Earlier this month, The New York Times Sunday Styles debuted a new monthly column, After Curfew, which “will explore the social lives of teens and adolescents.” It will run in rotation with Sunday standbys “Studied” and “Noticed,” and will be written by longtime travel and style freelancer Jennifer Conlin.
Teenagers have historically been treated by the Times as a strange species in our midst, eliciting articles that vacillate between alarmist trendpieces and precious prodigy profiles–but reliably climb to the top of the most-emailed list. (Parents!)
Ms. Conlin is more of an embedded journalist. She has three children, aged 19, 15, and 14 (“I think that’s why Stuart Emmrich asked me to do it,” she said) and has been cultivating global teen sources since before her own were within shouting distance of a driver’s permit.
She spent the last two decades filing copy from London, Paris, Brussels and Cairo while her husband headed the cities’ respective Reuters bureaus. After writing a piece on American college kids studying abroad in Lebanon and Egypt, her family’s home became a go-to hang out spot for the sources and subjects her children now refer to as her “young friends.”
Keeping up with her “young friends” in Cairo, she found that they were equally interested in the revolution going on outside and staying in to Facebook message about new bands.
“With social media they can be so global, “the issues of all teenagers are really, really alike.”
Last year her family moved back to Ann Arbor, Michigan, which is ripe as any city for juvenile anthropology. She’ll take advantage of its college students–recent survivors of teenagedom–as well as university social scientists.
“It’s almost like another expatriate posting,” Ms. Conlin told Off the Record, of the Midwest. “Everything feels new to me.”
Does that explain her first column, on the decade-old dance phenomenon of grinding?
“I know grinding has been around forever but they’re still talking about it,” Ms. Conlin said. Her son will enter high school in the fall and was recently warned about the school dance floor debauchery that awaits him. He got good advice on the subject from a YouTube comedian, she wrote.
In 2004 Ms. Conlin authored a satirical parenting book, The Perfect Parent’s Handbook, which riffed on parental stereotypes, and in Ms. Conlin’s estimation, was incorrectly marketed.
“I didn’t realize that the book would be popular among kids because it made fun of their parents,” she said.
Similarly, After Curfew will be written for teenagers, not just about them.
“I’m kind of waiting for my kids to get home from summer camp tomorrow to see what the next subject will be,” she said.