Thursday, September 15, 2016

Legit Advice For Our Teenagers

I graduated high school 17 years ago. Few statements have made me feel as old as this one. Like most 18 year olds, I assumed I knew everything when I waltzed across that graduation stage. I had no idea how similar to Jon Snow I really was. (In case you have no idea who Jon Snow is, go watch Game of Thrones immediately. After you finish reading this article, of course.)

As a high school English teacher, I am surrounded by 17- and 18-year-olds who think they know everything, and as a mother of two children under 3, I am surrounded by toddlers who think they know everything. While it's hard to reason with an obstinate 2-year-old, I can offer some advice to the 17- and 18-year-olds. I wish I had received this advice at their age.

So here goes...

1. NEVER alter your life trajectory or plans for a romantic interest. While I never actually moved or chose a college or career for a guy, a boyfriend asked me to go to a school closer to him because it would be cheaper for me. My answer was NO! I stayed at my private college for an extra year because I refused to let him make such a major decision for me. Today, if my husband told me that his job was relocating him to another part of the country, I would go with him, but if we were just dating, my butt would stay right where I am.

2. Have fun. This is obviously not a problem for many college students. Hell, this isn't a problem for many of my own students who will be highly intoxicated within the next few hours. However, there seems to be such a disconnect between older generations and younger ones. How many times have we heard an older person tell a teenager or young adult to grow up or act their age? Be smart about it, but have fun! If that means you're getting drunk every weekend, fine! If that means you're the one driving the drunk ones home every weekend, fine! If it means driving while drunk, that's a definite no!! If it means you're in your dorm or the library studying every weekend, fine! This is the only time in your entire life where you will be able to enjoy the carefree attitude of youth and the freedom of adulthood. Live it up!

3. DO NOT DRIVE UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF ANY SUBSTANCE EVER! FOR ANY REASON!! Thankfully, I have never lost a friend to drunk driving, but I know countless lives are impacted by it. Designate a driver. Get an Uber or taxi. Call someone. I give many of my students my phone number for this very reason and have happily gone to pick them up so they would get home safely. I'd rather lose sleep to safely taxi drunk people than have to take off work for a funeral.

4. It's okay to think differently than the people who raised you. Organized religion was a huge thing in my conservative home and going against that was not acceptable. My beliefs have always been more left-of-center than the rest of my family, but I didn't know how to explore that until I was on my own. Now, I am probably the only person in my family who is a registered Democrat, but I am so much more comfortable in my beliefs than I was then. The people who raised you may disagree with your beliefs, but at some point you must become your own person.

5. Be comfortable in your own skin. I have a tall, lean athletic build. My husband tells me that I have the body of a volleyball player. I take it as a huge compliment, but I am not always happy with how I look. Just this morning, I was disgusted with my reflection in the mirror. So this advice is just as pertinent to me today as it would have been to me 17 years ago. Learn to love yourself. Don't lose or gain weight to make anyone else happy. Don't dress or style yourself to make anyone else happy. If you are plus size but love to wear bikinis, wear them and rock them! If you are petite but prefer to wear big and bulky clothes, wear them and rock them! If you want mermaid hair, do it! If you want to shave your head, do it! Learn to love the face that looks back at you in the mirror. This is the face of a person who is perfect, beautiful, and good enough exactly the way she is.

6. Do NOT let society tell you that you're a whore or a prude based on your sexual history. As a woman, I know there are some people who would balk if they knew how many people I've slept with. I'm neither proud of nor ashamed of my number, and I don't regret my experiences at all. In our society, a man with the same number as me would be normal. I have friends who didn't have sex with anyone until they married. I don't consider them prudes. As long as you protect yourself, I say go for it! Again, this is likely the last time in your life you'll be able to live this way. Live it up.

7. Realize that the person you are in high school does not dictate the person you will be for the rest of your life. Your high school reputation doesn't have to follow you to college and beyond. The friends you have at the end of high school may not be the same friends you have at the end of college. And that's okay. I was one of those, "We'll be friends forever and ever!" kind of people when I graduated. Now, 17 years later, I still keep up with several of them via social media, but that's it. We've all moved on, started families, acquired careers, and grown up. It's not sad; it's life.

8. High school years are definitely NOT the best years of your life. In high school, there are dress codes, lunch schedules, bathroom breaks, and hall monitors. It's not preparing you for "real life." So, if high school really isn't your thing, GOOD! If you never found your people in high school that means you are destined to find them somewhere else. Realizing this was eye-opening for me. The people who have the greatest influence on me are the people I met in college as I was discovering myself and my interests. Those friends are still so special to me and are involved in every college memory I have and all the memories I've lost thanks to... age. Yes, let's go with age.

9. Travel. Go on road trips. Pile up in a car with your four closest friends and go to New Orleans. Or Vegas. Or Boise. Or NYC. Or just a few towns over. Get out of your comfort zone. I remember driving to New Orleans one night for a concert and driving back that same night because we all had exams the next day. It was amazing! I couldn't do that today if I had a month to plan it. If you have the opportunity to travel to a place you've never been, take it. Fill up your passport while you're young and able to travel cheaply.

10. Be true to yourself. This is the most important piece of advice I would give my 18-year-old self. No matter what happens, refuse to compromise your convictions. Stand up for injustice, even if you're standing alone. Be able to say "no," even if it's just a whisper. This world can be a cold, ugly, and brutal place. Do everything you can to bring warmth, beauty, and calm everywhere you go.

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