Well HELLO! It is I, your resident Old Lady of Old Lady Movie Night breaking from her normal role as movie-watcher and getting into “let’s talk about feelings” mode. (And yes, I know 27 isn’t old, you guys, but I named the column when I was wearing a Golden Girls-inspired sweater and drinking tea, so I figured, SURE, why not. Live a little, you know? YOU KNOW? Anywho.)
Believe it or not, I was a teenager once. Truth be told, it wasn’t the greatest time for me. BUT, thanks to sites like this one and Rookie and xoJane and Tumblr, it’s probably a lot more fun for you. First, you’ve got the internet. And not the internet like I had with dial up, and ICQ, and GeoCities — Internet like, you’ve got this endless realm of possibility that makes being a teenager actually pretty fun. Communities! Articles to read! Meet-ups! Twitter! Seriously, you’ve got this. BUT sometimes advice isn’t the worst thing, either. So because I was hanging out with MY teenage cousin this weekend (YEAH, I’VE GOT ONE OF THOSE #BRAG), I figured I’d share with you ten things I wish I’d known then that would have made being a teen a little easier.
Disclaimer: I might be way out in left field here. But at the very least, now you have a list of things to say, “Pfff I don’t THINK so” to, instead of, well… not? I don’t know. LISTEN, I’m just trying to hang out, okay?
10. Whip your hair back and forth (translation: do what you want).
Maybe you like cheerleading, or maybe you like music, or maybe you like writing, or maybe you like none of those things and an entirely new thing I haven’t even heard of. As long as it doesn’t hurt yourself or anybody else, EMBRACE IT. Don’t apologize for liking the things that make you happy. Faking an interest in sports or in music or in anything else not only wastes your time, it doesn’t help you grow into yourself. Do you know how long I pretended to care about skateboarding? A year. A WHOLE YEAR that I could have spent doing anything else in the world. But instead, I sat in the parking lot across the street from my house and watched the guys — and my friend Jess, who ruled then and rules now — skateboard. Not even girls! (Only Jess.) (Because if girls skateboarded, they were “posers,” you guys, just FYI.) And do you know what I wanted to be doing? Anything else. Well, maybe dating the guy I used to watch skateboard. But still! That would have been the worst because we wouldn’t have had anything to talk about. Which brings me to my next point.
9. Ditch those negative, mean people.
I’ll let you in on a secret: those people never really go away. (Seriously, even in work situations sometimes it’s like, “Oh there’s THIS GUY again, UGHHH.”) But a good way to learn to deal with those people as an adult, is to learn to deal with them when you’re a teen. The quickest, and simplest way? Cut.Them.Out. (Just like Uncle Joey.) Odds are, in high school, you’ll at some point end up in a situation in which, you’re friends with people who make you feel crappy or make you feel like you can’t be yourself. Those people? Not your friends.
True friends will champion and celebrate who you are. You won’t ever have to feel like you’re putting on a show for those true friends. And it might take you a long time to find them! THAT’S FINE. You will. You’d be surprised at how like-minded people gravitate to each other, and end up forming really great groups. I had a few really great, close, understanding, like-minded friends in high school (after making my way through a few groups that were THE WORST), and they’re still my close friends today. But it wasn’t until my 20s that I REALLY started to meet people who “got it.” I know that might seem like a long way off, but it’s WORTH IT, I promise.
8. OBVIOUS REPORT: Anyone you date or like should never make you feel bad.
Now THIS is something I wish someone had sat me down and told me when I was 15. I mean, it was implied (my mom and dad always assumed I just knew), but sometimes you’re just — if you’re me — so desperate for male attention, that you’ll be somebody you’re not, and put yourself in really risky, harmful situations. First, anybody you date should NEVER make you feel like they’re above you. There were guys I hung out with that wouldn’t even tell their friends that we were “friends”! One guy ACTUALLY egged my house on my 17th birthday. (That same guy was also a nightmare from age 15 – 21, but we’ll address that another time.) Another guy sent me an email after we made out in an abandoned park (#classy), saying I couldn’t kiss him goodbye after he dropped me off because “we’re not really dating and I shouldn’t get the wrong idea.” Nooooope. (Also, WHO DOES THAT?)
Bottom line: Anybody you date or like should make you feel like a million bucks. You should never feel WORSE around them, or like you’re some part of a weird power dynamic. The whole idea is to be somebody’s PARTNER: 50/50. And anyone who guilts you into something or makes you feel powerless or stupid or terrible in general is someone 100% not worthy of your time or attention. Get rid of them!
7. But seriously, somebody objectifying or victimizing you is NOT your fault.
That’s another thing! The internet got big when I was a teen (hi, I’m 562 years old), and it was really fun for a lot of guys to make girls feel guilty for dressing or acting a certain way via ICQ or email (circa 1935, apparently). They’d say some pretty gross, unwarranted stuff, and if you tried to say it wasn’t cool, they’d make you feel like it was your fault. And that’s only what happened to ME — I can’t speak for what other girls experienced. So the moral of the story is: you are never “asking for it.” Ever. Unless you LITERALLY are consenting to a conversation or to sex or to whatever it is you are consenting to. (THEN AND ONLY THEN. And if you change your mind, they need to respect that or GTFO. Seriously.)
6. Even more seriously (or equally so), your sex life is YOUR business.
Now I don’t know if it was my school or if this is just school in general, but everyone’s favorite topic of conversation was usually somebody else’s sex life. And if you kept your cards close to your vest and/or were really open about what you were up to, you were usually shamed in some capacity. Here’s something I wish I’d known then: IT AIN’T NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS. (Just like Salt-n-Pepa rapped.) Seriously. You know how many adults now will just randomly ask you about your sex life without any context? ZERO. Because it’s none of their business! What you choose to do is YOUR business, and you’re doing your own thing/living your own life/living your BEST life if I am using an Oprah catchphrase WHICH I AM. But seriously. Like Drake said, you do you. Everyone else can just simma. down. (now.)
5. Token old person advice: be kind to your teachers/parents/etc.
UGH, AREN’T I THE WORST? (YES.) But I speak from experience: I was the devil. I treated my parents pretty terribly (understatement). And even though I got along with my teachers really well as people, professionally, it did not go well (because I wouldn’t shut up/was super mouthy), and I’d get kicked out of class all the time. (Politely, though, because again, as people, we got along great.) So all I’m saying is that eventually we are all adults. So even if you HATE this one teacher, unless he’s legitimately breaking the law or the school rules or harassing students or something, tone it down a notch. I KNOW. I’m not even a cool mom anymore, I’m just a regular mom (minus the children). BUT I ONLY SAY THIS BECAUSE I’M AN ADULT AND NOW I KNOW HOW HARD IT CAN BE.
4. Don’t wear pleather
Okay, so pleather is a metaphor here, provided I tell you just how much pleather I actually wore. A lot. I wore a lot of pleather because I was trying to dress “sexy”…? And I looked really, really… shiny. And I had a jacket of a different pleather texture with shoulder pads, and I’d wear it with these VERY VERY (EVEN MORE) shiny pleather pants with four inch heels. To school. I wore this to SCHOOL, you guys. To school. This was an outfit I wore TO SCHOOL. To school.
And the reason I wore it to school was because I wanted to be my friend Erica’s older sister, Jessica (who is a different Jess than the one who skateboard, but who still rules equally today). Jessica never had a pleather jacket with shoulder pads, but in my head, that is something she SHOULD HAVE had, so I bought it (?), and that’s what brings me to my point: just dress the way you want. Straight up. I mean, do I REGRET the pleather? Well that’s something everyone regrets. But ultimately, I regret trying to dress “sexy,” because I didn’t feel comfortable that way. And by “regret” I mean “not REALLY” because now we can laugh at the pleather tales together.
But seriously, wear what you want. If anyone makes a big deal of what you’re wearing, it’s 99.9% because they wish they had the guts to do the same thing.
3. I’m phrasing this terribly, but it’s not really about “you.”
SEE? WOW, that came out wrong (terrible phrasing!), but HEAR ME OUT. As someone that got picked on a lot (A LOT), I can tell you this: looking back, it wasn’t really “about” me. It was about me being different, sure, but more specifically, it was about certain people being uncomfortable with that. (And let’s keep in mind that “different” in my case meant being really loud (SHOCK!), opinionated, and knowing a lot about television.) It usually always comes down to those people trying to battle their own insecurities and their own struggles. It doesn’t make it okay (in fact, getting picked on is THE WORST), but it does make it a little more clear as to why, the older you get.
Being a teenager is hard, and some people aren’t capable of dealing with it. Those people are often afraid of anyone who’s different, or challenges the status quo. So they tend to lash out and take it out on people who have the guts to be themselves. And frankly, it can be scary to be yourself — putting yourself out there is usually terrifying. So remember that you’ve got guts, and these bullies are intimidated by that, which is why they shift the power. It doesn’t make it right, and if you ARE being bullied, 100% tell somebody (SERIOUSLY), but knowing this piece of information can help remind you that this isn’t about you being weird or uncool or uninteresting. This is about somebody else’s inability to cope with whatever it is they’re going through.
2. Five years after high school, high school won’t even be a thing
Or three. But for me, it was five years after leaving when I realized that aside from the memories I shared with you guys (aka the ones you have to laugh about because otherwise, whaaaaaat), high school REALLY isn’t the be all and end all. I PROMISE. I mean, yes, for some people it is. And to be honest — and Mindy Kaling says this so much better in her book — it’s pretty sad, because they’ll spend their whole adult lives (that’s about 70+ years) reminiscing about being 16. Can you imagine? Can you imagine that being the benchmark of success? No. Please don’t. High school can be a lot of fun, but life is supposed to get BETTER as it goes, not … be spent looking at high school and thinking, “Oh I wish!” Don’t wish. High school is kind of like that job we all have at some point — you have to go, and sometimes it’s fun, and sometimes it sucks, but regardless, you just gotta put in that time. And surviving high school is something we ALL have in common.
1. HAVE FUN, YOU GUYS
No this isn’t me saying, “GO OUT AND HAVE FUN, GO OUTSIDE, COME ON, HERE IS AN ACTIVITY TO TRY!” This is me saying, HAVE A BLAST, YOU GUYS. You have so many opportunities now to bask in the warm glow of being a teen: you can make zines, and you can read websites, and you can go to concerts, and you can figure out what you like and what you don’t like, and you can make mistakes and have experiences — it’s awesome. And get this: life continues to be that awesome. You never stop learning and growing and changing, so the sooner you embrace that mindset, the more fun life is.
Yes, bad things will happen, but take my friend Nicole’s words of wisdom: when have you NOT gotten through something? Exactly. YOU ALWAYS HAVE. Here you are! Now! Reading this! Having gotten through things! And if you need some outside help, grab it. Talk to your parents, your friends, a teacher, a counselor. Most of my friends and I all had counselling to get us through high school and THANK GOODNESS because otherwise I probably would have combusted. Ultimately, you know yourself best, so stay true to that self, and your teen years are going to be THEE. BOMB.
THEE BOMB I TELL YOU.
(Image via ShutterStock.)