Words of wisdom for tweens and teens
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When I think about whether I’d go back and tell my younger self anything if I could, sometimes I think I would. Other times, I think I wouldn’t. After all, the life I’ve lived has formed me into who I am today. However, as my daughter is officially in the teen years, I have been thinking more of advice to my younger self.
These nuggets of wisdom garnered over four decades of life have been hard-earned and oftentimes hard-learned. I want to pass along words of wisdom as much as I can to my children. I know they won’t always listen. Some lessons they’ll have to learn the hard way. And they’ll learn lessons that weren’t even relevant to me as a teen, especially as it relates to social media. As a xennial, social media wasn’t on the scene for me in middle or high school.
I also realize that neither of my children are replicas of me. I see parts of myself in both of them, but they are fully and uniquely their own people. So in thinking of advice to my younger self, I stayed away from specifics. Instead, I came up with 10 main points I wish all tweens and teens could embrace and take in.
1. Don’t take everything so personally.
Honestly, at the root of not taking everything so personally is more this message: Not everything is about you. Here’s what I mean. If you have a friend who isn’t as talkative one day, chances are he or she probably isn’t mad at your. Most likely your friend is tired or having an otherwise off day. If your mom snaps at your for something small, she is most likely just juggling multiple things or having a rough day. It doesn’t mean you’re awful.
I’ve always been incredibly good at taking things personally. I see the same attribute in one of my children, especially. But really and truly I’ve learned at least 90% of the time, the action or words I take so personally don’t really have anything to do with me specifically. I wish I would have learned that sooner. I could have saved myself a lot of grief and anxiety.
2. Learn to speak up for yourself.
It took me into adulthood to find my voice. And even now, I still struggle to speak up for myself. Advocating for yourself is important. If someone is treating you poorly, speak up for yourself and let them know it’s not OK before it’s too late.
In fact, I had a friend I was close with through middle school and most of high school. She would often say hurtful things that I let slide. And then one day, I’d had enough. I decided we were done. Our friendship ended (for this and other reasons) when it might not have had I spoken up for myself and worked out the issues sooner. Being a people pleaser never leads anywhere good. You can’t make everyone happy all the time. Don’t be afraid to respectfully speak up for yourself and your needs. And remember nobody can read your mind. If you have an issue with someone, talk to them plainly instead of passive aggressively.
3. Know you’ll find your people.
Some people make lifelong friends early on in life. My husband, for example, has a great friend who he met in fifth grade, and they have been friends ever since. But not all of us are those kind of people. When it comes to friend “luck,” in fact, I’ve struck out more often than not. If I were to give advice to my younger self, I’d tell her to hang in there.
During the tween and teens years, you’re mostly just with the kids you know from school. Maybe you’ve found your people during these years — and that’s awesome. But maybe you haven’t. Or maybe they are sort of your people but not quite. Know you will eventually find your people who “get” you and accept you for who you are. As you get older and into college and work, you’ll meet more people. Some will be part of your life for a season; others will remain for a lifetime. Don’t worry if you’ve not found your lifetime friends, yet. You still have plenty of time.
4. Stick with friends who stand by you.
Friendships are constantly shifting and changing when we’re in middle and high school. I have a plethora of stories just from my own middle and high school days! But, if you find a friend who sticks with you during hard times, keep them.
I will never forget the day in my senior year of high school when a group of “friends” spent the entire lunchtime talking negatively about me. One of my friends got up and left the table. She didn’t engage in the conversation and came to find me instead. She gave me support and encouragement. To this day, she is still one of the only people from high school I see on a regular basis. When you identify your true friends, hang on tight.
5. Ignore other people’s opinions of you.
During middle and high school, I was very aware of other people’s opinions of me. I think that’s pretty normal. But sometimes we need to just ignore what other people think and live our lives. Don’t be so busy worrying about what other people think of you that you let it shape the decisions you make. I know that can be easier said than done. I wish I would have learned sooner to not care about other’s opinions too much, though.
A great piece of advice I see floating around online is to not take criticism from people who you wouldn’t go to for advice.
6. Remember everyone has a story and a struggle.
To some degree, I think we all are aware everyone has more going on than we know about. Yet, we can easily forget that in the midst of dealing with our own challenges. In giving advice to my younger self, I’d remind her she doesn’t know everyone’s story. Some people need more grace than anyone gives them. Some people need to be loved. Others need someone to call them on their actions.
Remember if you’re going through a difficult time, it doesn’t mean your friends aren’t. We can be very good at acting like everything is fine when it isn’t. Sometimes the people who seem the happiest and most bubbly at school are the ones who cry themselves to sleep each night. Give grace, compassion and love to the people around you. Do they always deserve it? Nope. But, that’s what grace is – giving someone something they don’t deserve.
7. Don’t be so stressed about academics.
Growing up, I put so much pressure on myself to do well in school. I have theories about why I did this, but they don’t matter. What I’ve learned is nobody in my life as an adult cares what my high school GPA was. Did having a great GPA help me land a full scholarship to college? Absolutely. But, did I need to stress as much as I did over it? Definitely not.
My advice to my younger self would be to just let it go sometimes. To do well, do her best and get good grades, but don’t make that such an important part of life. I completely missed my 16th birthday because I had a band concert that night. My band director threatened to dock my grade to a “C” if I didn’t go to the concert. So instead of celebrating with my family as planned (and as I wanted to), I went to the concert. I didn’t want to risk my GPA. Looking back, I should have just stayed home and celebrated. And that leads to…
8. Relax and enjoy life.
I know life seems stressful and busy when you’re a tween and teen. I do remember that, but I can also promise you are in a phase when you can choose to just enjoy life. You have some responsibilities, sure. However, you aren’t in charge of everything in your life. While that is sometimes frustrating, it’s also freeing.
Middle and high school are the perfect times to enjoy life. Try new things. Take up a new hobby and see what you think. Spend a Saturday reading through an entire novel. Don’t get so caught up in the stress of life that you forget to also enjoy it!
9. Life will never go according to plan.
Poor younger me. She was a planner. In fact, I still am a planner. I love to have a plan and to-do lists. They make my heart sing. But my best advice to my younger self is to know that life won’t go according to plan, and that’s OK. Your tween and teen years are a great time to learn to embrace the unpredictability of life. Get upset about the change in what you had planned if you need to. However, don’t get stuck there. Move forward into a plan B, C, D or however many letters it takes!
One day, you’ll look back and understand why your original plan not working out was for the best. Or at the very least, you’ll see lessons you learned as a result. And more times than you would guess, you’ll be thankful your original plan fell through because the alternative was so much better. Make plans, but know they won’t always turn out exactly as you envisioned, and it really is OK.
10. Give yourself grace.
Yep. I do harp on this a lot, but it’s something I wish my younger self knew sooner. I’ve spent a lifetime excelling at being hard on myself. I’m nice to people around me. In fact, I love encouraging other people and always have, even as a tween and teen. But, whew! I am mean to myself. My inner voice says awful things and has no patience for mistakes.
I’m continually learning to quiet this voice and remind myself I’m doing the best I can. I truly wish I had learned this lesson from a younger age. It would have saved me from so many negative feelings and given me self-confidence.
See the video of this post here and on the Families with Grace YouTube channel: