TEEN WEEK 2012: Everything I Didn’t Know When I Was Growing Up & Wish I Did

I’m super proud to be a part of Teen Week 2012! Check out the other posts here and tweet with us by using the hashtag #teenweek on Twitter. Thanks, as always, to the wonderful Mara of Medicinal Marzipan for putting together such an amazing project.

I’m an adult now. Saying that is weird, because the inside of my head still feels mostly the same as it did when I was fifteen, twelve, six. I say “mostly” because there have been some changes for the better, but I love being the same weird person I’ve always been.

The thing about being any age, really, is that there’s no guide for it. People give you advice and they tell you what things were like when they were (insert age here) but it never really seems to apply to you, right then, in that moment. So I’m not going to try to do that. What I AM going to try to do is distill many of the painful lessons from my own teen years into something a little more manageable and cohesive. And I’m splitting it up into three sections: Friends, Lovers and Self.

Happy Teen Week.

Most of my very best friends are people I’ve known since primary school. They’ve stuck by me through everything, including a transcontinental move. Because of these wonderful people, I assumed that every friend I made would be as a constant and as close as they were (and are). But the universal truth is that not every friend is forever.

Sometimes people grow apart. Sometimes people blow apart. Losing a friend, or several at once, is a horrible experience, but yes, at some point in your life it is going to happen. It’s okay to feel sad and lost when it does, but it’s going to be okay. You haven’t lost the only people in the world who will ever like you, because there are other people out there to be friends with! Maybe they’ll complement you in different ways and encourage you to grow in different directions. Maybe in the end they’ll be even better friends. Maybe not. You never know. But however it shakes out, you’ll learn something and you’ll end up somewhere new. And it really will be okay.

There is nothing wrong with you if:

  • You don’t have a boyfriend/girlfriend right now at this very second.
  • You don’t want to have sex right now at this very second.
  • You DO want to have sex right now at this very second.
  • Sex seems a little scary.
  • Sex seems exciting.
  • Nobody has a crush on you, or you don’t have a crush on anybody.
  • You have a crush on everybody.
  • You’re questioning who you’re attracted to (boys, girls).
  • You know damn well who you’re attracted to.
  • You masturbate.
  • You’ve looked at porn.

I’m not a magical genius when it comes to matters of the heart and genitals. I have my own issues just like everyone else. But I do know a few things for sure. One is that you should never do something just because everyone else is doing it. Don’t feel like you have to get a boy or girlfriend because you’re the only single person in your group. Don’t have sex because everyone else is; have sex because you want to and you feel desire. And don’t let anyone else make you feel shitty about what you do or do not want to do. It’s your life and your choices. Make sure they’re good, safe ones and to hell with everyone else.

Another thing: Be respectful of other people’s feelings and insist that they are respectful of yours. This could mean being brave and telling that friend that you LIKE like them, or it could mean breaking up with someone when you don’t feel the same way about them as they do about you. Always be honest and kind. At the same time, don’t let anyone treat you like crap and use “love” as an excuse. Love doesn’t hurt, it isn’t controlling and it’s not manipulative or hurtful. Don’t waste time with someone who doesn’t treat you like the gem you are.

Also, sex is initially weird and takes practice. It’s not scary. It’s not agonising. It’s also not a rite of passage in the way that teen movies make you think it is. It’s a fun part of life, but you won’t necessarily feel **GROWN UP** after your first time (or fourth…or seventh). Wait until you apply for an apartment or put together some Ikea furniture all by yourself. Nothing like assembling a cabinet to make you feel like an adult.

The big one. Your relationship with YOU is going to be the only one that lasts your entire life, cliche as that is, so you’d better sink some time into making sure it’s a good one.

It seems really obvious to say “take care of yourself,” but I’m a big proponent of self-care and I want to hit this point hard. If you hurt, or are anxious, or you hate yourself, or you feel sad all the time, or even if you just feel plain wrong–tell someone. Reach out. Get help. Take care of YOU, because you deserve to be healthy and whole. Nobody else can do that for you, so be your own advocate.

Now let’s talk about bodies, confidence and self-image. This is a subject I’ve struggled with a lot, and this is the survival guide I wish I would have had when I was younger.

First, make sure your body is match fit. Everyday life is stressful and the stakes are high, so you want to be in the best shape that you can be. Find something physical that you love to do and do it every day. Dance. Take your dog for extra-long walks. Start running. Take a yoga class. Try boxing. Be strong and fit and fast.

Second, eat good foods. Eating a balanced diet that’s heavy on fresh foods and light in stuff that’s super-processed, refined, canned or frozen is best. Going on fad diets and denying yourself everything except grapefruit is not.

Third, know that skinny isn’t an endgame. Some people are naturally thin and some people are not, just like some people are tall and some people are short. Unlike height, though, there’s a whole industry built on making people feel shitty about how much they weigh and promising that life is SO! MUCH! BETTER! If you lose fifteen pounds. It isn’t. You won’t be a different person if you’re thinner. If you want to be happier, do things that make you happy. If you want to be more confident, fake being confident until you actually ARE (this really, seriously works). Change–real change, the kind that lasts–comes from within, not from a number on a scale.

Finally, know thyself. What makes you happy? What issues are you passionate about? What’s your personal style? Figure it out, write it all down and then LIVE IT, regardless of what other people say. Oh, you think I can’t be a writer? BAM. Look at me being a writer. Oh, you think a striped skirt and a plaid skirt looks weird? BAM. I don’t care what you think, I look great. Oh, you think women’s rights aren’t important? BAM. Look at me, speaking up and making a difference. When people try to put down what you do or what you believe, they’re saying “My opinion of you is more important than your own, so listen to me instead of yourself.” Guess what. It isn’t and you shouldn’t. Be YOU. Be smart and outspoken and well-informed. Be a force to be reckoned with in whatever way you can.

I hope you’ve been checking out the other Teen Week posts; they’re all so excellent.

What do you wish you’d have known when you were younger?

11 thoughts on “TEEN WEEK 2012: Everything I Didn’t Know When I Was Growing Up & Wish I Did

  1. Alle, sorry to bother you, but your unicorn weave is amazing! I really want to get mine like yours- how did you do it? I don’t want to have to dye mine because my school says I can’t and it sounds like the perfect solution! If you’re too busy with stuff it’s fine, but I’d love to know the process!
    CF xx

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