On Fitting In

There used to be a clear distinction between the generations, or at least between the generational behaviors and those faddish words and phrases that successive groups coin to make their signature statement. But of late there’s been a shift due in part, I believe, to the way the current crop of parents, and possibly the one before it, have raised their children. The result is greater dependence and narcissism than ever before that sometimes continues long after their teen years are behind them.

The natural progression from childhood to teen, to young adult, to mature adult, with its responsibilities of jobs, homes, and children, is not exactly the way it works today. Many adults still act, think, and talk like teens long into their 30’s and sometimes beyond – a lack of maturation that takes a variety of forms.

Parents have children, then abandon them. Or parents choose to be buddies instead of role models. They want to be liked rather than establish boundaries that they would have to then uphold. There are today’s “helicopter parents” who hover over their children and never cut those umbilical cords but continue to fix (or try to) their children’s lives for them instead of stepping aside and letting them work things out for themselves – or letting them fail, if necessary. Failures have advantages and learning from one’s mistakes and finding ways to cope are but two of them.

Many parents today make threats but fail to follow-through with them, trading their credibility so their children will like them better.


Each generation, from the previous one to the one next in line, coins words that both mark and distinguish it from the others, like a logo. When I was a teen, things were “a hoot”; they were “neat” – today they are “rad” or “rave,” even “bad” which also means good in today’s teenspeak. Talk about a word that twists back on itself!

Lately, I’ve heard several people (all over 50) use the phrase “my bad,” another slang expression popularized by today’s youth, and I wanted to ask, your bad what? Your bad ankle? Your bad cough? What?

“My bad” is akin to “my fault” or “my mistake.” Hearing my students say that is expected but anyone over, say, 25 should give it a pass. We don’t need to twist the language back over on itself to fit into someone else’s version of being “with it.”

One of the most difficult things about being a teenager is trying to fit in, to be like everyone else to gain acceptance. To feel less alone. The different varieties of teenspeak are an effort to distinguish themselves from others while at the same time forming a collective sense of belonging – conformity vs. individualism. Which of these concepts is the oxymoron here?


We were them once. And we had our own slang, too. But times change, we grow older and adapt accordingly. Or we should.

As teens reached their 20’s a few decades back, graduated from college, and started their adult lives, they stopped using “teenspeak” and started acting and talking like grownups. The difference these days is that when kids become teens and develop their own generation’s slang, their parents start using it, too, in an effort to be seen as “hip” – the generation to which “hip” belongs is, what? Back in the 70’s or 80’s?

But we can be “with it” without being copycats and without trying to sound or act like people 20 years or more younger than we are. Hearing older adults trying to sound like teenagers, thinking that will make them more relevant or help keep them young, rings artificial to me, like someone is trying too hard.


Granted, our society has cultivated a dissatisfaction with the self, but we, the gullible public, have bought into it. Nobody wants to get older so we botox the wrinkles from our faces before that’s even needed – even some teens do this. They nick and tuck here and there while pumping their lips full of stuff that puffs them out to keep them from becoming slits as we age. And instead of being a compliment, “what a beauty” can flip itself over, taking on a totally different meaning.

We really can have fun without dressing like our great-grandmothers used to – or like today’s 15-year-olds. We can feel young and express that without a display of jumping up and down with our arms around each other, giggling like a bunch of high school girls at a football game. And we can actively engage in what’s going on around us without co-opting the linguistic patterns of this season’s favorite word or phrase as if they belong to us.

They don’t. Each generation develops its own nomenclature. This season’s in phrases don’t belong to us, so let’s step back and watch this new game from the sidelines. We played our own word games – it’s time to let others play theirs.





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