For those of you who recently read RSG’s Graduation Gift Guide, you know that I tapped my very knowledgeable nieces for inspiration. I’ve decided to reach out to them again to see what the hardest part of being a teen is these days. My five nieces range in age from 18 – 23 and they are all high school grads, two are college grads and three are in college. They live all over the country and have attended public and private schools, so they represent a pretty good sampling of what the teen world looks like.
When I thought about this fabulous resource available at my fingertips, I wanted to know what makes a teen’s world so difficult. I wanted to know if things have changed drastically in the past 30+ years. Does the advice and counsel I share with my teens makes any sense, or am I completely off the mark? What did I find out? Teen life hasn’t changed that much over the years. It has gotten a lot more sophisticated. Let me warn you, it doesn’t sound pretty!
I asked them all two questions. I also made sure that they were not on copy to one another so that they wouldn’t be influenced by one another’s answers. Let’s jump in!
RSG: What is/was the hardest part about being a teen?
Being a teenager is hard. Period. You are going through so many changes in a short period of time. At any given time, you could be scared, mad, happy, frustrated, confused, etc. – or a mix of everything all at once. The hardest part for me was gaining confidence in who I was. I was constantly comparing myself to people around me, whether it be friends, family, celebrities – and that would make me feel bad about myself. That’s something that tortured me inside. I remember thinking, “Shannon why aren’t you as pretty as Sam, or as funny as Katie, or as well liked as Stacie?” It consumed me. Lacking confidence in who you are can be toxic. It robs you of your ability to love yourself inside and out, it can cripple your ability to make new friends and can torture your mind day after day. I hated that feeling, and was so happy to grow out of it when I got to college.
The hardest part about being a teen was feeling like I wasn’t taken seriously. I remember being so combative and defensive about what I was doing and interested in (working, music, concerts) because it felt as though my parents and other authority figures didn’t care or think it was important. Although these things tend to be phases, it was my everything at that point, and feeling as though my feelings were silly or invalid made my relationships very difficult.
The hardest part about being a teen was experiencing a bunch of emotions for the first time: the first time a friend betrays you, the first time you date and the first time you rebel against your parents. All these different angles in your life can drastically effect how you feel and you don’t really know the right way to handle them yet. Also, since they’re all new, it feels like the most crucial part of your life in the moment and it can be hard to rationalize its true importance.
The hardest part about being a teen for me was finding myself, specifically in my middle school years. In a world full of social media and (unfortunately) judgmental people, it’s common to desperately feel the need to fit in. I remember comparing myself to others, mainly the “popular” people and thinking, “I want to do what they are doing so people will like me too.” I also put great value on my social media likes, I would get upset if a certain picture didn’t get enough likes or comments, again comparing myself to my peers. When in reality the only person I should have compared myself to was me. It is impossible to find your true self if you are trying to be someone else. Eventually I found a good friend group, fell in love with soccer and stopped caring what others thought of me… best decision ever!
A lot of things are hard as a teenager: school, sports, social life. The first thing that came to mind as I reflected on my teen years (which are almost over… Yikes!) is how hard it is to be yourself. Or, rather, being okay with being yourself. I know this sounds cliché, but throughout middle school and part of high school I struggled with this. I was afraid to say the wrong thing, to have people judge me. So, I said next to nothing and when friends spoke to me I worked hard to choose my words carefully, afraid of what other’s might think. In middle school I was in all honors courses, as well as a part of the band.
I feared being categorized as a nerd, so I neglected to tell people I was in the band and pretended not to know the answers to questions as an attempt to dumb myself down in the eyes of my peers. Don’t get me wrong, I was always happy in middle school and the start of high school. I had friends, played sports, got good grades. But, I didn’t realize how much more enjoyable school could be.
RSG: Looking back on your teen years, if you could give yourself one piece of advice to help with the topic you mentioned in the first question what would it be?
My advice to myself would be to always remember that it gets better. In high school you are so consumed with your life – and every little thing is somehow a huge deal. I would get so upset over something so small and think it was the end of the world. But in reality, it was so small and I was really just upset at myself. I always thought that my life would never get better. I thought I would live the next 60+ years with the same feelings I had in my teenage years – and that is so far from the truth. Now, I am so much happier, healthier and more positive than I was in high school. I would tell myself to not sweat the little things and keep reminding myself that things will change for the better.
Despite feeling passionate about one thing, don’t limit yourself. There are infinite topics and areas to explore and learn. This will help keep you from pigeonholing and closing yourself off. Exploring and learning will open you up to new possibilities and keep everything in perspective. Not all of your interests are passing phases, but most certainly are.
My one piece of advice would be to open up about your struggles to an older woman in your life. Anyone that you can feel comfortable being completely honest with would work. Just talking through your emotions can help you better understand them and the older woman can help you put them into perspective. She can help you realize that although this is your first time going through this, it won’t be the last and it will get easier.
A piece of advice I would give myself would be to pursue what I was most interested in and to STOP COMPARING!! Also, social media likes don’t matter. Grades do. Everyone is great and beautiful in their own way.
Halfway through sophomore year, it hit me and I asked myself: Why am I so afraid of my classmates? Why can’t I speak my mind? I don’t know if I matured, but this suddenly struck me as ridiculous. So, I opened myself up. I decided to say what I was thinking. I didn’t hold back. To my surprise, people found me funny! They thought I was smart and came to me to help solve their problems. New friends saw me as kind and loyal and confided in me. Not to mention, boys noticed me (not that that’s important, just a bonus side-effect). I expressed my passions and found new friends who had similar interests. My friend group expanded.
If I hadn’t been so afraid of what other people thought of me, who knows what my life would’ve been like. Maybe I would’ve tried harder in school and won awards. Would I have pursued music further? Maybe I would’ve joined more clubs, made more friends, had more fun. Instead of hiding who you are, embrace it, and life will fall into place!
Essential Mom Advice:
Try and create an open line of communication with your daughters from an early age. It’s important to feel as though you can tell/talk to your Mom about anything!
Relax, I know it’s stressful having a teenage daughter (sorry Mom) but she will be okay.
Trust your daughter and give her space to make her own decisions, despite the saying, “Mother knows best.” Some things she just needs to find out for herself.
Start to recognize your daughter as becoming an adult with real autonomy and core beliefs. Nobody wants to hear all the time that everything they’re interested in is just a phase (though some may be)!
How can we, as parents, understand their world better? I’m not sure it’s entirely possible. Imagine everything you once worried about as a middle school student and multiply it by some crazy large number. That might represent how teens feel today when their lives are being broadcast 24/7 on Snapchat, Instagram, Finsta, etc. It’s hard to comprehend. The best we can do is be there for them. We can help guide them in a positive way and point out what is most important in life.