation in perspective. I worry for kids today who have situations videoed and put on the web at least we didn’t have to contend with cyber bullying.

  36. I knew everyone didn’t like me in school. I dressed different, I was overweight, I had a different taste in music of ANYONE at all, I wore glasses. I was miserable all the time at school. By the time I left, I had no friends and couldn’t wait to get out of there.

    I think if my classmates had come up to me and told me the things they thought of me, I probably would have ended it. As depressing as that sounds, I was depressed anyway and I’m glad they kept it to themselves.

  37. Unless it was something fixable (like, “you have pen on your face,” or “there’s a big chunk of broccoli in your teeth”), I’d much prefer to be talked about behind my back, I think. I guess there’s an argument that it’s better to have things said to your face so that you know what people are saying… but I know my self-esteem just couldn’t handle it.

    When I was in my most awkward teen stage and only wore stretch pants every single day, a kid who I wasn’t friends with at all came up and told me quietly that the seam had split in the back. I was mortified, and immediately took off my sweater and tied it around my waist for the rest of the day. This was probably in sixth grade, and I still remember it — he could have so easily pointed it out to the rest of the class.

  38. I live both on an almost daily basis. I have “the mean sister” of which I call her this behind her back, (I did tell her this to her face once a few weeks ago and she went all mushy and apologetic for a moment, heh). She has always been mean to my face. Mean mean mean. Never a nice word, I am almost 40 and I am still waiting, being called a criple from her mouth makes me sound like some disease. Your ass looks fat in those jeans, Um thanks? really! Ugh. Then I have “the Nice sister” whom I tell she is a doll all the time. She will tell you also to your face that what she thinks your doing is crap but she does it in such a way you want to lap her up like a bowl of milk. I prefer nice sister any day. And I am of the type, bad or good sister (these two were teens at one time and are the same now as then.) I will say, Please tell me to my face no matter what you have to say, after mean sister though I do have a rather tough shell that hides the tears inside so she doesn’t know she is hurting me as really seems to be her objective. Some people just suck. :o(

    Addendum: Neither sister is biological, mean sister has very mean bio Mom and Nice sister has very nice bio Mom.

Leave a Reply