Your Teen’s Most Annoying Response? Whatever!

guide to teen self-esteem

Getting Beyond Whatever

In December 2011, the annual Marist Poll revealed that “whatever” had for the third consecutive year been judged as the most annoying conversational word or phrase in the English language.  Indeed, nearly four in ten adults in the United States found this word obnoxious.

What is it about the word “whatever” that gets people so worked up?  Its continual usage is certainly a contributing factor.  Whenever people don’t want to commit to a particular opinion, choice or course of action this word gets trotted out.   The excessive use of the word, however, is only part of the problem because the attitude that accompanies it is, arguably, what really gets people hot under the collar.  Think about it.  Whenever someone says the word “whatever” they generally roll their eyes, curl their lip and apathetically shrug their shoulders.   These gestures aren’t exactly pretty and this is because they convey an air of contempt along with a “count me out” stance.

The subtext to whatever, then, is:  “I don’t care and I’m not prepared to take any responsibility.”  No one with any integrity would want to be associated with this attitude but unfortunately most people associate “whatever” with teenagers.  The media is largely to blame for this perception but the all too frequent use of the word by teenagers doesn’t help the situation.

If you think of any inspirational person (historical or otherwise) there is little to no chance that they would want to forfeit their sense of agency yet this is exactly what teenagers do whenever they say the word “whatever”.  Can you imagine Martin Luther King or Abraham Lincoln rolling their eyes and repeatedly using “whatever” as their fallback position?  It just wouldn’t have happened.  Why?  Because they cared passionately about their world and they actively wanted to change it for the better.  Make the choice to follow this path of engagement and remember that “whatever” is not the answer.  It is simply a contract that one forges with disempowerment.


About Dr. Shale Preston:

Shale Preston is the author of Getting Beyond “Whatever”:  The Guide to Teen Self-Esteem and Happiness.  Shale holds a PhD in English literature and has a forthcoming book with McFarland which examines the depiction of the biological and adoptive mothers in Charles Dickens’s fiction. You can find more information here.



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