It starts innocently enough: a chortle here, a guffaw there. We’ve all had a chuckle or two in our lives, resulting from biological and social pressures that most of us outgrow, or at least learn to suppress. However, an increasing number of adults are coming forward to express their concerns about a dangerous trend that appears to be infiltrating the lives of teenage girls across the nation—fits of giggles that, in the eyes of this reporter, are no laughing matter.
I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes just last week at the movies. A pack of teenage girls sat behind me, remaining quiet through the previews and the first four or five minutes of the film—until someone on screen told a joke, and they broke out in laughter. Laughter! At a film! I was appalled, so I gave them a look, but they continued to laugh at every joke in the film. It was like they thought they had the right to have fun. In public!
Apparently, the movies aren’t the only place where teenage girls have been laughing up a storm. The giggle fits have infiltrated our malls, our restaurants, our amusement parks, and even our schools, where they’re hidden from teachers on their cell phones through the usage of clever, adult-proof textual codes like “LOL” (an acronym that means “laughing out loud”). Teenage girls are laughing with alarming frequency, and experts aren’t quite sure how to pinpoint the cause—or the cure for—their happiness. Frightened but determined, I set out to find some answers.
I began my journey at the Cedar Farms Mall, where teenage girls have been known to congregate. I heard the laughter as soon as I stepped through the mall entrance—it was everywhere, bouncing from the glass ceilings to the crooks of the escalators and back again, a cacophony of cackles filling the air just as strongly as the scent of Auntie Anne’s pretzels. The girls traveled in packs, laughing, whispering, and animatedly moving their hands. For a brief moment, I considered reaching out to a few of them to ask them about their hysterics, but recognizing that I was outnumbered, I decided I’d be much better off interviewing the people who really know what teenage girls are up to: adults.
“They’re in here all the time, talking to each other—and laughing,” says Maureen Stumpf, owner of the Blue Bell Diner in Peaksville, where teenage girls tend to gather late at night to drink milkshakes and gossip amongst themselves. “How it usually works is, it will get really quiet at their table, you know, they’re all drinking their shakes and checking those darn phones, and then suddenly one of them will say something completely ridiculous, like, ‘shark butt,’ and the rest of them will just lose their minds laughing. It’s absolutely terrifying. We’d never behave like that in public when I was a girl. If a friend of mine ever laughed like that, I’d immediately call the police and have her thrown in the hoosegow. This generation has no respect for themselves or anybody else.”
Stumpf isn’t alone in her concerns: 30-year-old Jason Astel, who lives in the apartment across from mine, expressed similar thoughts. “Ah, man, teenage girls scare the [excrement] out of me when they laugh. It’s like they’re all sharing the same brain or something. Like they know something I don’t know. I don’t like that, man. You know what it means when teenage girls get together and know something adults don’t know, right? Witchcraft. That’s what it means.”
Was Jason right? Could it be that witchcraft is taking over the souls of our teenage girls? Could that explain their unbridled joy? Their ability to find stupid things funny? To enjoy the absurdity of life? Or could it be something else? Like probably drugs? Teenagers are always into drugs. And alcohol. And bracelet parties. And ritualistic behavior. And that thing where they make each other pass out for fun. Could these fits of laughter be a symptom of something darker? Or was the laughter itself some kind of secret high? I had to know.
To get to the bottom of things, to really understand how the teenage girl brain works, I decide to go straight to the source: Dr. Albert Thomas, my podiatrist, who went to medical school and therefore is technically an expert on adolescent psychology because he took that one course when he was an undergrad at Tufts.
“I can’t explain the laughter,” Dr. Thomas admits. “But I can say that teenage girls often get fungus from not wearing sandals when they’re at a public pool, though, if that helps.”
When pressed about the potential dangers of unchecked laughing, Dr. Thomas had little to offer: “I just don’t know if that kind of laughter is harmful or not. I suppose it can strain the vocal cords. It’s not my area of expertise, really. Bunions, I could go on forever about. Or corns! Boy, do I have some stories about corns.”
Hoping for a deeper look into the mind of the teenage girl, I contacted Dr. Stephen Patterson, leading child psychologist, who was unavailable for this interview. However, I was able to contact his son, 32-year-old computer programmer Dirk Patterson, who (full disclosure) dates my second cousin Denise. Patterson, who grew up in a home where at least one person was required to read books about child psychology, had a harrowing story to tell.
“Oh, man. I had to go to this stupid party that Denise’s mom threw for like, Labor Day or something? And her teenage cousins were there? And all they did, like the whole time, was laugh. About what? I don’t even know. I didn’t ask. But if I had to guess, it was probably swear words. Or Miley Cyrus. Or some picture phone thing.”
Lawry’s Bacon Barn sits on the edge of a dirt road just off Highway 248, the kind of place you’d miss if you weren’t local, which is just how the customers like it.
Brian Osgood, 34, has been eating breakfast at Lawry’s for over 15 years.
“They make good pancakes,” he says.
We sit at the counter, drinking slightly stale coffee as the small-town gossip buzzes around the shop. I notice a table of teenage girls sitting across the room. They are all eating pancakes. It is only a matter of time, I think, before one of them begins to laugh. Sure enough, within five minutes, the girls are gasping for air, laughing so hard that one of them shoots chocolate milk from her nose.
I ask Brian for his opinion.
“I don’t know, man,” he says. “I mean, they’re loud, and I don’t get it, and I don’t really care, but at least they have decent taste in breakfast food. I mean, for teenage girls, anyway.”
Twenty minutes later, the girls pay their bill and exit the restaurant. One of them hums a song as she passes by. I can’t place it, and ask Brian if he knows the tune.
“Who knows,” he says. “But it’s probably crap.”
Just then, another group of girls arrives, laughing louder than the first. Brian sighs and stares into the distance, and I realize that the world no longer belongs to regular Joes like us—we are simply an audience for a song we can’t quite place, a joke we no longer have the right to understand. I try to take solace in Brian’s wise words: who knows? Who knows why these teenage girls laugh? Who knows what it will do to them? Who knows why they’re so terrifying, all the time?
Who knows? Certainly not me, my friends. Certainly not me. ♦