How to Spot a Teenager



This post is inspired by a blog I have just discovered:  Muummmmeeeeee…… from No Wine on Wednesdays thinks she is getting old because – amongst other things – her daughter has just turned 13.

I wrote this almost exactly six years ago, in May 2004, as I witnessed my daughters observe their brother’s metamorphosis from 12 to teen.

A (10) and her younger sister H (7) eye B with a mixture of side-long distrust and transparent awe. B, their older brother, is teetering on the edge of teen-hood. They have heard what that means – becoming a teenager – but since neither has ever spent any length of time in the company of anybody between the ages of 13 and 19, they aren’t sure what to expect. A is waiting for B to get spots. Sometimes I see her peering at his face from just inches away as if expecting to see the sebum rise and swell in a yellow pustule on his nose right before her eyes. B creases his baby-smooth brow at her and shoves her roughly away. He despises the scrutiny and her eager anticipation of his acne. H only knows that teenagers slam doors. And sulk behind them. ‘When is B going to slam a door?’ she wants to know, she tails me around the house, nagging, ‘when, when?’ as if waiting for Christmas or the End of the World, and then when he does, slam a door (because he has grown tired of A’s up-close-and-too-personal inspection of pore activity) H screams with delight and scurries importantly about the house delivering the news:, “I heard it, I hear it”. “Heard what”? I ask. “I heard B becoming a TEENAGER”.


Though I don’t admit it, I’m also studying B with a peculiar blend of trepidation and sadness and a tiny measure of excitement. I silently mourn the baby-fat days of uninhibited affection. He’s long and gangly now and won’t kiss me (unless he wants something or is absolutely 100% certain nobody’s watching). Our conversations are less dialogue than maternal monologue with the odd mumbled interjection from a boy who insists on wearing his cap back to front. His feet are as big as mine now, and he’s almost as tall but he tends to slouch, the adolescent aspiration to become invisible already manifesting itself.

“When is B going to have a girlfriend”, demands A who’d love to be somebody’s girlfriend since she’s already planning her wedding (‘Will you be my bridesmaid mum?’ No thanks. ‘Ok then will you plan my wedding’ – rather tiredly – as if she’s already exhausted by the thought’. ‘Alright’.)  She asks B, ‘when are you going to get married?’ B growls at her. Never he says, which astonishes A because she has already selected her future husband (a poor unsuspecting boy in her class). ‘Will you be gay instead then?” asks A. B isn’t entirely sure what gay means. Nor is A; she just knows being gay has something to do with a man not wanting to marry a woman. B on the other hand thinks it has something to do with Khaki pants and White T-shirt selling Gap. H has a pink fleece with GAP in bold letters across the front. That stands for Gay And Proud he tells her beaming. I cringe. H hasn’t a clue what he’s talking about but relays this astonishingly useful piece of information to her teacher later in the morning as she points to each capital letter in turn: ‘See, Gay And Proud’, she explains solemnly and I just know this isn’t going to translate well in the staff room.


Despite successfully avoiding the birds and bees conversation with my precocious middle daughter, (who is longing for her teens with the same fervour that I dread them) I finally, given son’s explosion onto teen scene, and fortifying myself with a glass of wine, take the plunge.

‘How are those kind of whatever-they’re-called-ummm-human biology classes going?’

She looks blank, which makes me squirm because it means I’ll have to prompt with more toe-curling information, ‘You know, the ones where you learn about puberty?’

‘Oh those,’ she says, in a voice that hints, I am surprised to note, at boredom, ‘Growing Pains?’

‘Yes, that’s right, Growing Pains. Are you enjoying them?’ ‘

‘They’ve stopped, there was too much laughing and the teachers got embarrassed’.

I can’t say I blame them.

‘What kind of things did you learn?’

‘Oh you know, the usual stuff, erections, wet dreams, condoms …’

I swallow hard. I’m all for a progressive education but the child is ten.

‘oh’ I say. In a very small voice. And then, when I’ve recaptured the tiny remnant of composure which has not deserted me entirely, I take a big glug of my wine and persist, ‘What about periods and things, did you learn about those too?’

‘Yeah,’ she says, definitely bored now. And then, voluntarily, which is as well because I’m at a loss for words, ‘periods are when the woman gets rid of all the stuff she doesn’t need because she’s not going to have a baby’. Which is a trifle ambiguous (and makes me think of finding homes for second-hand prams) but I chose not to say so.

‘We learned about body hair too,’ she adds, ‘under arms and around genitals. Sarah says she has some already, but I don’t believe her’. I refrain from asking where Sarah’s body hair is.

‘I don’t have any though’, adds A little sadly, ‘I’m bald as an egg still’.

Which brings us back to No Wine on Wednesday’s story

Talking of teens, I have a guest post on Schoolgate at The Times today. The lad who was observed so intently by his sisters all those years ago leaves school forever on Saturday. He is much taller than me now and he no longer slams doors. He has found his voice and his conversation is engaging and witty. He has no inhibitions about throwing his arms about his mother and lifting her clean off her feet in a tight embrace.

They grow up, see. And too fast.

11 Responses to “How to Spot a Teenager”

  1. Kit Says:

    What a great post!
    And so timely for me. Our son has just turned 12 and I think my two girls 9 & 7 are starting to look at him occasionally, just as you described, to detect signs of approaching teendom. He’s not close yet thank goodness, still short for his age and happily into hugs… Middle Daughter I can see being just like yours and I am slightly dreading the onset of puberty for her!
    Reassuring to hear that your som has emerged intact at the other end of teendom. I’m going to read your links now to garner more wisdom on the subject!

  2. TheMadHouse Says:

    What a fantasric post as the mum of two littlies it is nice to get his perspective on things

  3. Iota Says:

    My oldest turns 13 on the 31st. This month, to herald his birthday, he’s just been angry. All the time. Have I got another 6 years of this? It’s exhausting.

    Off to read your links now.

  4. Jon Storey Says:

    I love this. It’s so, well?


  5. Rob Says:

    A great post from the archives. Never a dull moment being a parent.

  6. 3limes Says:

    Love this post and loved the cartoons. Also very timely as my eldest will be thirteen next week. A post will be forthcoming displaying my wonder at the glee with which she just changed her facebook status to “In a Relationship.” Fun times ahead!

  7. Beaulotus Says:

    My eldest son is 13 and my nightmare has started…Each time I think of having a 4th baby to finish up, I remind myself that they grow up to be teenagers…

  8. R. Sherman Says:

    How timely! I just returned from riding herd on my 14 year old’s eighth grade graduation trip to Chicago. I now need a whiskey and a good massage, thank you.


  9. muummmmeeeeee...... Says:

    What a great post – glad you dug it out of your archives! We haven’t reached the spots and door slamming stage but guess it’s not far off…

  10. Tattie Weasle Says:

    Such a long way off for me – well six years; I do look at teenagers in a kind of awe wondering what I haev let myself in for – two boys! I have visions of dark purple rooms, DEF Leopard, seriously smelly socks and grunting…such joy!

  11. Sarah Ebner Says:

    A lovely post – and thanks for the linkback too!

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