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The Secret Lives of Teenagers

Aired May 12, 2005 - 22:00   ET


Never had an introduction like that in my life. Larry, we're going to talk about sex tonight. We're also going to talk about growing up, and, truth be told, the two sort of go together.

Teenagers have always had secret lives. If they didn't, they wouldn't become the independent adults we hope to raise. Well, we can't imagine anything we have to offer to tonight will surprise all of you 17-year-olds watching. Those of you a generation or two older may find a thing or two has changed since that revolution you experienced or helped lead.

Which brings us back to sex. Not because it's the most important thing in the world, but because it's right up there.


(voice-over): Ana Bacic seems to be a good kid. She does well in school. She's honest with her parents. In fact, she seems to be honest about everything.

ANA BACIC, HIGH SCHOOL SENIOR: I was 17 when I became sexually active. I'm a straight-A student. I'm going to NYU next year. This doesn't mean, however, that I'm not going to be curious about what it means to have sex.

BROWN: Nothing unusual here. One suspects that all teens have always been curious about sex, but Anna writes about it for an online newsletter for teens called "Sex, Et Cetera: What Kids Know About Sex and What They Think They Know."

BACIC: The biggest misconception of all is that, by having oral sex -- that having oral sex is the safest way to express themselves sexually -- because they seem to forget that you can contract STDs that way.

BROWN: While there's nothing new about teens experimenting with sex certainly, or having misconceptions for that matter, there is something new and nuanced, it seems, about the way they are approaching it. The nuance is the language.

BACIC: Hooking up, the term itself, is definitely being used much more liberally than before, and it's begun to mean sexual activity, actually, and I think the fact that its definition has changed, it conveys how our sexual attitudes have changed as well. VASANT NATARAJAN, HIGH SCHOOL SENIOR: You hear things like, oh, you know, I'm going to tap that. Tap that almost like -- almost meaning like, I'm going to get with that. I'm going to get with her or something. And also you've -- from a guy's perspective, we've objectified the female to the point that she's no longer a she or a female like a -- you know, like a Maria or a Sarah or something like that. She's become like a thing.

BROWN: Vasant Natarajan is also a straight-A student, president of his senior class. He says terms like "friends with benefits" -- and you can imagine the benefits -- show just how casual relationships have become.

NATARAJAN: Friends with benefits, I guess, I would define as being the idea of friends, you know, that aren't really going out but, I guess, enjoy each other on a sexual level. The idea of friends with benefits -- it's no longer, I guess, a rare thing to see. I mean, I've definitely seen it in our high school.

BROWN: So does this change in language mean a real change in teenagers' lives?

BENOIT DENIZET-LEWIS, CONTRIB. WRITER "NY TIMES" MAGAZINE: What's interesting and what's changed, I think, is that there's been -- you know, kids these days have sort of divorced emotion from their sexuality. They're saying, I don't want to get hurt. I don't want to put too much into this.

BROWN: Benoit Denizet-Lewis writes articles about youth culture. He says that the more casual language does actually translate into actions.

DENIZET-LEWIS: The studies show that intercourse is actually going down a little bit and has been for the last few years, but it's been -- there's a lot of anecdotal evidence that it's sort of been replaced by oral sex and a lot of very casual dating, which they see as, you know, less intimate, something that's quicker, and that's not as much emotion involved. I think that's what they're really going for.

BROWN: From a parents' perspective, it does have a horrifying ring. But Ana Bacic says the best way for parents to decipher the code is to listen.

BACIC: For parents out there, it's so important for them to offer an open ear for their kids. I can say from personal experience, when I became sexually active, my mom, surprisingly, offered me comfort. She offered me a degree of security.

The idea that your parent is there, that they're supporting you, that they're not going to make you feel guilty about what you're doing, it's going to give you the extra confidence you need to be responsible in your actions.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BROWN (on camera): And as for what kids are actually doing or not doing, as the case may be, the larger picture gets complicated fast. Studies of any kind of behavior among the young or the old, for that matter, rely heavily on the information people themselves volunteer -- or don't. So with that as a footnote, some facts and CNN's Ted Rowlands.


TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Some of the stories seem to border on the outrageous.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Experimenting with things, you know, and with new people, and like various people at once.

ROWLANDS: Their language suggests some teenagers are secretly living a life of debauchery.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now it's just more open. Everything is more free.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You just meet someone, some stranger, and you're like, OK, I think you're hot, and, you know, you take it to the next level. People are more normal about that.

ROWLANDS: But really talk to teenagers, and you'll find a more complicated picture. A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found the number of sexually active high school students has actually dropped from about 54 percent in 1991 to about 47 percent in 2003. Yet, as web sites, documentaries, and interviews show, teens say there's more casual sex and more sexual activity without intercourse.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Understanding that everybody is having sex.

ROWLANDS: Arlene Ami and Lynn Booth have spent the past two years studying teen sex while working on a recently released documentary entitled "Secrets."

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think kissing is even more intimate than like giving (EXPLETIVE) or on some levels even having sex.

ARLENE AMI, DIRECTOR "SECRETS": Kids are becoming sexualized at much younger ages, and part of that is the inundation of sex from the media.

ROWLANDS: The term "friends with benefits" is now such a part of the mainstream teen culture, it's popping up on television.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I guess we're friends with benefits. Come on, you got to admit that's a pretty sweet deal.

ROWLANDS: Yet Ami and Booth say, they've found that, while boys and girls often talk about friends with benefits, many teens, when pressed, don't seem to be comfortable with it. LYNN BOOTH, PRODUCER "SECRETS": I think that a lot of times the emotional needs of at least one person participating aren't really being truly addressed.

ROWLANDS: And studies have found teens are often more serious about sex than the talk would suggest. The 2004 survey, published by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy found that 85 percent of teenagers agree with the statement that sex should only occur in long-term, committed relationships. And 69 percent of teens said no to the question, is it OK for high school teens to have sexual intercourse?

Planned Parenthood says pregnancy rates have gone down since 1990. Indeed, even teenagers who talk the sex talk say the activity they engage in can't be too different from what their parents experienced.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sex doesn't change, you know. But, yeah, it's basically the same stuff that I'm pretty sure you guys learned about back then or experienced.

ROWLANDS: While the way kids talk about sex is often different these days, most are learning about it the same difficult way their parents did.

Ted Rowlands, CNN, Los Angeles.


BROWN: Well, for as long as there have been teenagers, they've been telling your parents, you don't understand. This is where Lara Fox and Hilary Frankel come in. They see themselves as translators of a sort. Seniors in high school now, they wrote a book together when they were 16: It's called "Breaking the Code," and we spoke to the two of them earlier tonight.


BROWN: Kids your age, boy-kids and girl-kids your age, have a fairly casual view about sex. Is that true?

LARA FOX, AUTHOR "BREAKING THE CODE": I think that sex may be viewed as more casual than the generation before us, because times have changed. However, I think that they have more of an education on something like STDs.

BROWN: So, they know more about things that can go wrong, and they have a more casual view about engaging? Do you think that's true?

HILARY FRANKEL, AUTHOR "BREAKING THE CODE": I think there is more casual sex. I mean, I wasn't alive 30 years ago.

BROWN: Right. I was.

FRANKEL: Well, but -- I definitely mean we've had sex ed since we were in sixth grade, and it's very much out in the open. It's on TV. It's on MTV, things like that.

BROWN: That's interesting to me. The fact that something is on TV or out in the open, does that mean that therefore you go do it?

FRANKEL: I think for some kids that might be a trigger, but I think it also educates a lot of people. And, I mean, I certainly find MTV to be sometimes educational, like they've had programs on HIV and AIDS and things like that. And, so, I think, even if it is occasionally the trigger, it can also help a situation.

BROWN: You two have written about sort of how -- when it comes down to it, how I should talk to my child. How we should talk to you all. Do you ever think about how you should talk to us?

FOX: Of course. I think that, you know, what we try and do is say, you know, the teen's thought process isn't rational, and we can be obnoxious, sometimes, and bratty, and we should be put in our place. It's just a matter of, if the parent can understand how the teenager rationalizes those ideas to themselves, then, with that knowledge, they can accomplish what they want.

BROWN: To you get that, parents, by and large, if they're good parents, are terrified, seriously, most of the time, about what could befall their children?

FRANKEL: Yeah, I think -- I definitely understand that. I mean, my own parents have expressed that to me and a lot of my friends. But I think that, basically, when you're growing up and becoming an adult, and you're in the transitional years, like your parents have to realize -- and I think a lot of parents do realize, even though they're scared, that their kids are growing up, and they can give their teenagers privacy and leeway and things like that. And it doesn't have to be all about the fear. You can talk openly about things with your kids.

BROWN: How do you have the most productive transactions with your kids you can possibly have?

FRANKEL: Well, I think -- I mean, timing is basically key, and I think for a teenager you have to find the right time to approach them about a situation, trying to like step back. And even though your teenager is being irrational, let them have the last word and then come back to them later on, when you've calmed down, they've calmed down, and talk about it like two adults or two human beings, rather than just screaming.

BROWN: In retrospect, you've had conversations with your folks, and you've fought. And do you ever go, the truth is they were right?

FOX: All the time. And I think, you know, while we were writing this, as we were typing out our conversations with our parents, having to put down what you say as a teenager on paper, you have to face the fact that you really can be a jerk sometimes. And I think all teenagers walk away and say, you know, our parents are right, but that doesn't mean that they care whether the parent was right, because they still want what they want. So it's really a matter of getting through to your kid and letting them understand why you say what you do. Because if your teen is asking why, that means that they're listening to you. If they're just saying uh-huh, uh-huh, that means nothing is happening, you're interrupting their favorite show right now, and they'll do whatever they need to do to get you out of the room.

BROWN: How long has the book been out?

FRANKEL: Since March 1st.

BROWN: How often have you checked Amazon?

FOX: Every day.

BROWN: Nice to meet you both. You're terrific. Good luck to you.

FOX: Thank you.

FRANKEL: Thank you.


BROWN: Much more to come tonight on what parents don't know about their teenagers, what teenagers might know about mom and dad, and what we can learn from each other.


BROWN (voice-over): The setting is Norman Rockwell, the subjects are not.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm pretty sure I couldn't come home drunk ever.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Evan, could he come home drunk? Would you be OK with that?

BROWN: Six parents, six kids, no limits. Well, almost no limits.


BROWN: Also tonight, what your kids are reading.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was daytime and the sun was shining, but still her room seemed so dim, too forgiving and lacking in truth.

BROWN: It's called young adult fiction. With the emphasis on the "adult."

And later -- a movie that makes it hip to be square, but not with words like hip or square.





BROWN: The secret life of teens. In just a moment, trying to get teens and their parents to understand each other a little bit better. I can tell you it takes some effort.

Now at about a quarter past the hour, Erica Hill is in Atlanta tonight with the headlines -- Erica.


Military base closings will be the talk of the town in Washington tomorrow. That's when Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld recommends which bases should be closed. He estimates the Pentagon could save nearly $50 billion over the next two decades. If the president does approve the closings, the issue will head to Congress, which does have the final say.

John Bolton's nomination to be the next ambassador to the United Nations will be decided by the full Senate after all. Today, after a long delay, the Foreign Relations Committee voted along party lines to send the nomination to the Senate, but without recommending approval. Republican Senator George Voinovich, a member of the committee, says Bolton is not the best candidate, and that he will vote against him. He says he will lobby other Republicans to do the same.

No end to the violence in Iraq. At least 21 people killed in a series of attacks, including a car bombing in Baghdad that killed 17 people and injured more than 80. Insurgents also assassinated two Iraqi government officials, and the Pentagon reports five U.S. soldiers have been killed over the last two days.

And that is the latest from HEADLINE NEWS at this hour. Aaron, we'll turn it back to you.

BROWN: Erica, thank you. We'll check with you in about a half an hour.

One of the few truths that I know is this: The things that shocked me as a parent were things I considered normal as a kid. I think it's God's way of punishing my bad behavior back then.

The biggest problem and the greatest joy of being a kid is not knowing what you don't know. The greatest pain for adults is knowing how much you don't know. Alina Cho tonight on bridging that gap.


ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Call it an unscientific survey. We assembled six parents and their teenage children for a little question-and-answer session. The venue, the soda pop shop in Montclair, New Jersey, 20 miles outside New York. The subjects, former record exec Val and his daughter Natalie; news producer Reid and daughter Trudy; Barnard-bound Chrissy and her mom, Susan; budding soccer star Ryan and dad Manny; former hedge fund manager Josh and son Sam. And Brandon, who's headed to UVA with his father Evan.

So now to the issues. What about drinking?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The time that I have gotten drunk, I came home. You know, my parents saw me. They saw that I was drunk. Made fun of me the next morning when I was hung over, and we moved on. They realized that I need to know what it feels like, and I think that that's really important. So when I do go to college, it's not my first night ever touching a beer, and so then I don't realize how much I can take and end up throwing up somewhere. You know, like I think...

CHO (on camera): So you feel better for having this experience?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yeah, absolutely.

CHO: Before you go off on your own?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yeah, and it's nothing that he can teach me. Like, oh, this is what it's like to be drunk and this is how you're going to feel. And this is how embarrassed you're going to be later on. I need to figure it out by myself.

CHO: But do all of you guys feel that way? I mean, are you guys old enough to know when to stop?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, but I think we're old enough to -- maybe we're not. But it's that time when we're starting to figure out what's too much.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm pretty sure I couldn't come home drunk ever.

CHO: Evan, could he come home drunk? Would you be OK with that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You asked the question, and I looked at him. I just didn't think he ever had a drink. Honestly.

CHO: You didn't think he ever had a drink?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think he ever had a drink. No. I'm surprised. But then, there have been opportunities where he said, well, we're going to stay over at so-and-so's house. And I didn't know. Maybe that was a precursor to having a drink and not having to come, because he drives.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You know, you've got to give the kids credit for being a little bit smarter, I think. They know when to not drink and drive, and stuff like that. And they all seem to protect themselves, each other.

CHO (voice-over): What about drugs?

(on camera): Your parents grew up in the pot smoking generation. So do you ever talk about that with your kids?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, absolutely.

CHO: What do you tell Trudy?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, I smoked marijuana every day of my life for five or six years at one point.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And I've never tried it in my life. Honest.

CHO: Reid, why was it important for you to talk to Trudy about that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, because this. Because it was a big part of my life for a long time, but as I've grown older, I have some -- a couple of regrets about it. I mean, it didn't do any longterm, lasting damage to me, but I think that I wasted a good part of my college education by focusing a little bit too much on that substance.

CHO (voice-over): How about sex?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At the end of the day, I'd be lying if I look at it now and go, yeah, she goes into the den for three hours with her boyfriend never to be seen.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let's not talk about this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We call it the cave. And I assure you, when they're in the cave, you can only talk about sports so long, you know.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We need to stop right now.

CHO: Natalie, what happens when you go into the cave?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: None of his business, first of all. It's fine to have a relationship with someone you love and not have to have sex. And I feel like we need to get more credit for that.

CHO: I wonder, as parents, how much do you really want to know about your kids? I mean, if your kid is practicing safe sex, do you want to know that they're having sex? If your kid is drinking, do you want to know that they're drinking? Do you want to know everything?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What I want to know is that, you know, our kids are taking prudent risks and are paying attention and are safe, you know. And the details are less important.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the time where you feel like you're invincible. And that's how I do feel right now. I don't feel -- you know what I mean? like I don't -- you don't know -- I guess you don't know pain, you could say, yet. You know what I mean, you feel like you can do anything, and I like that feeling. CHO: But Manny, you're shaking your head. You look like you're...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's how I feel that he feels about things, and that drives me crazy.

CHO: For those of you heading off to college, you'll be on your own. What scares you the most about college?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just think it's going to be such an adjustment, this different mode of life. You know, your life in high school really is regimented in so many ways. Whether or not you're in a sport, there's still school, there's still all those patterns. And as much as they constrict you, they also support you in a lot of ways. So when those strings get cut, I think it's going to be kind of interesting to see what happens.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think my wife will call my son to wake him up.


CHO: Make sure you get to class on time?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She might even be there to wake me up. I think the scariest part about everything that's going to happen is that it's our life now. It's no one telling us what to do. And no one -- yeah, like college, there are really, I mean, there are really no rules in a sense. You can do whatever you want to do whenever you want to do it. And it's our life now we have to worry about now. It's our careers. And our parents have their careers, now we are going to have ours. We're going to be working. And it's interesting to see what's going to happen. I think it's the scariest part, but it's exciting at the same time.

CHO (voice-over): Out on their own, their parents hope, with the knowledge they need to succeed.

Alina Cho, CNN, Montclair, New Jersey.


BROWN: Pretty good group, that.

When we come back, more on the boys, their problems and their needs.

Also, what your kids may be reading and why more than a few parents are up in arms. A break first. Around the world, this is NEWSNIGHT.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice-over): In 1960 this week, the FDA approved the first birth control pill. J.D. Searle (ph) pharmaceutical company introduced the drug during a time when birth control was a controversial issue.

At the age of 36, reggae's most widely known artist, Bob Marley, loses his battle to cancer on May 11th, 1981. The Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame inductee was awarded his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame just four years ago.

And in 1985, an outbreak of the deadly virus Ebola claimed at least 250 lives.

And that is "This Week in History."



BROWN: On now to another window into the world of teens, a window made of words. What a teenager writes about can be revealing. It can also be raunchy and raw.


AMANDA MARQUIT, TEENAGE AUTHOR: She decided to go over to the mall as soon as it opened and get pierced. She returned home afterwards, dazed with a faint, dull, throbbing pain in her abdomen...

BROWN (voice-over): Meet 18-year-old Amanda Marquit, high school senior from Manhattan, headed to Brown University in the fall. Published author.

A. MARQUIT: It was daytime and the sun was shining, but still her room seemed so dim, too forgiving and lacking in truth.

BROWN: She's reading from her book, one of a small but growing list of books aimed at young adults on the market this year. Books heavy on sex, bad language and coarse teenage behavior. Depending on your point of view, either way over the top or absolutely on the mark.

She sold 30,000 or so so far. The book is called "Shut the Door."

A. MARQUIT: It's really just supposed to be sort of the underground aspect of suburban life and life in general, life for teenagers, what people do behind their closed doors. Hence the title of the book. You know, what people do in private. What people don't want to talk about necessarily. It's supposed to be sort of as much of an unbiased perspective as one could possibly get.

BROWN: The protagonists in "Shut the Door" are sisters, sisters who despise each other. The parents are, of course, remote and clueless, and everyone swears a lot.

STACY MARQUIT, AMANDA'S MOTHER: You know what, I live with her every single day, and I did not -- you know, I'm not particularly fazed about bad language. I work in a business where it kind of exists all the time, so it doesn't bother me at all. RICHARD MARQUIT, AMANDA'S FATHER: And we tried to bring her back a little bit toward the more traditional ways of discourse, but we're also somewhat anesthetized by it. This is the way people speak today.

BROWN: But forget the swearing. It's the rest that we note here. One of the sisters in the book has bulimia and carves her boyfriend's initials into her arm with a razor blade.

S. MARQUIT: I knew that Amanda did not have bulimia. She had not cut herself, you know. None of those issues really existed. She hadn't had a boyfriend, so I felt kind of comfortable in the fact that I knew it, but I was uncomfortable in the fact that what would everybody else think?

BROWN: As you might imagine, parents, other than the author's, have a somewhat mixed view of such childhood reading materials.

KARI KNELL, CONCERNED PARENT: I was really surprised to find that it was shallow, really no substance, and not only that, but it was sexually explicit.

BROWN: Kari Knell is a mom in suburban Washington, whose 14- year-old daughter brought one of the young adult novels home from her school library. That would be her middle school library.

KNELL: When I was a teenager, you know, 30 years ago, 35 years ago, there were a few books out there that were kind of trashy, but nothing as explicit as now, where they're actually -- if you want to find out how to go and have sex, you can read these books that are geared for these middle age school girls and find out.

BROWN: Amanda says she's already planning a second novel, and says while such books may be shocking to parents, kids these days, Amanda says, have heard it all and seen it all before.

A. MARQUIT: If they're not being exposed to it in my book, they're being exposed to it on TV, or they're visiting Internet sites, or they're, you know, hearing it on the school bus, or you know, seeing it at parties. And I really don't think that I'm discussing anything that hasn't already been exhausted.


BROWN: Well, we've heard a lot from girls tonight, three of them authors before they even started college. "Seventeen" magazine has been a bible for teenage girls for decades. Atoosa Rubenstein is the editor-in-chief, and we spoke with her earlier tonight about girls, and boys.


BROWN: First of all, is there any big difference between the girls who buy your magazine and the boys who hang out with the girls who buy your magazine. You know what I mean?


BROWN: Yeah.


BROWN: I mean, in every sense. Emotionally, are they different? Are they, are the boys, do you think, less stressed out than the girls? You talk about the girls as being very stressed out.

RUBENSTEIN: The girls are very stressed out. I'm very optimistic about girls. I call these girls the daughters of Oprah, in that they've grown up seeing very powerful female role models around them on television, in entertainment, and even in their own homes.

But the boys -- the boys have sort of been forgotten. The boys don't have magazines like mine to speak to them, to help them grow, to tell them it's OK to talk about body issues, which they do have.

BROWN: When I was walking up to sit down and talk with you, I was thinking that all of the guests and almost every central character in every story we're doing tonight is a girl. Why is that?

RUBENSTEIN: Our society has been built to support and promote girls. A lot of times when I talk, when I step back and think about the things that I'm saying and how pro-girl I am, I think, my goodness, if I was a young boy and I heard this woman pushing forward the female agenda to young girls, telling girls they can be anything they want to be, and you know, we're -- you know, we're going to beat the boys at this, anything boys can do girls can do better. That's really damaging.

BROWN: Someone earlier today said -- was describing, in her observation, boys and girls, and she said boys are like sundials; girls are like Swiss watches. If you say -- if a boy says I'm not hungry, he means I'm not hungry. If a girl says I'm not hungry, it could mean any one of a 100 different things that went wrong that day. But girls, by biology or upbringing are -- are more complicated at that age.

RUBENSTEIN: They are. But we almost allow for their complications. When boys are complicated, we're surprised at you, Tommy. And we didn't expect that of you. But who's to say that they don't have conflicting emotions inside? You know, whenever I speak with a man who is powerful, I always ask him about his youth and his childhood, because I do think that boys need an Oprah. Boys need an advocate today.

BROWN: As the last point, do you think -- I'm not dumping. I don't mean this like dumping something on you here. But do you think magazines like yours contribute to this sense that girls have that they are not old enough, smart enough, pretty enough, sexy enough at ages where it's just hard to be what they are?

RUBENSTEIN: I don't think it has anything to do with magazines as much as it has to do with the culture around them. One of the things that's very fascinating about this particular generation is that they've grown up with girls their own age, multi-, multi- millionaires. Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Justin Timberlake. These are kids who have empires. And so that's a lot of pressure. And when I look at "Seventeen," our goal is to have girls maneuver and navigate and actually feel good about themselves.

So I feel great about what our role is in their lives. We hold their hands. We remind them that they're kids, that they're young, that there's a lot of joy to be had being their age, as opposed to all of the stress and the pressure that I think the world puts on them.

BROWN: It's a great message for them. There's nothing wrong with being a kid. It's nice to meet you.


BROWN: Thanks for coming in.

RUBENSTEIN: Thank you.


BROWN: Atoosa Rubenstein of "Seventeen" magazine.

Still to come tonight, our favorite story for obvious reasons, the nerd who made it big. "Napoleon Dynamite" and his millions of fans. Also tonight, Jeff Greenfield on those kids, now and then and always. And as always, this is NEWSNIGHT.


BROWN: Over the years, when you were a teen, there was one thing you devoutly wished for -- not to be called a nerd. If, God forbid, you wore glasses, you didn't repair them with tape. A pocket protector was out, even if you're a wiz at physics. You join the chess club at your own peril. And you never approached a girl in front of her friends unless you wanted to hear "what a geek" as you walked away.

But as Jason Carroll explains, we do live in unusual times.


JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Ridgeland High School, Jackson, Mississippi. Today's lesson, pop culture phenomena. Test questions -- why are popular girls wearing tees saying "I love nerds?" Why does wearing a "loser" pin make you a winner? And why are teenagers like Ryan Bennett into saying things like...



BENNETT: What an idiot. God.

CARROLL: The answer -- "Napoleon Dynamite." "Napoleon Dynamite" is the name of a low-budget independent film and the nerdy fictional character it centers on.


CARROLL: It's based on the filmmaker's experiences growing up in Idaho.

JARED HESS, DIRECTOR: Totally exceeded everybody's expectations.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You ever take it off any sweet jumps?

CARROLL: Napoleon crashed into theaters last summer, ages ago in movie time, but it's still so popular...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Whereas the state of Idaho recognizes...

CARROLL: ... Idaho lawmakers passed a mock resolution in support of it, and Napoleon's lines are standard high school vocabulary.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you bring me my chapstick?

BENNETT: My lips hurt real bad.

CARROLL: Ryan is a junior, and, he'll admit, a bit of a nerd. But thanks to Napoleon, he embraces his nerdiness. Ryan even performed Napoleon's dance at his prom.

Imitation is the highest form of flattery. But why "Napoleon Dynamite?" In the film, he gets his friend Pedro elected class president. He gets the girl, Deb, in the end. Otherwise, not much happens.

(on camera): Because the movie doesn't really have a plot. I'm looking for the plot. It's not just me, right?

BENNETT: Right. It has no plot.

CARROLL (voice-over): But Ryan says Napoleon taps into something teens relate to.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You want to play me?

BENNETT: Everyone at one time or another has felt like a nerd or an outcast or something. And they see Napoleon, and they're like, hey, everyone ends up liking him. If I've ever felt like an outcast, if this guy can make it, then I can make it no problem.

CARROLL: Ryan says his peers don't agree.

BENNETT: I have a couple of friends who absolutely hate the movie, think it's a complete waste of film.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think that it's the most pointless thing ever made.

BENNETT: I have other friends who would die to have been in that movie. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When I immediately saw Deb -- and this might sound weird -- but I thought of myself.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: See, she even thinks I'm like Deb.


CARROLL: Trends are fickle. How much longer can Napoleon's popularity last?

GLEN KENNY, PREMIER MAGAZINE: I think it's too soon to tell whether "Napoleon Dynamite" is going to be for this generation of teenagers and post-teenagers what "Animal House" was to boomer and post-boomer generations.

CARROLL: It may be cool now to accept nerdiness by buying a keychain or wearing a "vote for Pedro" T-shirt. But Ryan does not see true acceptance coming anytime soon.

BENNETT: As much as I love to believe in people, chances of that happening are actually slim to none. I mean, I try to view the world realistically, and I'm sorry, it's going to take more than just a fad movie to change people's opinion and go around and say, you know, this nerd might be a really cool person on the inside.

CARROLL: No matter.



CARROLL: Ryan's enjoying popularity and having fun at Napoleon's expense.

Jason Carroll, CNN, Jackson, Mississippi.


BROWN: Just ahead on the program, we'll check the day's headlines. And a look at the age-old standoff between parents and teens, how the lines are drawn over music and clothes and romances and secrets. And why that's not always such a bad thing. We'll take a break first. This is NEWSNIGHT.


BROWN: Quarter until the hour. Time for some of the other stories that made news on this day. Erica Hill again in Atlanta -- Erica.

HILL: Hello again, Aaron.

We start with an Air France flight from Paris to Boston. It was diverted to Bangor, Maine today after a passenger's name matched a name on the U.S. no-fly list. The passenger, his wife and children were taken off the flight for questioning. The flight continued on to Boston. The passenger and his family were later released.

Federal investigators planned to look into why the president was not notified until after the flyover scare was over in Washington, D.C. yesterday. Meantime, Lieutenant Colonel Tim Lehmann, one of the two F-16 pilots who tracked the wayward Cessna, described today how tough it was to get the attention of the TOI, or target of interest.


LT. COL. TIM LEHMANN, U.S. AIR NATIONAL GUARD: I went by first, dropped flares. The TOI did not respond. And then the other F-16 went past. He dropped flares as well. Still, we do not get a response from the TOI. It wasn't until the third time we went past and dropped flares, that seemed to get his attention. And I believe at that point the TOI realized, hey, something is definitely wrong here, and that's when he changed his course.


HILL: Officials say that had it been deemed necessary, ground- based missile batteries could have also shot the Cessna down.

And that's the latest from HEADLINE NEWS at this hour. Aaron, back to you.

BROWN: Erica, thank you.

There is that parenting moment, more than one really, when you realize you sound just like your parent. You also worry that, just like your parents, you do dumb things, a few smart things along the way.

For all the talk of change, the motto of most parents really ought to be "been there, done that." Here's our senior analyst Jeff Greenfield.


JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SR. ANALYST (voice-over): If this is what the next generation is like out in the open, if this is what they dress like, act like, listen to in public, maybe it's no wonder that their elders are worried, or unsettled, or petrified about their secret lives.

And it's certainly understandable that when people the law calls minors perpetrate major acts of violence, however statistically rare they may be, we asked what was going on in their secret lives that drove them to such horrible acts?

(on camera): But there is reason for at least a measure of reassurance here. In the first place, we elders have always, always regarded the next generation with a fair amount of fear and loathing. Moreover, if our kids did not keep us out of at least a part of their lives, they would have a much harder time becoming the kind of grown- ups we want them to be.

(voice-over): First, how far back does our discontent with the young go? Well, here's how Socrates described the young Athenians of his day. Quote, "The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority. They show disrespect for elders. They no longer rise when their elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs and tyrannize their teachers."

In the 1920s, parents wondered what was going on when young people's courting moved from the front parlor to the backseat of an automobile.

In the 1950s, now seen as the golden age of innocence, violent comic books, drag racing and sexually provocative rock n' roll were the culprits.

In the '60s, sex, drugs and rock n' roll became the axis of evil, and enough of the baby boomers were out in the streets to make the generation gap page one news.

Today, the same fears are fed by different sources. What are they getting from MTV, from rap, from video games, from the Internet? Well, a good deal of it is the basic impulse of young people to begin staking out emotional territory of their own.

ANTHONY WOLF, "GET OUT OF MY LIFE": It's really important that I feel that I get to experience that I have this world that my parents really are not part of.

GREENFIELD: Anthony Wolf is a psychologist, an author of a parent's guide to the new teenager called "Get Out of My Life, But First Could You Drive Me and Cheryl to the Mall?" One key piece of his advice -- don't hit the panic button.

WOLF: A lot of the stuff that kids do that parents find horrifying is really part of a normal good teenager's life.

GREENFIELD: And while reports of dangerous behavior can impel parents to inquire more about their kids' lives, Wolf says there's a fine line between involvement and intrusion.

WOLF: Kids will push you away and shut you out as best as they can, which is why parents should try to stay involved anyway. But there always will be a part of their kids' lives that's very private.

GREENFIELD (on camera): Here are a couple of things you might want to ask yourself. First, how would your parents have reacted if they learned all about your teenage conversations, fantasies, desires, inner feelings about your life or your family back then? Today, while the language, the music, the dress may all seem to be coming from another planet, is it really all that different?

Jeff Greenfield, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BROWN: "Morning Papers" after the break.


BROWN: I'll be with you in just a second. Time to check "Morning Papers" from around the country and around the world. That break was shorter than normal, wasn't it?

"The Christian Science Monitor," quickly, here we go. "Afghanistan riddled with drug ties." "The involvement of local as well as high level government officials." Well, that's comforting. "The opium trade is frustrating efforts to eradicate poppy fields." Probably still beats the Taliban and all the rest, but it's not a good deal there.

"The Washington Times," just a mention that "Bolton sent to full Senate, but panel does not endorse Bush pick." Hardly a vote of confidence for the man who will likely be the next ambassador to the U.N. from the United States.

It's a big story in New York today, comes out of "Newsday." "West Slide Story." "Chaos but no casualties as wall with history of problems falls on the parkway on the West Side Highway." The Henry Hudson Parkway, a Route 9 (ph), anyway, it's a major route, and it's a mess tonight. And I'm not sure how I'm getting home.

"Race flu may kill your pet" says "The Boston Herald." Kennel quarantines not fool proof. This started at the greyhound tracks. I've never quite understood that sport. Is that a sport? Not really. It's just another way to gamble, isn't it?

Anyway, that's the lead in "The Boston Herald" up in Boston.

"The Oregonian" out West in Portland, Oregon. "Iraqis vent fury over bloodshed. Weary of violence and death, they throw stones at police and U.S. troops." Better they throw stones than they throw bombs in my opinion.

"Golfer, at top of her game when aiding man" featured down at the bottom. A Grisham (ph) high school student -- Grisham (ph) is suburban Portland -- playing a golf tournament, takes charge in an effort to save a walker's life." Good for her.

"Stars and Stripes" leads military. "House bill would bar women from combat support units. Proposed measure aims to keep female GIs from ground battles." I don't think that's going anywhere. That's just my opinion.

The weather tomorrow in Chicago on Friday the 13th, is "cursed."

We'll wrap it up in a moment.


BROWN: Good to have you with us tonight. We'll see you again tomorrow. Until then, good night for all of us at NEWSNIGHT. TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT

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