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16 Things I Wish I Was Told as a Teenage Girl

by Claire Litton Cohn Mar 22, 2016

1. You might be in love, but that doesn’t have to mean anything.

Feelings are notoriously subjective and biased. You could fall in love with someone who is perfect for you at this particular moment in your life, but then that love could end and that’s okay. In fact, it probably will end; as Dan Savage says, all relationships end until they don’t. And sometimes the relationship SHOULD end…just because you love someone doesn’t make them a very nice person or a good partner. When I was 14, I fell hard for a guy who was funny and sweet and cute…and an outspoken right-wing conservative. Fortunately, I fell out of love with him, but not before he tried to convince me that I didn’t really believe women had a right to choose abortion.

2. It’s okay to just be the age you are.

Boy, did I ever spend a lot of time being happy that people thought I was older, when I was young. People were always telling me I was very mature for my age…sometimes 35-year-old men people, usually right before trying to make out with me. I loved hearing that I looked and acted older than I was. But here’s the thing: you only get to be a particular age once in your life. You have about 75% of your life to be an adult in, so there’s no need to rush it.

3. You don’t have to use tampons.

I think I just assumed you were supposed to use tampons because that’s what all the ads were about in Seventeen magazine? Pads are fine. Heck, if you want to get experimental, a Divacup is actually awesome: no fuss, easy to clean, and great for the environment.

4. Take care of your feet.

Wearing shoes that are too tight can give you bunions: large, painful bone spurs on the joint of your big toe, for which the only treatment is a surgery that involves breaking the bone, sawing part of it off and hobbling with a cane for 6 weeks afterwards. And that’s just one thing that can make the rest of your life really uncomfortable. Seriously, get and wear good, comfortable shoes, as much as you can; screw the heels.

5. Your period will likely be irregular for a few years.

I found a diary entry from when I was about fifteen years old: “I still haven’t gotten my period and I don’t know what I’m going to do; I think I might be pregnant.” Please note: I was a virgin. Turns out that when your period is just getting started, it comes and goes whenever it feels like it, which is sometimes on a regular monthly schedule, and sometimes more erratic. It doesn’t mean you’re pregnant. However, if you are sexually active, please be aware that you can ovulate at any time before you get your next period, so you can GET pregnant even if your periods are all over the place.

6. You scientifically do need more sleep than you’re getting, most likely.

I don’t know who thought it was a great idea for teenagers to start school at 7:45am, but I remember sitting in class all morning, completely unable to focus or wake up, until my brain finally clicked on at 10am. Adolescents need between 9 and 10 hours of sleep a night — in fact, some studies suggest that teens need exactly 9 hours and 15 minutes, optimally — and most of them aren’t getting nearly enough. Between school commitments, extracurricular activities, and a circadian rhythm that means they don’t really get tired until 11 or 12 at night, teenagers often get less than 7 hours a night. Take naps when you can, try to go to bed as early as possible, and sleep in on the weekend.

7. Do what your dentist and orthodontist say.

Seriously, flossing and brushing and taking care of your braces actually serve a purpose: the more you do low-grade maintenance on your teeth, the less likely you are to require extensive, costly dental work later on. Even flossing every other day is pretty good.

8. Adults have no idea what they’re doing.

Just because someone is twenty years older than you doesn’t mean they’re going to be good at their job, or ethical, or fair. I ran into countless situations where I was deeply surprised by someone who was supposed to be the grown-up acting like a child. It’s okay to stand up for something you think is right, even if someone who is supposed to be in charge is telling you you’re wrong. Also, just because someone is older than you, doesn’t mean that whatever they tell you is true.

9. Everyone is as insecure as you are.

Not just the other kids in your school, but adults and old people and little kids: everybody. I was so self-conscious about my bad skin when I was a teenager, to the point where I considered going on Accutane for it…but it wasn’t actually that bad, and I don’t know a single person that even remembers what my skin looked like back then. Thanks to Facebook, I’m still in touch with my high school besties, and I don’t remember what their skin looked like either.

10. It gets way better.

You couldn’t pay me enough money to go back and be a teenager again. Those were not the best years of my life. Best years so far? My thirties. I’m loving every year. Even when the year itself is crappy, I still like who I am and what I understand about the world so much better now than I did when I was sixteen. There is so much in the world, and in yourself, to look forward to.

11. Everything doesn’t happen for a reason or work out in the end.

Life isn’t a novel or a movie. There isn’t a tidy ending to a story or a solution to every problem. You might finish a chapter and guess what happens next? More chapters. More decision-making, more problems, more successes and failures. There’s no ordered conclusion (except the obvious one that everyone eventually comes to), and sometimes bad stuff happens and that sucks. But good stuff happens too.

12. Just because you make a mistake, doesn’t mean you ARE a mistake.

I read an article once talking about how French has a good way of expressing concepts like “anger” or “hunger”. Whereas in English, you say “I am hungry” or “I am angry”, in French, you say “I have hunger/anger.” One is a state of being, one is just a temporary condition. If you take the same action or say the same thing over and over again, you need to start thinking about why you’re doing that — if you keep saying racist things, you might actually be a racist. But doing a bad thing does not make you a bad person; failing at something does not make you a failure. As Samuel Beckett said: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

13. The problems you have at any age are still big problems.

I remember being 8 or 9 and hanging around in the children’s library working on my homework, and there was a lot of it. I was miserably complaining about it when a nearby teenager laughed and said, “You think that stuff you’re doing is hard? Wait until you get to high school!” Guaranteed, some adult told that teenager, “You think homework is hard? Wait until you get to real life!” Just because you’re young or your problems aren’t as bad as someone else’s problems, doesn’t mean you don’t have problems. Your feelings about them are real, and they affect you. Just ignore anyone who tells you your emotions aren’t real: do this for the rest of your life. Those people do not have your best interests at heart.

14. You do not owe those boys a damn thing.

All the messages I got as a young girl, from movies and TV and the books I read, told me that I should want a boyfriend, and be willing to do pretty much anything to get one. I’m not even talking about sexual stuff, although I definitely went further than I would have wanted just to get someone to like me. I’m talking about all the listening to their problems without their listening to mine. I’m talking about the one boy who invited me to his house and told me while I was there, under no circumstances should I speak to his parents…and told me we couldn’t be friends anymore when I said a startled “hi” upon running into his dad in the kitchen. I’m talking about the boys who grow up to be men who think they are owed anything, anything at all, from women.

15. It’s okay to know the right answer and do the work.

I cannot tell you the number of times I got sneered at by jerks in eighth grade for answering the teacher’s questions…even more sneering when I was right. I got straight A’s and a valuable scholarship to pay for my grad school. This is not to say that you should focus only on getting the “right answers” — actual learning, without grades, beats exams and pop quizzes any day — but don’t be ashamed for raising your hand in class.

16. Nothing lasts forever.

At the risk of sounding overly Buddhist, everything is impermanent. Sure, good stuff goes away, and that sucks…but so does bad stuff. If you’re feeling miserable or angry or helpless, I swear it will not last.

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