My dear younger sister Maia is turning 14 this week and we’re all making a big deal about it. I keep making jokes about her growing womanly body, much to her chagrin. I can’t believe how old she’s getting, and I keep thinking about what it was like to be her age. Fourteen was an emotional age for me (as were many of the subsequent and earlier years) and I wish I’d had someone to tell me these things about life, love, and growing up.
So for Maia, and for any other teenagers out there who might read this, here are a few things I’ve learned:
- Boys suck. Especially ones who are your age. I don’t know if they get any smarter or nicer, but here’s hoping they do. Instead of spending all your time thinking about boys (not accusing you of anything, but I definitely used to do this), forget about them. You’ll have plenty of time to fall in love and get your heart broken several times over, so save that for later, when you and your future partner will be much more mature and better equipped to handle all the mess that comes with committed relationships.
- Your identity as someone’s girlfriend isn’t an accurate measure of your worth. I used to think that I wasn’t pretty, wasn’t desirable, wasn’t good enough for anyone because nobody asked me to date them in middle school. Do you realize how incredibly stupid that is? As if I were any less of an awesome person just because no 14 year old boys asked me to be their girlfriend! I hope you do realize how stupid that was, and never think of yourself in those terms. Just because you’re not in a relationship doesn’t mean you’re not attractive or desirable. It might mean that boys are too intimidated by your coolness to even approach you. Or it might mean that nobody knows you well enough to see what a catch you are. Either way, it doesn’t matter. The only opinion about you that matters is your own.
- Don’t change who you are for anyone. There will be many times when you will want to pretend to like what everyone else likes, just to fit in. But let me paint a picture for you: you are no longer in high school, you don’t have to see the “cool kids” anymore, and you are free to do whatever you please without anyone caring. This is real life, beyond the drama-filled teenage years you’re going through. Although it might seem important to act, talk, or dress a certain way just to make other people like you, don’t sell out. Be yourself, and the people who matter will appreciate your genuineness, and the ones who don’t appreciate you are the ones you don’t want to keep around anyway.
- Don’t let anyone make you feel less than the amazing person you are. There are always going to be those girls with their designer handbags, their makeup done to perfection, their shiny hair, their I-couldn’t-care-less attitude, blah blah blah. I always felt like a loser around those kinds of girls in high school, and I still catch myself feeling bad around them today. Then I remember, it’s stupid! So what if they dress better than I do? That doesn’t make me any less of a great person, and the same goes for you. (See #14 on this list)
- Be nice to your sisters and brothers. I remember being so angst-y (for no real reason) in my early teens. I always wanted to be either alone in my room or blocking out the rest of the world around me with my earphones (because listening to Green Day was way more important than anything else). Thankfully I’m at a less angry point in my life, and I’m much closer to my siblings now than I was when we actually lived together all year. I wish I’d made more of an effort to get to know them as people when we were younger, and hopefully you can learn from my mistake of being a hermit for a few years.
- Be good to your parents. (refer to the previous angst-y teenager description) I shut my parents out a lot because I thought they were lame, because even though my parents are actually really cool, TV and general society told me that parents are sooo lame. But that isn’t true! I was too self-involved to think about it before, but I realized later that my parents were always so supportive of me and even paid for me to go to Japan for student exchange, even when they were making a lot less money than they do now and had other kids to care for. I truly love them for that and everything else they’ve done for me. Someday you’re going to regret it if you disrespect your parents, so be good to them and appreciate all that they do for you.
- Stick to your passions, even if all your friends think it’s lame. I used to love reading when I was a kid. Up to this day, people I only knew in elementary school remember me as the kid who loved Harry Potter more than anyone. Then when I got to middle school, my world turned upside-down. Apparently sports were cool and reading sucked! I failed at all sports, but the real failure was when I stopped reading for fun like I used to. Eventually I got back into it, but it took awhile for me to realize that you shouldn’t stop doing something just because everyone else thinks it’s uncool. You know what’s really uncool? Quitting on something you love. Whatever your interests may be, forget what everyone else thinks, and keep doing what makes you happy. You’ll never be happy if you spend all your time trying to make everyone else happy.
- Friends who make you feel bad aren’t really your friends. In my freshman year of high school, I ended up hanging out with the bad girls group — the girls who smoked pot/cigarettes, had sex, cut themselves, etc. I’m not sure why I even stayed friends with them because we didn’t have anything in common besides an interest in music (which everyone has). They made me feel bad about stupid things, like being too skinny or dying my hair (although in hindsight, the dye job was really gross and they were right about that). I didn’t realize until later that these girls weren’t really my friends, and sought out a new group of girls who I’m still close to today. Even if it’s inconvenient, try and find friends who share your interests and values, even if it means going out of your way to do it. You’ll be much happier in the long run once you ditch the people who are toxic in your life.
- The most embarrassing times in your life aren’t all that bad. Believe it or not, I actually appreciate the embarrassing things that happened to me. They’re the funniest stories I have to tell people! At the time, I didn’t enjoy it when I got dumped over Facebook or Myspace or text message, or the time I dated someone with the same first and last name as my grandpa, but it’s hilarious now. So don’t worry about the times when you feel so embarrassed you want to dig your way to China — those are going to be your most treasured anecdotes someday.
- Your body is beautiful. Sure, you’re going through that awkward transition between little girl and sexualized woman. As awkward as you might feel, love your body anyway. I remember feeling horrible inside when we had to change our clothes in the locker room for P.E. — I felt like the most flat-chested girl there. It took me a long time to come to terms with being happy in my own skin, maybe because I didn’t have people telling me to embrace the body I had. Instead, I had people teasing me about my tiny boobs. But you know what? You’re beautiful. F*ck everyone who says otherwise. Look at yourself with love and you’ll grow to love yourself.
- It’s never the end of the world when you think it is. I felt like I was dying inside when I got dumped at 15. I even cried to my Geometry teacher after class because I had to explain to her why I was too distraught to do my homework the night before. I wish I could go back to my younger self and tell her that it gets better (and there are much worse times to come), and that he’s not even worth crying over anyway. So when something bad inevitably happens to you, just know that it gets better (although there are also much worse times to come), and that pain is temporary.
- Keep a journal. I went back and read through a bunch of my old diaries from high school recently, and the entries were priceless. It took me back to those years and I remembered exactly how I felt. Those journal entries reminded me of what kind of person I was back then and made me appreciate how much I’ve grown into the person I am now, and I want everyone else to have that same gift too.
- Don’t waste all your time on Facebook even if everyone else does. When I look back on my early teens/tweens, one of the parts I remember most clearly is being on Myspace 24/7 (yes, I’m old, and Myspace was to me what Facebook is to you). That’s pretty unfortunate, because I grew up on a sunny island with beautiful beaches, and I can count on my fingers the number of times I actually went to the beach in high school. I wasted so much of my time stalking crushes on Myspace or deciding which gross selfie to use as my default picture that I didn’t get to enjoy life as much as I could’ve. So put down your phone/laptop for a sec, and make the most of your teens, because YOLO~
- You may not always think so, but you’re awesome. I truly wish I could’ve known this when I was a teen. There were so many times when I felt like a total loser, but looking back, I wasn’t all that bad. Maia, you are one of the most genuinely kind and thoughtful people I know. You have a good head on your shoulders and you take care of all of us, even if you’re not the oldest. Always always always remember that you’re awesome and that I love you.