When my kids were babies, I related to them as a mother; it was the only frame of reference I had. I didn’t remember being a baby, and so I couldn’t necessarily empathize with, say, the frustration of not being able to verbalize thoughts or change the channel. I was their mother, doing what I thought was best for them. And they always listened.
Then one year it happened: They reached an age I actually remember being. From middle school on, I remember the drama, the angst, the Swedish clogs that everyone had but I couldn’t afford. At that point my mothering changed, because I could see it not only from my point of view, but my kids’ as well.
And I believe it’s making me a better mother. I’m more
understanding of the hormone-driven reactions and behaviors,
the relationship-driven reactions and behaviors, the growing-
independence-driven reactions and behaviors. It’s easier to offer advice when I know exactly what they’re going through.
If only they’d accept it.
When did my kids stop listening to me? Probably right around when I started saying, “When I was your age.” So rather than share with my children the wisdom accumulated through my years of junior and high school, I’m going to give my high school self the advice I wish I’d gotten but couldn’t—because I didn’t listen to my mother, either.
Don’t let other kids determine your mood. You can’t control what they say or think; you can only control your own thoughts and actions. And don’t let anyone push you into a locker, either, even if it was “by accident.” Stand up for yourself. And stand up for your friends.
Try to learn to be happy with yourself, in all your uniqueness. Don’t compare yourself to your friends. Whether it’s weight, skin, hair, grades, wealth, sports: You are all different. You’re friends because many of your individual qualities mesh. Everything about you is special; it’s what makes you who you are. And their “things” make them who they are. Celebrate yourself, and each other. Trust me, you’ll miss each other in a few years.
Don’t apologize for things you didn’t do. It’s a hard habit to break, but now is the time to break it. If you’re a chronic apologizer as an adult, it’s going to be a lot harder to be happy and to learn to advocate for yourself.
Listen to your gut. It’s that little voice inside you that makes you feel slightly uncomfortable with a situation or decision. From buying clothes to getting into someone’s car, you usually have an innate feeling. Remember that your gut’s only job is to look out for you, and whether or not you agree with what it’s telling you, it’s usually right.
Don’t let people treat you badly or disrespectfully. That includes the aforementioned friends. If someone consistently makes you feel bad about yourself, question the friendship, not yourself. Same with a romantic relationship: If it doesn’t make you feel happy and positive, then move on. You don’t owe anybody anything in that department, except courtesy and respect.
The one piece of advice I would not give my teenage self—or my children—is the one I so desperately want to tell my own kids. I won’t tell them not to feel things as deeply as they do, even though the pain can be paralyzing. The teen years hurt, even more so today when kids are reminded 24/7 of what everyone else is doing. But that hurt does eventually pass. And the passion that allows that kind of hurt will one day propel you toward your dream.
And just like trying to give advice to a teenager . . . well,
we all can dream.