Fredericton — In recent years, much has been made of the literacy crisis in New Brunswick. However, a greater calamity is lurking in the families of adolescents across the province. A new study has shown that a record number of 45- to 70-year-old New Brunswick adults are either mostly or completely teenager-illiterate.
“I told my 15-year-old daughter to send me an SMS text message when she was ready for me to get her at her friend’s house,” said 43-year-old Andrew Walsh. “Later, I got a message that said, ‘i’m redE 2 go cum pik me ^’, and I was like, ‘What the hell does that mean? Is she OK? Is she pregnant? Did she sit on her phone and butt-message me?’ I was completely baffled. I called her, but she didn’t know how to answer a voice call; she’d never received one before. It was a complete communication breakdown over the simplest of things.”
This epidemic of teenager-illiteracy is compounded by New Brunswick’s rampant “regular” illiteracy issues. New Brunswick still has the lowest literacy rates of all provinces with the exception of Newfoundland and Labrador. Over 50 percent of New Brunswickers of working age — around 300,000 people — do not have the necessary literacy levels or critical skills. The deficit means that this cohort could only comprehend information that was simple and clearly laid out.
Now, it is clear that the illiteracy problem is being worsened by additional barriers to communication between parents or grandparents and today’s teens. “I mean, I just learned how to email and they don’t even do that anymore,” lamented 72-year-old grandfather Leo Miller. “My grandson told me he’s dating someone he met on ‘Tin Dirt,’ or tinder maybe? He tried to explain it to me and I started laughing because I thought he was making it up. Then, I saw the expression on his face and I could tell he was serious. We just sort of stared silently at each other for a while after that.”
“I joined Facebook to keep up with my kids and grandkids,” explained 68-year-old Pauline Vaughan. “My teenage grandson kept posting these pictures with words on them that made no sense. He called them Internet meems (sic). I was completely missing the context for all of these posts that was blatantly obvious to everyone else. His friends loved them, but I couldn’t even tell if it was off-colour. Completely bizarre.”
“It’s very intimidating to be so far out of the loop,” said 52-year-old Brenda Majors. “I took my daughter out to a posh restaurant to celebrate her high school graduation. After each dish was served, she photographed it with her phone. At first I didn’t say anything, but by the time she photographed dessert I was like, ‘What the hell are you doing?’ She said she was sharing it on Instant Gram. I have no idea what that means. Who are these people who care so much what my daughter eats?”
The Government of New Brunswick is studying the possibility of introducing “teenage literacy” classes, which will be structured similar to the commonplace literacy classes for adults. In the meantime, families are still struggling to communicate as best as possible. “Hey, my mom and dad may be basic, but I love my parentals,” said 19-year-old Hannah Williams. “Besides, the less they know about my Snapchats, the better.”