How to Approach a Teenager in Its Natural Habitat

By Kathryn Higgins

The human teenager has many natural habitats, most of which used to be your natural habitat. They include your home and car (but strewn about with soiled clothing), jewelry (which may have formerly been yours), iPads, besmirched plates, nail polish remover tottering on your wooden coffee table, candy wrappers, garbage and other detritus. Most of their habitats will also be filled with the noise of loud music, most likely rap, especially if the creature in question is Caucasian and lives in the suburbs.

It is through this detritus, along with its hostile presence, that the teenager spreads to new environs and claims them.

Once the teenager has established a ground-hold in any environment, it will be reluctant to give up any space in it whatsoever. If you are squeezing through what was formerly open space, or tripping on shoes in the middle of the room, or stubbing your toe on an overflowing suitcase, or just avoiding stepping on their tablet, which is right in the middle of the hall – those spaces are lost.

Do not startle your teenager in its habitat, by which I mean don’t startle them anywhere ever. Nor should you attempt to reclaim any habitat you have given up to the teenager. Either action will result in violent explosions, usually issuing from its mouth and consisting of vulgar and unsavory epithets.

The teenager is territorial, like a virus, only worse. If, for example, it takes your laptop to use, despite owning its own tablet, and is balancing the $700 computer on the edge of the couch while drinking a sticky beverage such as Gatorade and simultaneously texting on its cell phone, you are better off quietly hoping that the $700 computer is not dropped or spilled on rather than confronting the hostile/territorial teenager regarding the $700 computer.

It eats great amounts of foodstuffs, especially cheeseburgers, french fries, and sweets, but will look at you askance if you go to eat anything. If you have cold cuts on hand, or peanut butter and bread, or soup, or apples, or anything that most adults would consider edible, the teenager will assert that you are starving it and will protest vehemently. Even if you ask the teenager what it wants at the store, and you then buy these things, the teenager will again assert that you are starving it, because the teenager doesn’t happen to feel like eating those things right now.

The teenager could be shrieking with laughter over its Instagram account one second and snarling at you with murderous rage the next. The teen is especially vicious when it feels its smartphone is threatened.

The teenager has morphed from a cuddly child who used to wear a cute apron and chefs hat to cook and who used to enjoy playing games and laughing with you. Do not be fooled by these former relations. If you have named and raised a child, changed its diapers, and given it sippy cups, sung it lullabies and baked it birthday cakes, then seeing it transform into a disagreeable teenager can be difficult to accept. But, be warned, you are dealing with a new creature now.

The teenager is by nature hostile to its parent, regardless of the amount of work the parent does on its behalf: the haircuts and shopping trips, the music lessons and soccer practices, the driving and doting and helping and buying and waiting and paying for smartphones. Despite these contributions, or perhaps because of them, the teen will despise its parent and view him or her as an idiot who is willing to do almost anything for said teenager despite its foul behavior.

Do not attempt to touch your teenager, especially with affection, and do not express anything, especially affection, to them in public. The teen will take this as affront and defend itself vigorously.

It is a wily creature who will, however briefly, act pleasantly to its parent if it wants something, such as a new coat or a trip to visit a friend. The teenager will capitalize on the parent’s fond memories of its youth to achieve short-term goals. Again, do not be fooled. Once the teenager has acquired whatever it wants, it will again resort to its natural ways, which are generally described as foul, selfish, and voracious.

Do not expect your teen to use its smartphone (which you pay for) to keep in touch with you. If you’re lucky, the teenager will text “ok” or “sure” to any text you send it, regardless of the content of your text. If you ask your teenager to text you when it’s traveling, so you can make sure it is safe, it will not. You may then call the teenager, who might actually answer the phone. When you ask where it is, it will reply, “A place.” Take comfort in knowing that at least it is alive.

The teenager thinks that it is invincible. It thinks that it is smarter and wiser than you and that it will be more successful than you because, let’s face it, you are a pathetic older human with limited resources. The teenager, who believes that it is capable of anything, despite the looming problems of ballooning college loan debt and low employment rates, knows that it will make tons of money and be beautiful and popular and successful forever.

The teenager believes that it can drive fast and travel far without consequence. This is called “magical thinking.” But who knows? Maybe your teenager will be the one to get into Yale and get a job managing a hedge fund and be rich and unethical like the rest of those types. Yes, perhaps it can remain a teenager forever.


About the Author

Kathryn Higgins is a writer and mom living with her two children in Connecticut. She has a B.A. in English Lit from U.C. Berkeley and an MFA in Writing from Sarah Lawrence College; she teaches Writing at various colleges. Her collection of humor, Snide Remarks in Sotto Voce, is available on ebook outlets. She’s been published in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Real Simple Magazine,,,,, (a Gawker publication),,, Sanskrit,,, The Litchfield Literary Review, The American Organist,, Whatever, Musings, The Connecticut Post and other newspapers. She was a reader for The Paris Review. An article in listed her as one of the funniest women writers for McSweeney’s. An article in The New York Times Magazine praised her column for The Faster Times (in the last paragraph).