Teenagers are often stereotyped as being lazy and unmotivated. I suppose stereotypes are usually rooted in fact. There is one talent, however, in which this particular subspecies of human excels. It is the art of making believable, effective excuses. Excuse-making isn't a trivial matter, as anyone whose homework was eaten by their dog (or its modern equivalent - "my computer crashed") will well know. It is a skill.
For the past few months, I have been even more unhelpful around the house than usual, if that's possible. "How can anyone possibly live in all this muck?" Mum demanded when she wandered into my room the other day, gingerly stepping over clothes, books, make-up and other assorted things that were difficult to put a name to, strewn everywhere. "It looks like there's been a hurricane here: clean it up now!"
I turned a patient, martyred face up at her. "I don't have time right now. I have to revise - I've got GCSEs coming up."
She left it at that. A few days later, I was ordered to pick up and throw away all the bits of paper lying about my room. "But I need them," I protested.
"You don't even know what they are!" was the indignant reply.
I didn't, but a prevailing characteristic of the social group I belong to is that we never do what we're told, or agree with an opposing party. "I do, I need them all."
"This bit of paper is a worksheet about how to add fractions. It's from five years ago!" I subjected her to a stern look. "We need to know everything we've ever learnt, and I've got to revise - I have GCSEs coming up!" The GCSEs excuse worked beautifully for everything for a few months, from getting out of doing the dishes, to washing the car. It's just that once I forgot to shut my room's door and settled down with a copy of The Vampire Diaries, having successfully wriggled out of watering the garden, and a head poked through the door. "I thought you were revising for your exams."
"I need breaks to clear my head so I can revise properly - and I can't be disturbed from my break now because I have GCSEs!" I was sentenced to an evening of chores.
As masters, teenagers are usually aware of the value of restraint. I've given the GCSEs card a rest now, only now I'm being nagged to revise more because GCSEs are just two short weeks away. Life's like that. It's not always easy keeping it realistic. I bet PE lessons all over the world are rife with students forgetting their kit on a weekly basis. It's not difficult to forge a sick note and conditions vary from fractured feet and sprained ankles, to stomach cramps, allergies and general aches and pains in various parts of the anatomy.
Given the plethora of excuses teachers are barraged with, a PE teacher at my old school refused to believe me when I did actually develop a pollen allergy out in the field. I felt genuinely sorry then for the boy who cried wolf. The teacher was forced to give in and send me scurrying to the sick room when she saw the violent hives in ten minutes time. I never caught a cold during PE again, though - saving them for the real thing.
Come to think about it, making excuses is a very exact science, perfected and honed by generations of adolescents who consistently forget to do their chores or revise for a test. It fits Darwin's theory of evolution beautifully. Organisms must adapt to changes in their environment if they are to survive. We must come up with a survival technique to escape the wrath of unsavoury characters if we are to maintain our untroubled existence in the world. Unsavoury characters incensed enough to cause grievous bodily harm when they find out we haven't done our homework, or whatever we were supposed to have done.
Like any science, it can be broken down into subsections: there's the bit you haven't done that you make an excuse for (an unreasonable amount of trigonometry homework), the excuse itself (my, er, gerbil ate it) and what you spend your time doing instead (complaining on Facebook about the trigonometry you're supposed to be doing).
Dreaming up an excuse taxes your thinking-on-your-feet part of the brain more than any trigonometry sums can. I would spend my valuable time analysing this great art further, but I'm afraid I must go and revise now. I've got GCSEs, you see.
* Lavanya Malhotra
Ÿ The writer is a 15-year-old student in Dubai.