Teen inertia
What does it take to get a teen motivated and enthused? Tracey Hawthorne wonders.
‘Please call your brother for dinner,’ I said to my daughter. She was standing next to me in the kitchen, idly tapping away on her cellphone; her brother was down the corridor in the living room, watching TV.

Without so much as looking up, my daughter opened her mouth and screamed, ‘Luuuuuuuuuuke! Dinner’s ready!!!’

I felt as if someone had fired a gun alongside my head. My eyes jittered in their sockets and there was a ringing sound in my skull. I took the Lord’s name in vain and snapped, ‘I could have done that, you ridiculous girl! I meant go and get him for dinner.’

‘Then why didn’t you say that?’ she said, slouching beastlike out of the kitchen and off down the corridor.

Standing in the kitchen, rubbing my ear, I suddenly remembered doing precisely the same thing to my father when I was a teenager – screaming my brother’s name when asked to fetch him for dinner rather than actually using my legs to go and fetch him. In my case, my father swiftly clipped my ear as a punishment (parents were allowed to do things like that back then).

So, aside from the fact that both times I was the one who ended up with a stinging ear, here was a teenage behaviour that had remained unchanged across an entire generation.

Why teens are inert

Inertia – the resistance of any physical object to a change in its state of motion – is particularly pronounced in teenagers when trying to get a physical body at rest into motion, for the simple reason that teenagers’ preferred state is at rest. The word inertia, probably not uncoincidentally, comes from the Latin for ‘laziness’.

And teens’ resistance to movement is most pronounced when they are required to find things. (Teenagers need absolutely no help in losing things, of course.)
I recall standing in my bedroom on a Sunday night and shouting, ‘Moooom! I can’t find my schooool shooooes!’ and she calling back, ‘Stop looking with your mouth, look with your eyes!’

What she meant was to stop telling her that something was lost, and put a little backbone into finding the damn things.

I use the same phrase on my kids all the time – and yet without my intervention they are apparently unable to find the shirt under the bed, the book that’s dropped down behind a shelf or the sports kit that wasn’t unpacked last week and is still mouldering away in the sports bag. Sometimes the intervention is as simple as my saying, ‘Look under the bed/behind the shelf/in your kitbag,’ but usually it involves my actually getting up and finding the lost item myself.

There’s a nasty spinoff to this aspect of teens’ amazing ability to lose things and the innate inertia that renders it almost impossible for them to find them, and that’s how vital everyday household equipment such as scissors, sticking tape and, in particular, pens, manage to disappear into the invisible black hole that swirls around all teenagers.

And these things, even with the energetic physical intervention of the parent, very seldom reappear.

Have you noticed this trend of teen inertia?

Read more by Tracey Hawthorne

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