Denise Snodell — How to communicate with teenage boys — or not

11/12/2013 2:24 PM

11/12/2013 2:25 PM

Recently, I shared an early morning coffee with six kindred souls. How kindred? We’re mothers of sons.

But, when you have a half dozen women sitting together, catching up, the topics will ping and pong in several directions. That morning, two or three conversations were going on at once, because rectangular tables in busy coffee places breed discussion chaos. Regardless, offspring updates dominated the talk.

Most of us had recently launched our boys to places of higher learning. There was much angst to spread around. At one point, my side of the table got on the topic of how to figure out the physical and emotional state of a college kid with just texts. Picture a simple triangular flow chart with double tipped arrows between parent, child and cellphone.

Aside from the scattered whims of social media, cellphones are all we have. We’re linked to our young adult children by a tiny device that could get swallowed by a washing machine or fall out of a pocket straight into a puddle. Things are different from our own upper teenage years. There rarely are sturdy landline wires connecting us to the promise of voice-only communication. Forget about physical mail. And, here’s a shocker — older teens now categorize email with the caveman drawings of Lascaux. I’m serious. Email is ancient.

It’s down to texting. That’s it. Brief text messages. Tap, tap, tap. Auto-correct. Send. Wait for reply.

This is torture for any mother who is trying to figure out The State of the Launched Son. Teenage boys are not daughters or girlfriends or talk show hosts or any category of humanity known to share important details with words. They are mysterious.

At that coffee, I mentioned how my cellphone screen looks when I reach out to either teen son. There’s a large, chatty paragraph from me, then a one word response from the male child, followed by a diatribe from me, then another one-word reply. I pulled out my cell phone to show the gals, and a familiar visual pattern on my screen sparked much laughter. It looked like this:


: Blah blah blobbity blah blah blah. Blobbity blob?

Blahhhh blahh bl blah blobbity? Remember to blah bluh bluh blah.

Blob blob Blahhhhh blob. Oh, and blah blah blobitty. Blob?



One friend chimed in, “Oh, and never ask more than one question in a single text. You’ll get just one question answered, if you’re lucky.” She was spot on.

For example, you might text the following important inquiries in one message: “Did your fever go down? Did you find your wallet and cancel the credit card? Please don’t skip meals. What did you have for breakfast?” You will get a response of this totality: “Bagel.”

I went on to share my theories of what my sons’ tiny, one-word replies might mean, and how to interpret the nuances. Here’s what I think: “Yep” is better than yes. “Gewd” trumps good. “Fine” is iffy, and worth a half hour of pacing the floors. “Okee” is happier than okay. Okay is calmer than O.K, but O.K. is more definite than ok.

Then there’s “k.” This is likely an affirmative response to something your son already knows, and it contains a subliminal eye roll. Example: A mom texts a reminder like, “Remember you should never walk on the highway!!!!” The kid feels he needs to reply something just to get mom off his back, so he’ll answer with: K. (Super tremendous eye roll.)

That’s about all I know of this fresh hell right now. I really have no idea what’s going on with my sons. If I crack any more codes, you’ll be the first to know. Yup.


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