What I wish I knew when I was a teen
When I look back on my life, there are a few years that I have always tended to gloss over. I love to pore over photographs of my chubby toddler days, with my mum in her big 90s jumpers and my dad with a full head of hair. Even the pre-teen days, full of denim jackets, bright blue hair mascara, and lots and lots of butterfly hair clips. And the college days! Oh my. Bright red hair, lovely new friends, and a sense of freedom you can almost taste from the photographs. But the bits in between? Those dreaded teenage years? Nah. Not for me. I loudly cover my ears, sing “LA LA LA,” and get on with pretending that I went straight from being aged 13 to aged 18 overnight.
But one day I decided that I was done with leaving out a whole chunk of my life because it makes me feel a little uncomfortable. I’ve always been hard on 14-to-17-year-old me. But it was those four years that probably contributed the most towards shaping the person I am now.
So I’ll try not to be so tough on that girl from now on. But there are definitely some things I’d want her to know.
You don’t need to try so hard
You don’t need to drink things you don’t want to, especially not that sugary blue junk. You don’t need to dress like that to impress anyone else. You don’t need to wear make-up that makes you resemble an oompa-loompa. You don’t need to straighten your hair until you smell burning. You don’t need to be a people-pleasing robot. The people who you’ll want in your life will like you for you. Do what you want to do, not what you think other people want you to do
It’s totally OK to be a late bloomer
I was a pretty uncool kid. I read, I wrote, I talked to myself. My favorite thing to do was play Scrabble with my parents. I didn’t go to dances, I didn’t kiss boys, and I didn’t have many friends. But you know what? I would have been better off sticking to Scrabble for a little while longer. People move at their own pace, and the things I was doing ended up being really important for my personal growth.
A real relationship is one where you both get to be yourselves
Teenage me made the mistake of spending pretty much all of my time with that one boy who asked me out. A boy who was by all accounts, a manipulative jerk. But I wasn’t perfect either. I abandoned friends, family, hobbies, and pretty much all original thought. Nothing about those years makes me cringe as much as the person I became in this relationship. I wish I had known that this boy wasn’t the last one who would ask me out, and that a relationship should serve both your needs and desires.
You deserve respect
I was pretty cripplingly lacking in self-esteem, and that one boy who asked me out wasted no time in exploiting, manipulating, and ultimately much worsening that mindset. It got to a point where I couldn’t even tell that I wasn’t treating myself with the respect I deserved, let alone demanding that respect from anyone else. I would like to go back in time and play 14-17-year-old me some Aretha Franklin to try get the message across.
Your interests are valid. Your thoughts are valid. Your opinions are valid. Your hobbies are valid. You are valid and you matter and you are enough just as you are. You don’t need to be diluted. Repeat daily.
You’ll learn from the bad times
I might not have realized it at the time, but thanks to that relationship, I learned at a very young age exactly what I do and do not want, not just from a relationship but from life. I now know that I want to do things, to go places, to be someone. I learned to love being alone. I learned to read the warning signs of emotional abuse. No guy I have been with since has been anything but kind to me, and that kindness is the quality I have learned to actively seek out.
Sisterhood is a powerful thing
No matter how much 14 to 17-year-old-me may not have liked myself, I was lucky enough to have friends who cared enough about me to stick around. Even when I was treating them with as little consideration as I was treating myself, they were there for me.
Female friendships are so important. Television and movies can lead to you believe that you’re supposed to see other women as competition. Who’s the pretty one? Who’s the cool one? Who’s the funny one? But we can all be pretty, cool, funny, and more besides. Friendships are not a competition. Friendships are love, and acceptance, and silliness, and if you are anything like me and my friends, a whole lot of glitter. Having a sisterhood around you is so, so, so important, and I would like teenage me to have been able to recognize that a bit earlier in life.
Be nicer to your parents.
Just, please. Give ‘em a game of Scrabble every now and then.
Life gets harder sometimes, but also richer, better, and more interesting
The experiences that 14-17-year-old-me had went a long way towards building the person I have since grown to become. But for years, I have been afraid to write about these experiences. Because glossing over that part of my life was easier than digging deep.
But I love my life, and am grateful for every day I have lived. I don’t want to let fear or embarrassment keep me from fondly remembering anything. The person I am today is as far from that robot-girl as could be. And the only reason for that is that I had those experiences, and learned from them.
And while a part of me does wish I had someone (an older sister, fairy godmother, Taylor Swift, whoever) telling teenme all of these tidbits of advice, in some ways I’m glad I didn’t. Because I got to learn all of these lessons for myself, which was pretty invaluable experience.
And honestly, if someone had told me all of this at age 14, there’s a pretty good chance that I would have rolled my eyes at them, sighed, slammed my door in their face, blasted some Paramore, and continued to do what teen girls do best: Learn for themselves.
Sarah Jordan is a 23-year-old copywriter from Dublin, with a deep love of Gilmore Girls, children’s books, sweet potato fries, and throwing glitter at people (nicely, of course). You’ll find her on Twitter at @_sarahjordan.
Do you ever wish that you could go back in time to give advice to your younger self? Was there ever a moment you could have used some wisdom from the future, whether it was after you had your first break up or on your first day of college? We want to hear about it: Pitch us lists of advice you have for our new section, What I Wish I Knew When, with the subject line WIWIKW at email@example.com. Can’t wait to hear from you!
[Image courtesy The Disney Channel]