By Jim Callicott
Considering whose opinion you ask, I am among the lucky/unlucky adults in this country. I do not have a teenage daughter. However, recently I spent a week with a 16 year old teenage girl who turned 17 while she was with me. I aged considerably myself during this brief exchange of culture.
My niece, whom I had not seen since she was four years old, came from Texas and spent a week with me. She arrived with her grandmother, smartphone in hand. She exited the SUV, thumbs moving rapidly over the phone, smiled at me and immediately returned to thumbing.
I believe it was two days later when I heard her first words in English. She said “Duh!” I don’t know what “duh” means but I began to understand it was her reply to anything you said to her.
Adults who are addicted to tobacco wake up in the morning and reach for a cigarette. She woke up reaching for the smartphone. I think they call it a smartphone because you can do everything on earth, except carry on a conversation, with it. Among teenage girls conversation is a lost art. So is cooking, cleaning, doing laundry and picking up after yourself.
One evening when she stopped to rest her thumbs, I was determined to start a conversation with her. I asked her, “Do you cook?” “Yes,” she replied. “What do you cook,” I asked. “Noodles,” she answered. “What kind of noodles,” I asked. “Ramen noodles,” she replied, but I burned them one time.”
“How can you burn noodles in a microwave,” I asked. “Forgot to put water in them,” she answered as she returned to thumbing the smartphone.
The next evening we attempted another conversation. She is beginning her senior year in high school so I asked, “What are you going to do when you graduate?” “Move in with my grandmother,” was her response. “Your grandmother lives next door to you,” I said. “I know,” was the reply.
“What else does your future hold,” was the next question. “I want to go to Africa,” was the answer. There must be hope for her yet, this must be a humanitarian aid thing she wants to do, so I asked, “Why go to Africa?”
“I want to see a giraffe,” she replied. “You can go to the zoo in Knoxville and see a giraffe and it’s cheaper than a plane ticket,” I said. She returned to thumbing.
Her last night with me I decided to try the conversation thing one last time. This being her senior year in high school I chose citizenship as the topic of discussion. Let’s try simple questions to begin.
“Do you know the name of the President of the United States,” I asked. I’ve already learned you have to be specific with the questions as generalized questions throw her completely in a state of confusion.
“Of course,” she said in response to my president question, “It’s Obama Biden, but I can’t remember his first name.”
“Okay,” I said, “Can you tell me who is the Vice-President of the United States?” “Sure,” she said, “It’s Osama Bin Laden.” “You learn that in school,” I asked, “Yep,” she said.
“How about John Kerry, do you know who that is,” was the next question. “Never heard of him,” was the answer. “He is the American Secretary of State and he’s married to Teresa Heinz whose family owns Heinz Ketchup.” “I like ketchup,” she said as she resumed thumbing.
Judging from her ambition in life that she has demonstrated so far, I asked her again what about life after graduation. “I would like to be a stay at home mom,” she said. Judging from some of her other answers I felt compelled to ask this one simple question that could be answered yes or no. “Do you know where babies come from?” “Sure,” she said, “the back seat of the car.” “Go back to thumbing,” I said.
Now the sad thing about this equation is that next August she will be old enough to register to vote. And she is not alone. There are thousands of other teenage girls just like her thumbing their smartphones through life, clueless about what is going on around them.
Therefore, I propose a federal law that requires all girls at the age of 12 years old to enter a Catholic Convent and remain there until they are 25 years old. The nuns and sisters could be the salvation of this nation in more ways than one.
With the girls in a convent, teenage boys should settle down as they would have no one to impress. Their maturity age should plummet from about 35 years old to about 25, the same age as the girls exiting the convent.
I have to admit it was an interesting experience spending a week with a teenage girl. Other than reinforcing my opinion of birth control and despite her addiction to the smartphone, lack of conversation and knowledge of world affairs and her culinary experience, I thought, as she and her granny backed out of the driveway returning to Texas, I’m gonna miss you kid, smartphone and all.