The teenage years are for most people one big tumultuous hormonal roller coaster ride. Yikes! Add to that an enormous pressure to figure out what you want to do with your life, get high grades, get into a great university, and hang with the right crowd, plus a feeling that your every move is being judged, and at any given moment you could be rejected by everyone you thought was your friend. You now have a recipe for some massive stress and frustration. If you understand what's happening and employ a little strategy, you can get through the whole thing somewhat unscathed and set the course for a truly extraordinary life. If not, it can feel like one disaster after the next.
One of Christina and Lauren's birthday parties with some of their friends in SoCal.
1. It's Not the End of the World
I know it might feel like it, but unless you see blazing chariots of angels tearing up the sky, it's not the end of the world. For some reason, and I remember this well, everything bad that happens when you're a teenager feels like it's the worst thing that could possibly happen. If you're not allowed to go to a party, it feels like you will miss out on the social event of the century, there will never be another one, and you will be banished from any hope of ever being cool and never get invited to anything else for the rest of your life. If you stand back and really look at it, you know that's ridiculous. Let's just say that you go, and someone else can't go for whatever reason. Will they get cut out of everything cool for the rest of their lives? No. Not gonna happen. It won't happen to you either.
What about when a guy dumps you or the people you thought were your friends turn out to be a bunch of backstabbing piles of garbage? Yes, that all hurts enormously, and yes, it's not fair. It's hard to see past those things immediately, but I guarantee you that there is a better guy down the road and a better group of friends. Once you get past the pain, try to understand that and put these people where they belong -- out of your mind. Don't let the memories of these less than worthy creeps ruin your life. Flip it on its side and be grateful you're not wasting your precious time with those people anymore.
2. Don't Be Afraid to Express Yourself
You are a unique and wonderful person, and you deserve to be heard. Understand that there are a lot of mean, insecure trolls out there who think that by putting everyone else down they will somehow rise in societal ranking. That's not the way it works. Paradoxically, more often than not the people who are considered part of the so-called "popular crowd" are mean and petty. They are part of that crowd usually because of their parents' money or the fact that they are star athletes. Truly popular people are nice and fun to be around. They think fascinating thoughts, they talk about their hopes and dreams, they help others, and they're fun! Be that person! You can choose to dwell in the negative and be a troll, or you can focus on big ideas and kindness and become that person who draws people like a moth to the light.
Also, don't clam up out of fear of rejection. My 16 y/o Dani has a good friend with a sparkling personality who has recently become silent around everyone but Dani. It's such a sad thing to see because her sparkle is such a gift to those around her when she expresses it, but she's not seeing that and is acting out of fear. If someone shuts you down, move on to someone else; the troll isn't worth space in your head, and there are other good people out there who may be clamming up out of fear, too. Be the kind of person you want to be friends with, and you will draw those types of people.
My spunky, expressive daughters
3. Understand Your Hormonal Rollercoaster
You are (or have been) growing fast, and you body is trying to adjust. You have all kinds of crazy hormones flooding your system, and all of a sudden you are attracted to every good-looking person that walks by. Keep your pants on. Seriously. Unless you want a whole world of hurt from being used and abused, just keep your pants on, and don't go there. If you're already on the wrong road, I urge you to find your way back to a secondary purity. It's never too late to get back on the right path. The sooner the better for both your physical and emotional health.
The frontal lobe of the brain, which is the part that stores good judgment and makes wise choices, is not fully formed until about age 25. Everyone wants to feel loved, but teenagers are generally so attracted to so many people at the same time that it's a painful disaster waiting to happen. Look around; how many of your friends have suffered devastating breakups? Was that deep pain really worth it? A better bet is to wait a few more years before getting involved beyond friendship. Your system will calm down eventually, but for now, you are not in a position mentally to make the best choices. Try to remember that, and don't be afraid to seek counsel from a trusted source. Sorry about that, but it's true. In the meantime, try your best to direct your focus to other things and keep your virtue intact. It may not feel like the cool thing to do, especially in today's hookup culture, but it's the right thing and the smart thing to do, and your future marriage will be so much stronger for it. And isn't that what you really want? True love that lasts forever?
4. Find Your Unique Talents and Develop Them
We are all born with unique talents. If you don't think you have any, well, you're wrong. You just haven't found them yet. Do you like to draw, paint or sculpt things? Maybe art is your thing. Are you deeply moved by music? Take up an instrument or join a choir. Get some friends together and start a band. Are you a great storyteller? Maybe you have a novel inside you. Release your inner poet. Do you love computers? Try programming something for fun.
My 15 y/o Christian loves online video gaming, and he decided to develop an algorithm for ranking the players of his favorite online game. He figured out how to do that, then he figured out how to develop a bot to automate it. Now he's learning the programming language Python, and who knows where he will take it from there. Maybe you have a deep love for plants or animals, like my 13 y/o son Nick, or sewing and designing clothes, like my 16 y/o daughter Dani, who designed and made her prom dress this year. Find your talents. You have them, and they are waiting for you to develop them!
My 16 y/o Dani in the prom dress she designed and stitched on her own.
5. Your Parents Don't Hate You
They might get exasperated and impatient, but they don't hate you. In fact, they love you more than you could ever imagine, and they worry about your safety and your future. It's that frontal lobe thing again. When I was in high school, I very clearly remember some of my classmates dying in car crashes, mostly drinking-related. This is true for every parent, and it's terrifying. It all happens in a flash, and lives can be changed or ended forever. Please know this, and don't drink and drive. Don't text and drive. Do your best to keep your parents apprised of your safe arrival to wherever you're going. I know it seems like overkill, but it's so scary wondering if your kids are ok. Put your parents' minds at ease. Your relationship will improve immensely, and you will all be happier for it!
6. Everyone is Not Really Looking at You
It might feel like you're under a microscope, and everyone is staring at you, analyzing your every move, waiting to pounce on you for every little screw up. Here's the dirty little secret: EVERYONE feels that way. Which means that no one is looking at you, because they are too busy being worried about how everyone is staring at them. Most people don't figure this out until they are in their 40's or 50's. Some people never figure this out. Don't be that person. Figure it out now, and be freed of all that pressure!
7. Write Down Your Goals and Your Feelings
You can do all this in a journal, or you might want to separate them and keep the feelings in a journal and the goals on a piece of paper that you hang up on your mirror so that you see it every day. Writing your feelings down helps you work through all those confusing, difficult things. When my 20-something daughters go back and read their teenage journals, they see how far they've come.
Goal-setting is an amazing process. When you take some serious time to plot out your dreams, you greatly increase your chances of achieving them. Napoleon Hill once said, "A goal is a dream with a deadline." Keeping your talents and skills in mind, sit down and really think about where you want to be in a year from now, 5 years from now, and 10 years from now. It's hard to think past this year, but do your best. Remember, you can always change your mind, so go ahead and pick some goals, and then walk them back to the steps you will need to follow to achieve them. Maybe it's getting into college. That requires taking the ACT and/or the SAT by a certain date, visiting colleges, filling out paperwork, looking for scholarships and financial aid, etc. Maybe you have a dream to start your own entrepreneurial venture. One teenager I read about recently started making prom dresses for his friends, and it turned into a full-fledged business! My six daughters started a band, and now they do world tours. The sky is the limit, but you have to take some quiet time to dream big and then write down the detailed steps to get you there.
8. Get Some Regular Exercise and Clean Up Your Diet
I know. This is where you tune out. But trust me; exercise really does clear your head and help you deal with all those crazy hormonal fluxes. Now is a great time to find your favorite types of exercise that you can carry with you for the rest of your life. Are you a swimmer, runner, dancer, basketball player, weight lifter, or maybe a yoga devotee? Do you like exercising with a group or solo? My girls like walking, boxing, and dance. My boys like weight lifting, running, swimming, water polo, and basketball. It doesn't really matter what you do, just do something that you love that keeps you moving!
If you're like most people (not just teenagers), you probably also need to clean up your diet. Try your best to cut way down on sugar and anything made from flour. I know, who wants to live a life without pizza and soda or cookies and ice cream? Well, you don't have to give them up all the way, but you should really try to drink more water and less soda, and eat more fruits and vegetables and less bread products and junk food. Your skin will glow, your moods will even out, your energy level will be more steady, and you'll be able to deal with that emotional rollercoaster better. Try it out for a couple of weeks if you don't believe me.
My daughter Christina on a paddle board
9. Stay Away from Drugs, Alcohol, and Cigarettes
This should go without saying, but there is so much drug and alcohol abuse that it must be addressed. These are poisons to your mind, body, and soul. They have the potential to rob you of your health, both physical and mental, and it's best to just avoid them at all costs. If you want to lead an extraordinary life, drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes have no place in it.
Most, if not all, people who use and abuse these substances get started on them as a way to escape their problems by self-medicating. The problems aren't dealt with, they usually get worse because they are repressed and ignored, and then addiction issues can build up on top of that. It becomes a huge vicious cycle that is very difficult to escape and leads to ruin physically, mentally, financially, and spiritually. Drugs and alcohol destroy families and relationships every day. Be smart and stay away from that stuff. If you are already tangled up in that web, I encourage you to seek help and address the underlying pain that you are trying to escape so you can let go of your addictions once and for all.
10. Cut WAY Back on Social Media
Get a real life. Do real things with real people in the real world. Social media can be a wonderful thing in small doses; it's fun to meet people around the world and learn about what it's like in their part of the world. But when your life revolves around social media, it can become a very dark and depressing place, full of cyber-bullying and trolls. It can get especially ugly when it is happening in your home town or school, so be very careful about what you post, and don't put yourself in situations where people can take or get a hold of embarrassing pictures of you doing things you wouldn't want anyone to see.
11. Develop Your Spiritual Life
The human soul hungers for purpose. Without it, life can feel empty and pointless. I am a Catholic, and I believe that we were all wonderfully made, each with our own individual spiritual gifts, talents, and mission while here on this earth. I encourage you to grapple with these questions if you haven't already, and find your own sense of mission and purpose. Volunteer to help those who are less fortunate, and I guarantee it will help you gain perspective on things. Also, helping others is known to help with depression. More often than not, you will benefit just as much as those you are helping! My daughters Katherine and Dani find it immensely satisfying to volunteer at a homeless shelter and work with the children there. As I write this, my teenage boys are at a church retreat, where they are refilling their spiritual well. Last year, my girls all went to a Catholic Heart Work Camp eleven hours away, where they helped with projects for the less fortunate like cleaning up a community garden, fixing up a broken down playground, building a deck, etc. They were there for a week, and it affected them profoundly in a very positive way.
If you can follow these steps, you will be well on your way to a healthy passage through teenagerdom and you will have laid the foundation for an extraordinary life! You've got this!
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