Decoding the Tween Brain



JANUARY 12, 2017 2:06 PM

Dabbing, bottle flipping and ‘Miranda’: Decoding the tween brain

Scrolling through Facebook on Jan. 3, I knew exactly what I was looking at.

A teen boy, standing slightly behind House Speaker Paul Ryan, had his head buried deep in the crook of his arm. His father, Roger Marshall, a newly elected member of the House of Representatives from Kansas, was busy posing for a photo with Ryan and didn’t notice.

I let out a gasp. Then a squeal. “Lexi!” I shouted to my 11-year-old daughter. “You’ve gotta come see this!”

The next day at work, I discovered that I was one of the few non-millennial staff members who had recognized Cal Marshall’s politician-confounding gesture as a dab – a dance move that has become a second-nature expression for anyone born between 2004 and 2011.

I knew what I was seeing not because I’m still young and hip. I knew what I was seeing because I live with a middle-schooler.

Doing so, as I’m sure parents of other middle-schoolers and young high-schoolers can attest, is a thoroughly fascinating experience. Kids ages 10 to 15 are in to some pretty silly stuff – stuff I’m uncool enough to observe with total disbelief but cool enough to secretly enjoy.

Dabbing is just the beginning. I was first introduced to the phenomenon that young Marshall recently turned mainstream on my daughter’s fifth-grade field trip to Abilene last spring. I’d volunteered to ride the tour bus with the outnumbered teachers, and every time I would raise my phone to capture a memory in the making, my photo subject would seemingly convulse, his or her right arm flying out to the side as his or her nose went into hiding in the crook of his or her arm. It happened so fast I wasn’t sure at first that I’d actually seen it. But it happened so frequently that I knew something was afoot.

“They’re dabbing, mom,” Lexi told me later, not trying hard enough to mask her exasperation with my absurd question.

Then, one day toward the beginning of the school year, my newly minted middle-schooler sounded congested. Or something.

Her voice was so … nasally. She was having trouble enunciating. She kept calling me a “seener.” She wondered if she could ask me some “queestchuns” about my “lee-steek.” “Translation: Mom, you’re a sinner and I have some questions about lipstick.”

Just in case some other delightfully cheeky youth attempts to give a not-widely-known middle school obsession the national stage, I thought I’d offer up a little guide to some of the strange things your kids, nieces and nephews are into these days, as far as I understand them.

Youngsters are fickle, and I’m sure some will say – as they did with Marshall’s dab – that the entries on my list are already “so over.” But I assure you that they’re far from over in my house, and I know the same is true for other Wichitans who live with teens and tweens.

Dabbing: Although I’m certain that you’re up-to-date after the recent “Dab Seen ’Round the World,” let me try to explain the verb “to dab.” The Atlanta-based rap group Migos put out a mix tape back in 2015 that included the song “Look at My Dab,” and the accompanying video demonstrated the move. Not long after, NFL players like Cam Newton began dabbing after touchdowns. The tween set took it from there.

Despite its relative simplicity, I’m told by the 20-somethings in the newsroom and by my daughter that I’m hopelessly terrible at dabbing. Well, I was great at “The Macarena,” so there.

“Miranda Sings”: Back in 2008, comedienne Colleen Ballinger developed the character of Miranda – a clueless, arrogant, gawky young girl who thinks she’s the best singer in the world, suffers from extreme self-centered rudeness and speaks in a very bizarre manner, with confused vowels and slurred words. And she can’t put her lipstick on to save her life.

Girls in this age group also love to imitate Miranda’s speech pattern, something most mothers find unbearable. Several of my mom friends have outright banned Miranda-speak in their homes. For some reason, I find it sort of entertaining. My daughter is so good at Miranda-speak, I actually think she might be better than Miranda at it.

Miranda Sings is a big deal on YouTube, and my daughter and her friends could watch Miranda ramble on for hours. Late last year, Miranda got her own show on Netflix called “Haters Back Off.” It is a somewhat unbearable show that stars Ballinger as Miranda and also stars Angela from “The Office” as her mother. My daughter and her friends begged for a sleepover the day it was released so they could binge watch.

Now, Miranda has a tour. Ballinger is appearing as the character at performances across the country, and my daughter somehow persuaded me to get tickets. We’re heading to the Dallas area next weekend. Pray for me.

Bottle flipping: YouTube also is responsible for this annoying but harmless trend, in which the flipper fills a plastic water bottle just enough so that when he or she flips it in the air, it lands right side up. Flippers will practice for hours and hours and hours in any environment, on any surface.

It all got started when a high-schooler in North Carolina flipped a bottle at a school talent show and posted the feat on YouTube. The video has been viewed more than 7 million times, and his admirers have attempted to duplicate his feat at least 7 trillion times.

Adults also hate this trend, partially because it produces such an annoying noise and partially because tweens would continue practicing for weeks on end if allowed. My husband recently attended a Boy Scout event at the Kansas Underground Salt Museum in Hutchinson, where the director informed the boys that bottle flipping was strictly, absolutely, emphatically forbidden. The first bottle was flipped approximately 20 minutes later. This is a lip sync app similar to Dubsmash that tweens and teens love, and it’s actually pretty cool. The app provides short snippets of lyrics from popular songs, and the user films himself or herself lip syncing and otherwise performing. The trick: The app slows the lyrics way down during filming, then speeds them way up for the finished product. It creates a strange effect that will make your kid think she’s a true rock star. I’ve been pretty impressed and entertained by the clips my daughter has produced.

One warning: The lyrics on some of the song clips are a little mature. This hasn’t been a problem for us so far, but you might want to monitor your kids if they’re into it.

Necking: Not the necking you’re thinking of. NOT THE NECKING YOU’RE THINKING OF! But not much better. I didn’t know about this particular middle school trend until Wichita mom Trisha Davis made me aware of it. Essentially, when a friend says something sort of dense, you playfully smack them on the back of the neck declaring, “That’s a neck.” There’s also a YouTube video demonstrating exactly how it’s done. But it’s no longer done in Davis’ house.

“Mostly my daughter went around necking herself when she did anything silly or forgetful,” Davis told me on Facebook. “I ignored it at first but thought she might end up with permanent brain damage from it (kidding). It was just annoying.”

I’m also told by some other moms that there’s a whole “meme” thing happening, but I really don’t get it and think I am OK with that. My friend Dani Stone told me that her 12-year-old daughter and 15-year-old son have developed their own meme-based language.

She and her husband, Doug, though, have found a way to fight back on the dab front. Her children are always encouraging their parents to dab, but Dani doesn’t take the bait.

“I refuse. I don’t need their mockery,” she said. “But my husband does a move he calls the “Dad,” which is sort of a hybrid Heisman Trophy and Rodin’s The Thinker pose.”