The Herald (South Africa)

Teens, like us, are the same


MY almost-teen has started a journal. This fact alone makes for an interestin­g conundrum, as she is the least gushy person I know; and, when I had a journal, being able to gush was key.

In fact, despite the plethora of lock-and-key diaries, pretty, lined “Princess” notepads and more grown-up leather-look books which I’ve bought her over the years, she’s never taken to penning her thoughts.

For Sam, life is for living rather than reflecting. This time, though, it’s for school so it has to be done.

But while reviewing her work (which is as far from private as could be – she doesn’t gush, so there are no secrets), I’ve realised the more things seem to change, the more they don’t.

As bo-o-ring as it must be to have a journalist mom who was also an English teacher, dear Sam patiently listens to my endless advice and bytes of wisdom about language, literature and (I always end off with this), its unapprecia­ted importance in a world which punts maths and science as better.

To drive home one of my points – about making a journal worthy of the reader, rather than a blow-by-blow, yawn-spilling account of a day in your life – I dug out my high school journal project.

Compare apples with pears, I thought, since I’d hooked an A-plus on it, which meant that it might inspire her to add to the unapprecia­ted importance of language subjects, rather than insult it with potentiall­y sub-standard, teen-spiced humdrum work.

To explore, as I recall doing, weighty topics of internatio­nal interest; succinctly-analysed teen turmoil anecdotes; perhaps a historical family recipe or two.

Funny thing, memory. Everything I’d thought I was, wasn’t. And all that I was supposed to be, at that stage, was exactly as it should have been, reflected there in the pages of a very typical, very self-absorbed, teenage girl.

“At last! Live music in Uitenhage – we actually have something to do. But what to wear?” began the June 1989 entry.

Later on: “I actually DIED inside. I finally saw the Depeche Mode 101 video. Olga lent it to me. That was really sweet of her! Dave Gahan looks SO gorgeous. And Martin Gore! I think I’m in love with Martin Gore. But I mean it. Not some teenage crush. I think that this is it.”

I didn’t recognise this girl. I remembered being her and even recalled writing the journal – but I was looking for the English pupil A student; the girl who aced music and writing but bombed numeracy and logic.

And that’s when I realised how same-same we all are, regardless of our personalit­ies or circumstan­ces. The same basic needs and motivators that inspired my journal topics 30 years ago, are still relevant a generation later.

Once our essential needs are met, we all want to have fun. To feel pleasure, and avoid pain. To be, whatever defines that for us, in a particular moment or age, happy.

“I’m so happy I have a nice family and saw my friends these hols,” read an entry. “But I’m a misunderst­ood teenager and I just want to have a life outside this little town.

“I’m going to do big things one day.”

 ?? Beth Cooper Howell ??
Beth Cooper Howell

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