In the last 25 years, while I was working with teens and collecting information for my book Be Special, Be Yourself for Teenagers, I have discovered many important things about being a teenager. It was funny to discover these things when I was no longer a teen myself. This is the paradox of being a teen – you only understand what has happened to you when you are no longer a teen. Catch-22, don’t you think?
Fundamentally, I do not believe anything is “too late”. There is always something you can do with a new learning to improve your situation now and in the future. However, many bits of information have lot less value when your situation changes.
How many times have you said, “I wish I knew this when I was a teen?”
Writing the book was a very special and eye-opening adventure for me. I wrote the stories and gave them to teens, parents and educators (my target readers) to read and fill out a survey about the book. Through the reading, I have discovered what the needs of each target group were. Surprise, surprise, the same stories triggered very different reactions based on the readers’ challenges. This was fascinating in itself and gave me material for new stories.
It made me think that there are things teens discover too late in life, unless we, their parents and educators, do something to change them. Here is the list of these important things. I encourage you to add items to this list in the comment box below. Hopefully, if we know what teens need to know, it will easier to help them learn it.
- My parents love me
It is truly amazing how much love and support teens need, despite their “I can handle it” façade, and how late they discover their parents love them. The story Biography talks about a high school kid who has to write the biography of a family member and ends up writing about his mother. In the process, he discovers how special he was for his family.
For most teens in my survey, this story was a revelation of the possibility they were loved so much by their own parents and families. For the adults in my survey, it was an emotional story expressing how much they loved their own kids and students.
The love is there, but cannot be recognized by teens.
- Academic achievements are important
They are important because they are wonderful confidence boosters and are tightly linked to social status and self image. While succeeding at school, teens practice being successful so many times they get used to being successful.
It is a bit sad to discover after leaving high school that doing it for Mom or Dad or to please the teacher was not the right motivation.
- Failure is not the end of the world. It builds character
It is amazing how late in life we discover that the things that the “hard knocks” of our teen years, which made us too embarrassed to show our face at school, were not as bad as they seemed back then. This is exactly the reason the teen years are so hard – teens have some awareness of their society, but they do not have enough life experience to know that “this too shall pass” and that they may in the future get out of the other side of this “failure” much stronger. I think the sad thing is that many adults never learn this.
- What others think about me is none of my business
For 20 years, people grow up defining themselves in accordance with what others think about them. It starts with their parents, teachers, other family members and reaches a stage when what their friends think about them determines who they are. It takes time and often circumstances to get out of their comfort zone after high school and discover that environment is important. You can be a geek in one place and cool in another. Sometimes, they learn it too late, the hard way.
- Socializing with the right crowd
Teens socialize with who they can. Many times, they do not choose their surroundings and who they hang out with is totally circumstantial – their neighbors, their classmates, their teammates, etc. But who you spend time with becomes your point of reference. If they are good kids having fun and being responsible, you will be “pressured” to be a good kid too, have fun and be responsible. If you hang around the troublemakers, you will be pressured to be just like them.
It is very important for teens to choose their friends wisely.
- “It won’t happen to me” is dead man mentality
There are thousands of people in graveyards or handicapped who have failed to learn this lesson. No one is immune to accidents, to drugs or to alcohol, not even if he or she is a good kid with many A’s in Math or Science. If you do something you should not do, you are playing with your life.
Being on the road means subjecting yourself to other people’s behavior. In some situations, there is nothing you can do when the bad thing happens. You can only be better prepared and make better choices ahead of time.
This particular lesson is an example of learning something too late when the result is death.
- Staying healthy is not just for old people
Your physical and emotional health will make sure your body functions properly and for a long time so you can experience life with it. Being skinny like Barbie is not the ideal weight and although “cool” and health do not go hand in hand sometimes, your health is essential to your success in life. Take care of yourself and remember your health is more important than being cool. If you discover it too late, some things just cannot be fixed anymore (read the story of Karen Carpenter).
- Gossip gives imaginary power, but only brings trouble
I guess this is something we learn over time. I have met some inspiring teens who understood this, but they were rare. I know many adults whose teen years are long gone and still do not understand that there is no real power in gossip.
When there is friction in any relationship, the best way to handle it is directly. Getting another person involved only aggravates the situation and makes reconciliation harder, especially when the other person pours more fuel over the fire. In relationships, the formula is simple: the more people, the harder and what you say, you cannot take back.
Although being assertive may seem difficult, it is always the best option.
- There is lots of help out there
One of the biggest discoveries of my survey was that there is lots of help out there teens are just not aware of. For me, this is a classic Catch-22. Teens need help to discover where teens can get help. Teens also need help to find ways of helping themselves when they do not know what kind of help they can get…
All too often, teens discover the abundant help around them too late, when they have already done something silly or when they have overcome their problem.
- Be special, be yourself
Every teen discovers this during his or her mid-life crisis 20-25 years later. I am not sure it is too late, because they can take lots of learning and improve their life at any stage, but it is still better to know it early.
Kids are carried by the flow of life as directed mostly by their parents. Teens form their sense of identity in that flow and it is easy for them to keep being carried by it. It is much harder to take responsibility and make independent decisions, but it is also much more rewarding long term.
Although fitting in is a skill we must all learn, teens may find too late that there is a fine line between fitting in and giving up who they are. Crossing this line makes it harder to find their true self (having a mid-life crisis is often hard).
Whether you are a parent, an educator or just a kind soul who wants to add some lessons and ideas to our list of things teens may discover too late, please share what you think below.