Advice for teenagers in 2021
I’ve spent nearly thirty years watching teenagers become adults. As an educator, it is a lovely thing to be involved in that process, time and time again. I love seeing them become…right before my eyes.
However, it is not an easy process and kids tend to sabotage themselves and sometimes others. In the struggle to fit in and find their place they often lose themselves.
If I could give teenagers advice that would soften their lives, it would be this:
1. Get rid of the ‘shoulds’
There are very few words in our language that have as much power as ‘should’. “You should do this”, “You should do that”.
We consciously or unconsciously use ‘should’ to make people behave the way we want them to. It stops them challenging our version of what’s acceptable. At its worst, it makes others feel bad about themselves and ashamed of who they are.
Sadly, we tend to use this weapon most powerfully on ourselves.
Some of our favourite ‘shoulds’ include:
- I should be thin
- I should be happy
- I should be nice
- I should be getting As
- I should have lots of friends
- I should be in a relationship
‘Should’ causes anxiety and discontent. It gives you only two options; pass or fail. Life doesn’t have to be that way. If you got rid of the ‘shoulds’ in life, what would you be free to be?
2. Be brave enough to be you
One of the bravest and hardest things you can do in life is be authentic, but it’s worth it. Let the world see your weirdness. What is weird about you is also what will make you great. Obviously, being authentic makes you vulnerable. However, the alternative is to never be able to express who you truly are and never be truly known or understood by anyone.
You don’t have to convince anyone that what you are is acceptable or good enough. You decide who you are, and you decide your worth. Other people’s opinions have nothing to do with you.
Equally as important is letting other people be themselves. It’s natural to make judgments, but be mindful that you are making them. They say more about you than the other person. We also don’t have to say everything we think. It’s okay to just be quiet and live and let live.
3. Write your own narrative
Society has a very narrow selection of narratives, especially for women. We are supposed to finish school, have a career, fall in love, get married, get a mortgage, have kids, etcetera. If we don’t follow that script, we are left feeling as though we have somehow failed. It’s rubbish.
We need more storylines. More acceptance of different choices. Less judgment and more room to breathe.
Look for the adults who do life differently. Listen to their stories. You don’t have to follow them but celebrate that there are so many ways of being a human in 2021.
When you step off the beaten track, you may well find yourself.
4. Shine light on others
You don’t lose anything when someone else does well. You don’t lose light when you shine it on others. The theory of scarcity has us believe that there are only so many people who can succeed at once and that there isn’t enough love or happiness for everyone. It isn’t true.
One of my favourite athletes is retired soccer player Abby Wambach. Until very recently she was the highest national goal scorer in the world, man or woman. She says that as she matured, she started to use the few seconds after scoring a goal when the tv cameras were focussed on her to literally point at another player who had set up the goal. She shared the spotlight because she wanted to take others with her… and because they deserved it.
5. Use your social capital for good
This last one is for the greater good, and I hope by now you care about the greater good. It’s about your social capital…
Your social capital is your network of friends and acquaintances. That network gives you support and helps you thrive. The nice thing about social capital is you can share it. You have the ability to make someone else’s life better.
When you befriend someone who is isolated socially you will often find, the reason they are isolated is….because they are isolated. Because nobody gives them a chance to relax and show the best bits of themselves, they never get to shine. Because they don’t shine, they are socially isolated. It’s a trap.
Generally, these people have very warm relationships with people outside of school. So, we know they are capable of that. They just lack social capital. You can give them some of yours. By stopping and talking to them regularly, or including them, you might feel at risk. You might lose some of your social capital. But you have a choice and now you know you have that choice. What will you choose?
Please, go out of your way to be kind. Kindness means lending someone else your strength; not just your physical and emotional strength but also….your social strength. That’s what grown, emotionally intelligent women and men out in the world do. They include.
Watch adults. Watch the ones you admire. Ask them questions and get to know their stories. You are already becoming an adult; it is up to you to decide what sort of adult you are becoming. It’s exciting and powerful and all ahead of you.
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