Let me start off by saying I don’t think teenagers are some sort of different animal that we are seeking to tame, influence, and patronize. There are many ways in which I am not Time Magazine, and aside from the paycheque, it is also that I don’t treat people who are a different age from me as some sort of alien subculture who speak only Snapchat. I love spending time with friends and my friends span a very diverse age range. Still, I’m not going to pretend it’s always easy to do things with Sophie, Luke’s younger cousin, who I think is completely badass and awesome, and it’s not her fault.
Living in a small city where the all ages music scene is existent but not necessarily flourishing, it can be hard to break the mold of showing Sophie the John Hughes movies that I worry she won’t see without our influence. It’s also frequently looked over that everyone matures different at every age. As someone who frequently observes horrible the horrible treatment of staff at restaurants or even cashiers at the grocery store, I know it’s not like the teenage years are the only time there’s a discrepancy in maturity. Still, knowing the lines of when Twin Peaks is creepy cool vs. just plain creepy can be difficult to determine with someone you only have honorary “kinda cool kinda aunt” status with.
Truthfully, this is a list of things you can do with any teenager, or almost any one, but in an age where feminism is having as many waves as an ocean there’s a lot of focus on how we talk to girls. In my desperation to have a crazy cool weekend with Soph, I took to Google, and I found the offerings somewhat lacking, rather stale, and usually surrounding the vaguely religious notion of keeping them ‘pure.’ Yech.
Things to do with teenage girls:
- Introduce them to ‘important’ people. It must be a bylaw that every elected official has to tell every kid that they can be in their position some day. Although it gets a bit cheesy after a while, there remains power in this saying. You need to get it in the brains, even if they’re wearing a Pikachu costume. It worked in Back to the Future, right?
- Introduce them to people they’ll like. Frequently, it can be tempting to see quality time as alone time, but the real value can sometimes be found in being the person who lets two fans of anime or country music or nail art enthusiasts talk. When growing up your pools of places to be introduced to people are fairly limited. Introducing them to others with similar interests gives girls new ways to see what their hobbies can become. (Any women in the gaming industry want to come do coffee with us?)
- Go outside. No one spends enough time outside. No one. Outside is not just hiking. Especially if they are from a suburban background (hi), it can be liberating to just walk down streets they are not used to.
- Take them to campy restaurants. Truly campy restaurants are usually old, making it the perfect place for feeling cool because they’re not at Swiss Chalet or Chipotle’s or whatever the family favourite is. They also make wonderfully bad references to the past which is especially important to the digital natives (LINK). Sophie watched my face drop as she asked what a card catalogue was (in a library, remember?) but then I realized there was absolutely no need for her to know what that was. This started wonderful conversations about the way things were, all of 15 or so years ago.
- On storytelling vs. gossip: Whether it’s through DNA or culture, it is undeniable that the practice of storytelling is incredibly important to women’s bonding. Eleanor Roosevelt’s famous spiel goes “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people” but ideas are only understandable in the context of their time. It’s likely useless to start talking Adorno to a 13 year old and NOT because they’re not smart enough. Honestly, it’s patronizing to start a conversation with an idea without the context; I’m tired of intelligence being made to look like something some people “have” and some don’t. Bringing great ideas into other conversations is how we keep from falling into the tempting gossip trap and grows great minds, both in yours and hers.
- Make crafts. I’ve never been a fan of gluing things on pinecones, but whether you’re good at woodworking or can make one skirt, there is an indescribable power in creating instead of consuming that can’t be put into words. This is what I will say to try to get Sophie’s help in painting my bedroom walls next month.
- As an add on, if you buy someone young a cheap canvas and tell them to do whatever they want on it and then hang it in your house, you will earn all of their respect forever and likely get a new piece of hilarious abstract art out of the deal.
- Anything that is part of a festival. The word “festival” holds attention in ways I don’t understand. They can still appreciate music if they show up to the one all ages event at Whatever in the Park looking dressed for Coachella.
- Play games. To go back to the “introduce an idea with context”, it’s really not great to take someone somewhere and just expect them to appreciate what’s there because it’s “great.” According to who? That question alone can spur an entire conversation, but informal scavenger hunts based around finding the colour red in an art museum, and then talking about why red is or isn’t there, is fun for both of you as long as you’re both playing the game so you aren’t self relegating yourself the teacher.
- Teach them how to apply make up. Maybe you think make up is a tool of the patriarchy. I’m not going to be the one to convince you otherwise, but maybe others will. I won’t peddle this blend yourself a slimmer face crap, but I would’ve appreciated knowing how to apply mascara in a way that didn’t make me look like a raccoon.
- Let them pick groceries. This frequently doesn’t happen until you’re out on your own for the first time and end up buying cereal and cheese. When you’re not buying food out of hunter-gatherer instinct you can actually appreciate the environment and the strangely liberating feeling of choice.
- Do anything at night. There’s no logic behind this. It is exciting to be out at night because young teens seldom have a reason to be.
- Talk out issues instead of always challenging them. You may find the gender roles in her comic books a little questionable, but she probably has a more progressive view on culture or art or something that she doesn’t understand how big it is, but she will have a view like this, and she will have arrived at that conclusion without an academic paper telling her to, and it will blow your mind.
- Finally, they’ll talk when they want to. They will. Really.
We are going to George’s Island this weekend; boyfriend, one of best friends, Sophie and I. For those not familiar with Halifax geography (what do you mean???), it’s in the middle of our harbor and it’s just hard enough to get to to make it a great place to film just about any adventure movie. I’ve promised prepurchased picnic baskets full of trendy, local food that makes eating vegetables fun. She’s promised to fishtail braid my hair.
It will be fun.