Last night, I was sitting at a red light with my 18 month old son and husband in the car. I happened to look up and saw a white car speeding toward us with no inclination as stopping. Finally, she slammed on her brakes and skidded to a stop, approximately 6” from my bumper. While I was looking at the girl driving in the rear view mirror, bracing myself for what I thought was about to happen, one odd thought came to my mind: where are her eyes? Why aren’t they on the road? She was likely either texting or looking for something in the floor.
After I realized that we were all ok and nothing had really happened, another emotion came to me strongly: anger. What was this girl thinking? Why was she not looking at the road? She could have hurt us all, including herself and my toddler. Because why? A text? A SnapChat? Who knows. She looked to be around 16 or 17, barely old enough to drive. I was angry.
Once my anger subsided, I realized I’ve been her age too. I’ve made stupid choices. I still make bad decisions. However, there seems to be a stigma attached to teenagers, one that’s not really fair. You see something almost daily about a bad decision that a teenager has made and the consequences that follow. The focus seems to be on these horrible decisions that are made by teenagers, but really…haven’t we all been there? As I think about last night’s events, I think back to my 18-year-old self.
There are things that I wish I could go back and tell her to save her heartache and from making some of those bad decisions.
Here are 7 Things I Would Tell My Teenage Self
1. Understand that every choice you make has a consequence. This is something that my mom taught me from a young age. She would say: “you can make your choice but you have to live with the consequences.” I had no idea how true this was until I became a teenager and now, an adult. Every decision you make: who you marry, where you go to college, if you have kids, who your friends are – all have consequences and YOU have to answer for them.
I learned this first-hand five years ago when my uncle was killed by an impaired teenage driver. One person’s bad decision ended his life and changed a family forever. I understand that adults make these decisions daily, but I wish as a teenager I understood truly how my actions and choices not only impacted me but could also affect others around me.
2. Cherish the memories and understand that these years won’t last forever. When I was a teenager I wasn’t into partying, I was for the most part a pretty “good girl.” I wasn’t very popular and sometimes I just wanted to be an adult. My Friday night ritual was to load up my candy apple red 1998 Mustang and cruise the boulevard with my brother and some of our friends. We spent hours driving back and forth, blasting the latest popular music.
While, I often times wonder just how much money we spent in gas those days, I would never trade that for the memories we made. From the group cookouts on Saturday afternoons to the teenage crushes we met on those Friday nights, they are all memories that made me into the person I am today. They are memories that were spent with my best friends. Part of me thought it would last forever, but growing up happens fast and the adult life calls.
3. Learn what you can. We’ve all heard the phrase “I’ll never use this in real life.” Of course I can’t tell you that I have used everything that I learned in school in real life. What I can tell you is that I have never looked back and said “I wish I had not have learned that.” Learning is something that shouldn’t stop after your teen years, but it does tend to more difficult when you become an adult. Jobs, paychecks and families can often time stand in the way of furthering your education. Take each day as a change to learn whether it be in a classroom or learning from your grandparents. Those opportunities will pass sooner rather than later.
4. Learn to be not only book smart but “life smart.” Make it a point to learn “real life” things such as how to budget, how to balance a checkbook, how to cook a meal, how to change a tire, and how to negotiate. These are all basic “adulting” skills, but unfortunately we don’t teach these things to our teenagers in school much anymore. If you aren’t taught these in school, ask a parent, grandparent or someone you trust to teach them. You can learn a wealth of knowledge just by observing.
5. Understand but your parents know more than I think you think they do. I understand that not everybody is blessed with a great set of parents, so this may not apply to everyone. I was blessed with amazing parents and the lessons they taught me as a teenager have a lot of meaning as an adult, and now a mom.Things such as: save your money, practice what you preach, words are hurtful, don’t work your life away. These are lessons that as a teenager, I often times rolled my eyes and walked off, but as an adult: I’m thankful that I retained at least some of what they taught me.
6. Treat your parents with respect even when you think they’re wrong. From curfews that “aren’t fair” to friends they tell you to be cautious of. Often times they do make mistakes but remember that they love you and I have your best interest at heart. And looking back I can tell you that nine times out of 10 every time my parents disagree with the choice on my floor made a decision that I did like it was the right decision.
7. Make friends with as many people as you can. In high school, I had a group of a few close friends. The funny thing is, I do still have friends from high school. They aren’t the friends you would think that I would be in touch with. I stay in touch with people who I didn’t really associate with in high school. They were in different friend groups than I was and while there was no ‘bad blood’, we just didn’t go out of our way to be friends. Had I know that 10 years ago, I would have gone out of my way to sit at different tables during lunch and make friends with different people.
As teenagers (and adults), we all make bad decisions. We learn, we grow and hopefully we become wiser over time. Cherish and enjoy those years, they are a part of your story!