The teen years. For many it’s when you have the most fun of your life, but it’s also a time that most adults would not want to go back and do over. Although teens have so much to learn about life, they often think they know it all. Good advice often falls on deaf ears.
In his song “Write a Letter,” country singer Brad Paisley sings about the advice he’d give himself if he could write a letter to himself at 17. The lyrics include “Each and every time you have a fight, just assume you’re wrong and dad is right” and “These are nowhere near the best years of your life.” He encourages himself to appreciate his teacher and aunt and hang in there when things get tough.
So, if you had the opportunity to write yourself a letter at 17 or meet yourself as a teenager, what piece of valuable advice would you give, knowing what you know now?
I could probably make a huge list, but when I contemplated that question, the first thing to pop into my head was this: Wear the bikini. Sure there are more serious and critical things I’d express but this is one of the things I most needed to hear. When I started high school I was a tiny little thing of about 100 pounds, but still I hated the way I looked. It was the 1980’s, when big and baggy clothes were in, so it was easy to hide what I thought were flaws. I was uncomfortable enough in a bathing suit. There was no way I was wearing a bikini.
So many times I looked in the mirror and honestly thought to myself, "I look fat.” Of course, now that I’ve been out of high school for more than 20 years, I realize that I was not overweight in the slightest. If I’d only know how far beyond 100 pounds I would get in later years, I would have had an easier time getting myself to wear a bikini in public.
Back then I spent so much time feeling bad about my appearance and my body and there was no need for it. I looked perfectly fine. I wish I'd taken the chance to wear one when I would have looked good in it. Now that I feel more comfortable in my skin and can accept that I have a few rolls and blemishes brought on by the living I've done and the babies I've carried, wearing a bikini isn't an option. I now realize that although appearance is important, it isn't everything. If people look at you and don't like what they see, it's usually their problem and not yours. And I really wish I would have had that attitude as a teenager.
Pastor Olivia Johnson of Generational Blessings Family Worship Center in Chicago Heights said the ministry focuses largely on youths and she recognizes that today’s teens face a different set of obstacles than those of previous generations. Those top three challenges for them today, as she sees it, are a lack of good parenting examples, a lack of productive, positive role models and the practice of devaluing education. “Many of today’s youth have few role models in the areas of honesty/integrity, discipline/commitment and finances and don’t know the value of education,” she said.
What does she think this generation might come to regret or advise themselves on years down the road? One is a lack of respect for adults and authority. “Today’s mantra is: if you don’t like it, fight it or sue to get your way,” she said. Teens today aren’t learning personal responsibility or how to handle rejection, something that they may come to wish they’d learned.
She also thinks that bad decisions that a teen may later regret stem back to a lack of discipline. “We also live within a society of quitters,” she said. “Such is not ‘real life’ for successful individuals. Successful individuals live with a daily goal of finishing and completing what we start.
Some of you shared the advice you would give to yourself as a teenager:
“Don't base your success(es) right now based on what your peers are doing. You will find your own strengths. Being a teen is hard enough, but you won't be one forever; don't make any permanent decisions based on a temporary situation.
Also, be kind. Volunteer and look beyond your own world. Don't be scared.”
-Ellen Ratajack, 26, Fort Collins, Colo. (formerly of Munster)
“I would have told my teenage self to be more assertive and be more independent. I guess I was always a follower and never though for myself as a teenager. I always went with whatever someone suggested and I’d follow their advice. Now, I am my own person. I go with what I think is right.”
-Patti Miller, 49, of New Lenox
“Live your life with no regrets. There are no re-dos. Your life can change from good to bad in a moment. Don't do something or not do something because you can regret your decisions.”
-Tina Kottka, 46, Griffith
“Since I'm from the 70's and everyone seemed to be living large, and you could get a decent job with a high school diploma, my advice would be to have gone to college to get a degree. Now at my age its almost impossible to try now.”
-Karen Shomer, 56, Lansing
“If today I had the opportunity to give myself as a teenager advice, I would tell myself to be a teenager and enjoy life while at the same time prepare myself any way I can for being an adult will require of me and explain to myself what I have to look forward to so that as a younger me I can understand it isn't going to be a walk in the park. Never as a teenager are we prepared about adulthood, we just walk into it.”
-Violet Mika, 34, Cedar Lake
“I would tell my teenage self that Walt Disney is full of crap! There is no Prince Charming who is going to sweep you off your feet for a fairy tale life.”
-Crystal Pierce, 44, Lansing
“Listen to your mother! She really does know what she's talking about.”
-Marjorie DeVries, 38, Dyer