Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Typical Teen

The typical teen is way into texting (or maybe even sexting) and going to the mall, and the latest pop stars. They dress in skimpy clothes and make sure to watch Glee every week.


Or is it?

Is there a typical teen?

For that matter is there a typical adult?

One problem with writing for teens when your teen years are a wee bit in the past, is that things do change and I find that things I liked or did as a teenager may not resonate with kids of today.

But that's okay. I have a teenager of my own. I can see what she likes and use that. Right?

Maybe not.

My teen doesn't fit the above example of a typical teen. (Maybe no one really does). Her sport of choice is archery, she doesn't like to text - though she has plenty of chats with people on Facebook. She doesn't watch Glee, instead her favorite TV show is the Robin Hood series from the 1950s. (We have a few seasons on DVD). She does like to go to the mall with her friends, but she's not into buying clothes (they have a uniform at their public middle school, and that may play a part). She writes for fun (to the amusement of her classmates) and is never without a book.

And she has friends just like her. (Except maybe the Robin Hood TV series part).

Once a critique buddy questioned my use of a reference to a song from Grease in my story. She wondered perhaps if teen's today would know it.

I know my daughter would know it. She's seen three different live productions of Grease - and each time she's known people in them.

Pop culture for today's teens doesn't necessarily start the moment they're born. They can still experience things that pre-date them.

So don't worry that the teen you are writing doesn't look act like a 'typical' teen. That teen will be like someone. And that person will be delighted to find a character to relate to.


  1. I have the same insight. My teens are way different than each other. One talkes extremely mature and the other speaks slang when he doesn't think I'm listening. My daughter doesn't text either and for fun draws amazing pictures, writes stories and plays lacrosse/basketball/soccer as well as takes martial arts. So when creating a teen, you don't have to make them the stereotypical teen. Also, when betas read my stuff I evaluate whether their opinion fits in line with the story I decide to tell.

  2. Not that I have teens as children but I do have teenage grandchildren and two of them are just two years apart in age. One is so into sports it's hard to talk about anything else with him. The other is into anything but sports. He's in the process of trying to turn one of my series into a computer game. Since I don't write contemporary I don't have the problem of language to contend with which is a help.

  3. I agree and I do not have any kids of my own. The term "teenager" really took off in the 60s when US ad agencies realized these were a great group to market too. So like Coca Cola did to Santa Claus - creating the iconic image of the jolly fat man in red and white - they did for the American teen. Same mold but just different technology as time goes by. In the 60s they were always lying on beds with the phone chord draped around them. In the 70s they were in cars and the 80s boom boxes sat on their shoulders. Now it is texting on smart devices.

    I was certainly not the "typical" teen. As I see my own niece approach teendom - I can see she will also NOT be the ad world's stererotype.

  4. I think what it comes down to is that the "typical" teen is not typical!

  5. Thanks for the very reassuring post! I wondered if I only knew 'out of the norm' teens.

  6. I agree. I've had more than a few people tell me that teens wouldn't know who Audrey Hepburn was. Then I'm around that group and even watching TV shows geared toward that market( hello, Blair on Gossip Girls) who say differently. I don't have a teen yet but I do know some from our homeschooling group and from our church. All of them are different from each other too. I do have a soon to be tween and it cracks me up on what I've been reading he should be like and what he should be doing.

    What's kind of ironic is I would have been considered the 'cliche' teen of the 80s. It's like one author said in a book I just received yestersday about the whole cliche thingy: killing mom off is a cliche but I lived the life. I was far from the cliche.

    **That was on the author using the dead mom in a YA book. Something as writers we've been told is way overused.

  7. Oh, this was a GREAT post, Christine. You're right-there is no one type of teen.

  8. Yes, teens are individuals and shouldn't be lumped together as typical. So have fun. Creat unusual, memorable teens. Hey, that's a good idea. Think I'll try it. :)

    Super post.

  9. I love this post. I am trying to break the typical teen stereotypes as I create characters. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes I fail.