The invention of the teen-ager was a mistake, in Miss Manners' opinion
She has nothing against people of that age; indeed, she is quite foolishly fond of some such individuals. It is not teen-agers whom she wishes to abolish, but only the category.
Once you identify a period of life in which people have few restrictions and, at the same time, few responsibilities -- they get to stay out late but don't have to pay taxes -- naturally nobody wants to live any other way.
Thus we now have the equally unappetizing spectacles of small children and grown-ups unsuccessfully imitating teen-age dress, speech and social rites, while teen-agers themselves have little motivation to learn the trappings of adulthood.
We have, as a society, informed teen-agers not only that they are entitled to have their own culture, but that we don't expect them to aspire to any other.
Almost before they know their own tastes, teen-agers are told that they only like junk food, primitive culture, and an unvarying standard of simplicity in clothes and manners. As such personal inclinations naturally vary more by individual than by age, this alerts teen-agers who happen to like classical music or dressing up that they are weird.
All that does not serve the cause of civilization. Nor does it promote the general happiness, when something as universal and inevitable as getting older is perceived as being tragic.
Under the old system, everyone was either an adult or a child. It was perfectly obvious which was which.
Adults didn't say, "Oh, don't call me Mr. Gibbons -- you make me feel old. Mr. Gibbons was my father." While they certainly sentimentalized childhood as a time of carefree pleasure, they considered increased respect and dignity, not to mention more sophisticated pleasures, as compensation.
Children only learned to talk dirty in stages, making bathroom jokes long before they knew sexual terms. Their fantasy of adulthood as a time of untrammeled freedom led them to study the ways of adult life while pressing impatiently for its advantages.
Of course the people who are now called teen-agers tried to play both sides against the middle. They claimed adulthood when privileges were in question and childishness when it came to tasks. But basically, they were striving to get on to the next stage in life, rather than languishing where they were.
This had enormous practical benefits. By observing and imitating adult ways, apprentice adults/postchildren not only prepared themselves for the future, but learned how to deal to advantage with grown-ups in their present lives.
Contemporary teen-agers are not supposed to be able to talk to adults. It is presumed that not only their interests but their very language are so different that communication is impossible. Therefore, teen-agers who are accidentally trapped among adults go into trances routinely unless directly interrogated.
However, grown-ups retain control over certain circumstances crucial to teen-agers. School admissions committees, prospective employers and the parents of the objects of teen-aged passions are all adults.
It is useful to be able to charm them. Small children can generally do this simply by being cute and not trashing their property, but that does not suffice for children who are the same size as or bigger than the adults.
They must do it by seeming interested in adults and their ways -- engaging them in conversation with some show of interest, and respecting their standards of behavior with some sort of grace. (One only expects them to do this while the adults are around; it is still a childhood privilege to go off with one's peers and laugh oneself silly at the expense of those same adults.)
In addition to the practical benefit, there is an emotional one. Teen-age recreations are exciting for those who are new at them, but pall after a decade. There is nothing more pathetic than a bunch of pseudoteen-agers who have been at it for 40 years, still trying to have subadult fun.
It would be only fair to teach them how to grow up. Q Do you have an opinion about TV viewing during family holidays?
Whether we're guests or hosts, it seems that sports lovers don't hesitate to turn on the set. Shouldn't holidays be a time for relations and friends to enjoy each other's company?
Can't people live without football/baseball/golf for one afternoon? After all, we only see some of our relatives two or three times a year. A How televised sports came to be a part of the American holiday ritual, Miss Manners cannot discover. Pilgrims and Indians she has questioned disclaim any responsibility.
But so it is. Miss Manners does not advise asking loved ones to choose between one's own conversation and a game. You may not care for their choice.
Instead, she suggests scheduling the family meal for a nongame period, even if that means having turkey for breakfast and keeping the meal itself absolutely television-free.