My friends and I used to play ‘Teenagers’ when we were younger. The teenagers of our fantasies had the coolest cell phones and clothes, wore tons of makeup, hung out at the mall all the time, and sashayed everywhere they went. I was completely in awe of older kids, to tell the truth, and the slightest bit intimidated. They all seemed so cool, wise, and put-together compared to me.
Now that I actually am a fully-fledged teenager, I wish I could go back in time, pat my poor oblivious child self on the head and show her this highly accurate GIF:
Expectation, meet reality. The truth of teenagehood is much muddier, diverse, and real than people tend to think. There seems to be a haze around what it really means to be a teenager, especially when you look at teen movies such as Mean Girls and Easy A. In media and culture, we’re depicted as walking, talking stereotypes; it’s why I entered teenagehood expecting to find definite types of people- jocks, nerds, bimbos, goths etc.
While some of these attributes certainly do apply (hello from your friendly neighbourhood nerd-in-residence!), us teens are much more multidimensional than pop culture purveys us to be. We’re just trying to figure life out. Teenagehood is a time of immense change and learning. Truths of life that we previously held as gospel are doomed to topple, our moral compasses are often compromised, and we start to see the world in the shades of grey that we were blissfully blind to as children.
There are many aspects of our lives that undergo change during teenagehood, but one of the biggest ones is friendship. The friendships that we grew up with are bound to change, and this can be for better or for worse. Our expectations and perceptions of friendship evolve, and we learn many lessons from the things that we experience from and with our friends.
I, for one, have definitely learned many new things about friendship since I was that little girl playing at being a teenager. I actually don’t have any desire to reverse time and tell myself all of these things, because I think that lessons stick better when you come to realize them yourself rather than when other people preach them to you. Nevertheless, I’ve written this letter to record my thoughts. Maybe, some day in the future, I’ll look back on it and scoff, backed up by new knowledge and wisdom that my present self has yet to uncover. That’s the thing about life: you’re never in your final evolution; you’re constantly changing yourself and your mind.
‘We are all pupils of life’s lessons’ – some smart person, probably
I hope that my future self, looking back, doesn’t feel too embarrassed by this, because I like to think that I’ve learned a thing or two about friendships.
Letter to My Past Self
Hey there, me. How’s life?
Knowing you, the answer is probably that it’s going great. You’ve never had trouble making friends, and you have yet to experience feelings like insecurity and self-doubt. You can’t wait to grow up and live on your own, when you can decide your own bedtime and eat all the candy you want, and wear all the cool clothes that your mom won’t buy for you. You love the idea of being a teenager: of going to awesome parties, looking busy and popular with your very own cell phone, of holding the best sweet sixteen party ever, and maybe even having a (gasp) boyfriend.
It’s great that you have all this enthusiasm and optimism for the future, but be warned that not everything is sunshine and daisies. Those friends that you have right now, as a child? They are fun to play with, but that’s about as far as your connection goes. You still have a while yet to go before you realize exactly what friendship entails, and even further yet before you realize that, no matter how hard you try, not everyone is going to want to be your friend.
That’s okay. You’re young, and you try your best to be likeable and to do good to others and yourself, and you should be proud of yourself for that. You’ve still got a long way to go, but you’re well equipped for it, no matter how shy and insecure you’re going to feel.
And here are some of the things that you’ve learned!
While cliques do exist to an extent, they aren’t nearly as defined and closed as movies like Mean Girls portray them to be. In real life, you’ll most likely find a group of friends (either out of convenience, because they share classes with you, or because you truly enjoy their company) and stick with them. Your friend group might change as old friends drift away and new ones gravitate in. You can definitely bet on there being some sort of drama, like arguments or gossiping behind backs, and peer pressure, which can be a good or bad thing depending on the situation (your friends will push you out of your comfort zone, which is often actually beneficial).
Out of all the things I’ve learned about making friends as a teenager, two things are the most important to remember:
One: listen to what your gut says. I know you’ve heard it all before: don’t do drugs, don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t have unprotected sex, etc. These mantras are chanted all too often at school, but here I am saying them again, because people just don’t seem to listen sometimes. If a group of friends invites you to do something that seems fun and cool and exciting, but your brain is ringing alarm bells, listen to yourself. Be your own judge and don’t follow others along like a headless sheep.
Two: whatever drama you’re facing right now is not the worst thing to happen to humanity, ever. I promise you, that thing that so-and-so said about you the other day isn’t the end of the world. What hurts you today will become water under the bridge tomorrow. Do sleep on your anger, and do be the bigger person, even if it means having to suppress your anger for the time being. Confront the issue later, when the hurt is more subdued and you can actually think clearly.
Fighting with Friends
Experiencing friend breakups is inevitable and painful. Confrontations are scary things, but necessary if there’s a serious issue in the friendship that needs to be resolved. Keep calm and open-minded to your friend’s point of view, and don’t patronize. Bring to the table your side of things and how you’re willing to compromise and fix things. Do not lose your head, and never yell, as it makes you look like immature one. Finally, never never never NEVER say or do something in an argument that feels good in the moment, but you know will come back to bite you later. Just don’t do it.
At the end of it all, if a fight occurs, don’t beat yourself up over it. Reliving the bad moments over and over afterwards does literally nothing but make you feel terrible. Accept the fact that you feel like crap and probably said some things that made your friend feel like crap. Recognize all the emotions you have, let them run their course, and then think of what you need to do. Do not make decisions and action while you are still down in the dumps (or, alternatively, on fire with rage). Moreover, apologize to your friends if you know you did the wrong thing- and especially if it means you have to swallow your pride, because that’s a valuable skill to have.
After careful contemplation (and maybe a lengthy discussion with your mom, she’s good at this type of stuff), if you realize that your friendship with this person is doing more harm than good- to yourself and/or them- then it may be time to look for ways to peacefully drift away. You don’t have to forcefully pry yourself away from the friend so much as find ways to stop relying on them. Directly cutting people off leads to even more resentment and conflict, so don’t do that. Toxic friends negatively affect and influence you, but they are just people too, struggling through this life. Try to not make it any harder on them or yourself.
As a final note on the topic of friendship: to get friends, you’ve got to be a friend. If you are a positive force around other people, they will naturally be attracted to you. The great thing about friends is that you bring out the best sides of each other; cherish that, and cherish the people close to you. Keep your eyes open for opportunities and other people, and the good things will come.
It is often said that a person’s true self comes out when they are under pressure. And teenagehood dumps all sorts of pressure and stress on your shoulders. It can be hard to keep a straight moral compass, a genuine smile on your face, and an A+ on your report card. So just do your best. Be kind. Work hard. Open up about your troubles, because you don’t have to face them alone.
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Thank you so much for reading, and happy holidays!