I have two teenagers. Just saying that out loud makes me cringe. My daughter recently started 8th grade and my son high school. Every morning when I drop off my son on my way to work and study the scene, it brings me back to when I was in high school (a long time ago). I look back fondly on those 4 formative years but only in retrospect can I view them with objectivity. I was what you’d call a late bloomer. And though I didn’t realize it at the time, I was rife with insecurities. High school can be a tough time when you’re caught halfway between boyhood and manhood. To put it another way I looked like I was 12 from the beginning of my freshman year to the end of my senior year, and most of the time I acted like it too. I was very hung up on other people’s opinions of me and craved the mythical stereotype, popularity. To that end I wasn’t always as nice as I should have been and probably made most decisions for the wrong reasons. Everyone hits an awkward stage at some point but I’m fairly certain that anyone who dated me in high school must have lost a bet (or was at minimum as equally insecure as I was). I considered myself an athlete but didn’t exactly excel in athletics (try playing varsity football at 5’7”, 130 lbs. – thank God I grew in college). In summary I wasn’t exactly the catch I thought I was at the time. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t all bad. I had a great group of friends who I keep in touch with to this day. I had some wonderful teachers who impacted me more than they’ll ever know. And right, wrong or indifferent, my experiences back then contributed to the person I am today (and my life doesn’t exactly suck ). With the hope of steering my children clear of some of the same mistakes I made, I offer the following advice (in no particular order of importance):
• Keep things in perspective. You have your whole life in front of you. Don’t do anything stupid now that could jeopardize your future.
• Live in the moment. Those Friday night games under the lights are the closest you’ll ever get to playing in the NFL. Treat every play like it’s your last, and enjoy every second.
• Protect your body. Teenage boys are evil and should never be trusted. (A quick message to the future teenage boys who’ll date my daughter: Every morning when I go to the gym to lift weights, I’m thinking about you during my heavy sets.)
• Develop habits that will lead to a strong work ethic. Most of the shit they teach you in high school you’ll never use in real life. But good old fashioned hard work will serve you well for the rest of your life.
• Be patient with your parents. Despite what we look like on the outside, we still feel like teenagers ourselves on the inside. We don’t have all the answers but we’re doing our best, and regardless of what you think we still know a hell of a lot more than you.
• Never attach your self-worth to someone else. You’re too good for that, and nobody’s worth compromising your identity for.
• If it doesn’t come from the earth it’s not for you. Experimentation is part of growing up (although I hope you’ll abstain until your thirties). There’s some scary shit being manufactured out there these days. Stay the hell away from it. A good buzz is never worth dying for.
• If you wouldn’t be comfortable saying it in person, don’t say it over text or social media. Technology is not an abstraction layer for bad manners.
• Don’t stress. It may not feel like it now but the next 4-8 years will be the most stress free time of your “adult” life. Breathe. The little things have a way of taking care of themselves.
• Put your phone down and take a look around. There’s cool shit happening all around you that can’t be experienced on Instagram. Blink and you might miss it.
• Don’t ever let the opinions of others define you. So what if you didn’t make first string? Keep grinding. Life is a marathon, not a sprint. Nobody will determine your ultimate destiny but you.
• Despite what your friends say being a “YouTuber” is not a real profession. If you ever want to make money and move out, you’re going to need to come up with an actual plan.
• Spend time with people who make you happy. You know those friends who constantly create drama in your life? You don’t need em. Life’s too short. Move on.
• Choose the Right (borrowed from my Mormon friends). Doing the right thing won’t always be the popular thing. When in doubt ask yourself two questions: 1) Would Mom be okay with me doing this? 2) Would Mom be okay with me doing this right now? If the answer to either question is no, abort.
• Pay attention to the ugly ducklings. At some point their exterior will catch up to the beauty that’s always been on the inside, and you won’t want to miss out on that.
• Don’t buy into Dogma. Be an independent thinker. See all things with an open mind and form your own truths.
• Your attitude will determine your altitude (borrowed from Big Willie on Master Chef’s grandma - yes I watch that show - don’t judge me). You can’t control everything, but your attitude is something you can always control. Positivity is contagious.
• Don’t be envious. Not everyone peaks in high school. And if you really think about it, why would you want to?
• Be sure to buy into all of the current fashion trends. Otherwise you won’t have anything to look back on in 20 years and laugh about.
• Be kind always. The world outside the walls of that high school is filled with enough hardship and disappointment already. Let the next 4 years be a sanctuary of kindness and goodwill.
In closing I’ll leave you with a quote from the great Dr. Seuss himself:
“So be sure when you step, Step with care and great tact. And remember that life's A Great Balancing Act. And will you succeed? Yes! You will, indeed! (98 and ¾ percent guaranteed) Kid, you'll move mountains. So... be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray or Mordecai Ali Van Allen O'Shea, you're off to Great Places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting. So... get on your way!”
― Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You'll Go!