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What do you say to today’s teenagers? Ask them what’s on their minds.

Graduates gather before the the start of Middle Creek High School graduation ceremonies in 2011.
Graduates gather before the the start of Middle Creek High School graduation ceremonies in 2011. cseward@newsobserver.com

We recently awaited an overnight visit from our nephew and his family, and I kept asking myself, “What do you say to today’s teenagers?”

Later, I decided to probe the psyches of our four teenage nephews from Myrtle Beach, S.C., to discern what’s on teens’ minds these days. I sent them some questions over email.

Abraham, 14, and Anderson, 12, visited us recently, but I also sent several questions to their cousins Will, 18, and Wade, 14.

Here’s a sampling of the response.

Q: What person outside your family do you most admire?

Abraham: “NFL quarterback Marcus Mariota.”

Will: “Rusty Caudle.” (A North Myrtle Beach policeman and father of his best friend.)

Wade: Rob Johnson, who teaches a high school elective Bible course at a nearby church.

Q: What do you fear or worry about most?

Will: “Grades, college, success in life.”

Abraham: “School.”

Wade: “Life is good and I don’t spend time worrying.”

Q: What do you like about school?

Will: “Seeing and visiting with friends.”

Wade: “My great teachers. I enjoy my friends away from school.”

Q: What do you dislike about school?

Will: “Homework. Especially homework related to the engineering class I mistakenly signed up for. It’ s not relevant to life.”

Wade: “Being sent to detention for being tardy when it’s not my fault.” ( He doesn’t drive himself to school.)

Q: What would you change about the world?

Abraham: “I would stop terrorism.”

Will: “I would try to make people less lazy and appreciate the things they have in life.”

Wade: “I wouldn’t change anything. I like the world as it is.”

When Abraham and Anderson and their parents visited, I was surprised that the teens remained in the den with their elders. I had suggested that they might like to go to my office and watch TV or use the desktop computer. They declined.

Later, in responding to my questionnaire, Will wrote, “Adult conversation is not boring. I enjoy talking to adults.” And Abraham noted, “I find adult conversation interesting and important. I enjoy learning and soaking up as much knowledge as possible.”

Wade added: “I find adult conversation very interesting, especially when they’re discussing politics.”

These teens come from families with mixed political preferences, a sharp contrast to my own family’s politics. As children, I and my siblings were forbidden to listen to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s famous “Fireside Chats” on the old Philco radio. Listening to them was a punishable offense.

Surry County back then was almost wall-to-wall Democratic. At school, I did my best to conceal the fact that my father was a Republican.

When the secret leaked out, the class bully felt it his duty to make my life miserable with taunts, and occasionally a punch in the nose.

When my older siblings visited on Sundays, the men would gather on the front porch after lunch. I soon tired of their endless discussion of the cost of fertilizer, the drought’s effect on the just planted crops and why FDR should never be allowed to run for a third term.

Sometimes I would slip away and camp outside the dining room, eavesdropping on conversation by the women lingering over their lunchtime coffee.

Their conversation was about life, not crops — topics like a neighbor’s unmarried daughter who was pregnant, something outlandish the preacher had said at church or who had just had a baby.

Back to the questions for the teens.

Q: What is the biggest event in your life thus far?

Will: “Going to the prom with Kathy!” (Kathy is his new girlfriend.)

As you parents know, each teenager is a storehouse of individual possibilities, internal conflicts, ambitions and emotions unfolding and changing day by day.

As you guide your teenager to adulthood through turbulent times, may you say at the end of the journey what Michael Jordan’s father once said in an interview after his son scored yet another astronomical number of points for the Chicago Bulls: “This is something I raised!”

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