So here I am again: back in high school. Not literally, but in a supporting role to my sixteen-year-old son. And, guess what? High school really hasn’t changed much. I’m experiencing a total flashback: the pettiness, bickering, fear, self-loathing, misery, joy, insecurity, expectation, disappointment, heartbreak… You know exactly what I’m talking about.
The difference is now I have a few more miles on me. Quite a few, in fact. And the distance gives me the clarity to understand the nature and consequence of this time in life. I see it for what it is, in all its ridiculousness.
The only problem is I can’t seem to get my sweet, gentle, caring and perplexed son to listen to me. I can’t seem to get a teenage boy to take my insightful, soul-saving advice to heart.
But I’m determined — as most mothers are. And this is what I tell his ignoring ears as often as he’ll pretend to listen to me:
- This doesn’t matter. Let me clarify: going to school, making good grades and learning what you need in order to move on to the next stage in your life matters. The rest does not. I tell my son, over and over, if you live to be 90, this is four years… a tiny blip on the arc of your entire existence. Four lousy years. Don’t let them define who you are. Don’t let them – or the people you encounter during these four years – dampen your spirit, diminish your sense of well-being, or determine how you will move forward. These are tough years. Even the kids who seem to have it all together really don’t. So just get through this. Life doesn’t necessarily get easier from here, but it does get better. You get to make more choices. You have more options. You get to decide who you are, instead of other people deciding for you.
- No one is looking at you. These poor kids. Walking around all day hunched over, burying their faces in cell phones, trying not to appear stupid, awkward or unhappy. Devastated when they get a zit or they don’t have the right jeans on. Scared to death they’re going to be standing in the wrong place, talking to the wrong person, eating the wrong food, taking the wrong class. What a burden to carry around. I tell my son, “hey, no one is looking at you.” Don’t worry. They’re all too busy thinking someone is looking at them to be looking at you. This whole idea that you are constantly under scrutiny is high-school myth. Unless you’re on a stage or completely bust butt in the cafeteria, no one is looking at you. So throw back your shoulders, hold your head high, wear whatever you want, be broken out, laugh loudly, smile big and just be yourself. And if someone is looking, so what? Really, so what? My mother used to tell me when I was a teen (and of course I didn’t listen to her either) that 50 percent of the people you meet in your life aren’t going to like you regardless of what you say or do. So quit trying so hard. Be yourself. Live your life like no one is watching.
- You will find your people someday. I explain to my son that while you’re in school, you are lumped together by age. Basically, your friends are determined by the year you were born. Not very exacting criteria, if you ask me. But again, this is temporary. Once you are in college and beyond, you will find friends based on common interests. You’ll gravitate to people who make you laugh, find you interesting and make you feel good about yourself. You will make lifelong connections because unique bonds will bring you together and keep you there. You’re 16 for crying out loud, you don’t even know who you are or what you like. You will change in so many fantastic and brilliant ways. Don’t get impatient. You will find your people. In the meantime, have fun exploring, learning about others, navigating the murky waters of relationships. Getting hurt and bouncing back. It’s one of the most amazing parts of life. You’ll get where you’re supposed to be and find the people you’re supposed to love. I promise.
Just hold on, my dear. Just hold on.