During the years I was ten, eleven, and twelve, I couldn’t wait to turn thirteen. Teenager! But when I reached the big One-Three, all I heard about were the sixteen-year-olds. I was in Korea at the time, and really I wasn’t too impressed by the older, hippy-wannabes. Still, there was higher prestige to being the big One-Six.
I turned sixteen in Kansas, and all I heard about were the eighteen-year-olds. (Fourteen and fifteen were just continuations of thirteen, it seemed.) The big One-Eighters were Seniors, the heroes, and troublemakers of weekly high school lore, and the ones the girls of all ages pursued. So when I was sixteen (and seventeen) I had friends of like mind and we waited for our turn at eighteen.
Half a year after that birthday I was in the military, and they take a very dim view of teenagery. I was now an adult. Oh, I was eighteen for three months in school, but I was a newbie at it, and then I spent three months during “summer vacation” working for AAFES washing dishes and stocking candy at the post theater and other small stores, and wondering the whole time what the hell did I do, joining the armed forces? So as far as I’m concerned, I was never a teen.
And by extension, I was also never a twenty-something, which I observed was just a prolongation of eighteen in the civilian world, and still seems to be true today. Thirty-something is entirely different, and I believe the voting age should be raised to thirty, ensuring voters have enough life-experience before they make such important decisions. Forty-something and fifty-something were my favorites and I totally embraced those ages, when my kids grew up and my grandkids were born. Sixty-something is an age I haven’t made up my mind about.
The reason I thought to write this is that in the last quarter of last year my youngest grandkids became teenagers. One felt it was a semi-big deal, the other didn’t care. They both remind me of me. I don’t really know exactly what they’re taught, but during my formative years as a military brat the philosophy I encountered was the same wherever I went, at home, at elementary school, at Sunday school, and playing in the neighborhood, and that version of good civilization has stuck with me more and more as I grow older.
I always thought the word Teenager was derived from 1950’s movies, including those staring James Dean and Tommy Kirk. But nope, it first appeared in 1922, which came from Teener in 1894, which came from Teen in 1818, all referring to that stage of age. And there’s a word for it in nearly every language: Jugendlicher, Adolescent, Podrostok, Judai, Qing shao nian, Tenaring; that’s German, French, Russian, Japanese, Chinese, and Norwegian, but apparently, there is no word for it in Sanskrit that I could find. (Sorry if I couldn’t include the other 7,095 languages in the world.) But I am nevertheless inclined to argue that the concept of “teen angst” was an American media phenomenon/curse. I firmly believe that children of farmers millennia ago had no problem following in their parent’s footsteps. The same probably holds true for even just a hundred years ago. All I know for sure is that every rebellious ideology my kids pestered me with came from school, not their hormones.
So I wondered, how could I get rid of the teen mentality? I decided to stop calling the kids in upper elementary school Preteens. They are Elementarians. Kids before then are simply highly ambulatory toddlers. Kids above Elementarians I’ll call Schooligans. There are Middle Schooligans and High Schooligans. Yes, that’s a conjunction of School and Hooligan, and it’s a reflection of my own observations of behavior based on modern media. But they don’t have “teen” in the names! Kids who make it to college already have a good name, Collegian. (I might misspell it “collagen,” but that’s okay, for aren’t they the connective tissue of our future?)
And while I’m at it, I think I’ll claim the ager name. This decade of life is called Sexagenarian. The prefix “sex” is Latin for six. I think I’ll rename it as a combination of Sixty and ager: Sixtager (SIX-ta-Jer). And I’ll insist on Septuager (sep-TOO-a-Jer) for seventy-something, Octoager for eighties, but I don’t like the “non” part of Nonagenarian for the nineties, so I’m going to call that age Ninetager. And if I reach one hundred, do not call me a Centenarian or even Centenager. I want to be a Centurion.