(Written originally in 2019, updated in 2022, twice)

Recently on social media I shared one of my Senior pictures and my friend Nicole said “Channeling my So Called Life. And I’m here for it.” It got me thinking but first I have to set the stage…

Even looking back on that picture I remember it like it was yesterday. I was a brand new senior. My future husband was just my “friend” and had written me a letter that was in my back pocket. I had read it so many times that it felt like silk. My friend Jenn and I poured over it line by line trying to decipher what he meant by “I hope to see you soon.” Did that mean he liked me? That he wanted to spend the rest of his life with me? Or did he just want to see me like as a friend? I was having my senior pictures taken that day. We took them on the stage at my high school. That stage was my safe haven. I can still picture the sounds and the smells. I remember how I would run my hands along the wall, walking up the stairs from the dressing rooms, and do the sign of the cross before I went on stage. Theater kids are special kids. Everyone is different, and everyone is accepted. It was the first group of friends I had that I could be open with and disagree with and we would talk stuff out. We didn’t gossip about each other, and we were honest with each other. For so much of my life I had fought to be “seen” and they were the first group of people that just saw me. They challenged me to be a better person every day, and when I messed up they still loved me. I was rarely a lead, but it never mattered. Because we all mattered and everyone was a star…significant and shining. I was so thankful when Grace fell in love with theater. Her experience has already been such a gift. She leaves the ridiculous unnecessary “drama” at school, to a place where people see her and love her. Her theater friends are a blessing.

I remember when “My So Called Life” came out on TV. I was in High School, and had watched the previews for it at a friends house. I never got to watch the show regularly at my house because we only had three working channels, and it was on a channel the rabbit ears on our 18 inch TV didn’t get in. It was probably for the best. Every time I saw Clare Danes teen-angsty face I related to her. I was already filled with lots of feelings at that time anyway. I didn’t need more ideas on how to be extra. I had learned to slam doors and roll my eyes from DJ Tanner, and I don’t think my parents could’ve handled anymore.

Aw the 90’s.

I loved that grunge phase because those were the clothes anyone could afford. But they also just fit my personality- they weren’t too tight, were comfy, and the more wrinkled the better. My favorite shirt was my Papa John’s flannel and an old pair of bell bottoms that would get wet on the bottom in rain and snow, as well as these overalls(pictured) that I got at a garage sale. I still have all three of these items. I bet if you hold them close to your nose, you may still be able to smell my special blend of patchouli-vanilla I had mixed and wore as perfume. I wore the overalls for years, even after we had Jonah. I’ve never been a big shopper, but I’ve never met a thrift store I didn’t like. I have a closet full of flannels. And I still love the smell of patchouli. So I guess not much has changed in that respect.

But being a teenager has changed.

Kids are never allowed to be off duty. There is the constant connection that comes from cell phones and social media. Even some teachers won’t accept homework that’s not digital. There’s so much pressure for them to be more, to do more. And they don’t get a break. They are always in contact with friends and feel that pressure to respond instantly. And there is this open ended freedom to express yourself privately and be mean, because you can hide behind a screen, or say something anonymously. It’s dangerous. It’s no wonder anxiety rates have sky-rocketed. It’s no wonder suicide rates are off the charts with our teens. And our kids are addicted to that little glow, and that dopamine that is released in their brains. Don’t believe me? Check your kids cell phone use. And check your rates too. It effects all of us. There’s a mountain of research that supports this. And it’s not going away.

So, I started thinking.

I work with teens. I raise teens. And I was a teen. I have witnessed the pressures they are under, and continue to witness them. And I have also learned a few things from raising son’s, things I didn’t realize when I was a teen girl. Most of them know the basics…listening to your parents. Being respectful of others. Eat right and exercise. Washing your hands after you poop. And if they don’t- seriously that’s parenting 101. Get on that. But here’s a refresher of some other stuff that they may have forgotten. While my “so called advice” may not pertain to all there are some things I wish I would’ve known back then. I have a whole other post coming about body image and all that jazz. But here’s some basics for teens. Here’s the top stuff I see with the kids I work with. Here’s some stuff they need to know…

1. Being a good friend takes work. It takes time, and energy. Not texting and a streak, but actually spending time with someone and making time for them. When you find a loyal, good friend who shows up for you when you need them- you need to be that friend who shows up for them when they need you. Friendship goes both ways. Empathy is priceless. If you have plans with a friend, and get a better offer, don’t be the guy/girl who just cancels. A few months ago my daughter actually had someone text that to her, “I’m waiting to see if I get a better offer.” Props for honesty, but the rest, yeah not a good friend move. If you only contact someone because you need something, that makes you a shitty friend. Don’t be a shitty friend. Real, loyal friends don’t come along often. Friendship is worth more than an aesthetic feed. Put in the work.

2. “No offense but…” is the perfect way to insult someone. Strike it from your vocabulary- and don’t say it. If you’re gonna say something just to insult someone STOP! When you need to talk to someone over a real conflict, and you come at with honesty but gentleness you actually will get somewhere. You may even stay friends. But starting any sentence with that…just No. Learn how to apologize and how to forgive. Being accountable for our actions is a priceless gift.

3. Don’t gossip. Do not share anyone else’s story. There is something beautiful about staying out of other people’s drama. Don’t lie about someone to make you feel better, another hard lesson my teenager learned this year, by a good friend. The same goes with writing anything on the internet to someone or about someone that is just to hurt them. Or to get even with them. The one thing I’ve learned, eventually everything catches up with people. It’s not our job to make that happen. Also stop making polls, or opinion polls, or anything on the internet to invite that in. Because people can and will be really mean sometimes. Let God be God, and always be kind.

4. With that being said we should be past the part when we don’t speak up if we hear of someone threatening violence on others or themselves. We have to speak up. Regardless of what anyone else thinks- it’s that important. If you can save a life that’s all that matters. It’s not gossip if you’re saving a life. And when in doubt still speak up. Seriously.

5. If you wouldn’t send that picture to your grandma, then you shouldn’t be sending it to anyone else. Or asking them to send you one. That is someone’s baby. They are worth more than that. And you are worth more than that. Period. Respect yourself.

6. If you marginalize anyone else because of their beliefs, or because of who they are inside and/or out…you are a jerk. So stop it. Not everyone is gonna look and act like you. Not everyone is going to know your story. Not everyone is going to have the same opinions. So stop it. Stop it right now. Respect others.

7. Find a church. Find a youth group. Find some faith. Find something to believe in, other than just yourself. Because YOU are going to fail. People are going to fail you. And there’s so much more. You aren’t perfect.  And YOU need more. We all need God. And He’s real. I promise.

8. Relationships are hard. They take work and there is no such thing as “relationship goals” in Middle or High School. You’re all just figuring stuff out. A relationship on social media isn’t real, if you’re not actually spending time getting to know someone else. You are going to make mistakes. Don’t ever use someone else. Don’t ever ever cheat.  Seriously, don’t be a cheater. Trust is important. Being jealous never has good results. And you have to communicate. This is all training for the rest of your life, so if you don’t tell someone what’s going on they won’t know. No one can read minds. Therefore, they won’t learn how to love you. Because we all love different. Friends are important when you’re starting to date. You need them. Make time for them. But don’t make them fight your battles, and don’t let them run your relationship. And sometimes certain friends aren’t the best people to confide in when you are in a new relationship.  I had a friend back in the day sabotage multiple relationships for me. See #1 again. When in a relationship talk to your parents, or a trusted adult when things come up. The best time to learn how to navigate relationships is when you’re still home and can lean on people who’ve been there. Break ups are inevitable, and it’s hard on both sides. Don’t ever think because someone has broken up with you everything is hunky dory for them. The other person is trying to figure it all out too, and sometimes, they are doing what they think is right for both of you. And a lot of times they are hurting just as much.

9. Don’t take dating advice from “Twilight.” Edward is creepy and old. Bella needs serious counseling. All three of my sons were talking/dating someone in the past few years who said “Twilight” was their favorite movie.  BIG RED FLAG. Mamas, ask your daughters why that’s their favorite book or movie.  Also if someone is super mean to you one day, and super sweet the next day- that’s another big red flag, wave bye bye bye Justin Timberlake style, and don’t date them. If they are mean all the time, don’t date them. If they tell you not to talk/look/breathe around someone else or are controlling, don’t date them. If they sneak in and watch you when you’re sleeping…ew, don’t date them. If they talk bad about your family or your friends, don’t date them. If they cheat on you EVER, be done. If they pressure you to do ANYTHING, be done. If they push or hit you, Be Done. That cycle can become very tricky the deeper you get into it. You are worth more than that.

10. Take a break. From your phone. From social media. FROM YOUR PHONE. And talk to someone. If things are tough and you feel helpless, tell someone. Don’t ever give up though. Don’t do something to numb the pain. Don’t walk towards the dark. Instead turn on the light, and find someone right then who can help you. Sometimes that means feeling all the feelings right then and there, and getting help. Maybe that means talking to someone. Maybe that means seeing a doctor. Maybe that means dropping a class. Or taking the right dose of prescribed medicine to help the chemicals in your brain get balanced. But speak up, and speak out. Stand up for yourself. We need you here. So many people need you. I promise. The dark will tell you we don’t. But we do! You are the world changer’s. You are so needed. And so loved. Please please speak up. And stay.

11. You don’t need TikTok. You don’t need Insta. You don’t need Snap. Really. You don’t really need those things.  You don’t need any of it to be a well balanced person. You need sleep.  You need proper nutrition and exercise.  You need connection and touch.  You do need to be able to make eye contact with people to get a job. You need to be able to talk to people and not just over text. You can make your own dances up. You don’t need it.

So there you go…my so called advice. Here’s your recap:

Don’t be a shitty friend.

Be kind and accountable.

Speak up for others, not about them.

Be brave.

Respect yourself and the people on the other end of the phone.

Don’t be a jerk.

Know that relationships take work, and things don’t always work out.

Don’t ever take dating advice from a movie or a book- you are a real person and you deserve love.

Know that God loves you and created you for good things.

Take a break from your phone.

And always face the light. You have a place in this world, and you are needed. You are loved.

So very loved.

AND Here’s my advice for my fellow parents.  Navigating this time with teenagers is hard, so it’s important to have conversations with them before things happen.  If you think your child will never, they absolutely will.  I know from personal experience.  Our children aren’t perfect, and they need us now more than ever.

1.  Don’t let shame be your game.  Kids never react well, and teens will eventually build a BIG wall and you may never be allowed back in.  Don’t body shame.  Don’t become obsessed with their food.  Basically, don’t begin to breed grounds for eating issues.  Because eating issues become eating disorders and body dysmorphia.  Deal with your own shit and practice moderation.

2.  Don’t give your Teens your adult problems.  Again deal with your stuff.  Go to therapy.  Take your meds. Ask for help…from other adults. Don’t give them your issues. You can share big stuff “Grandpa is sick.” But they don’t need or know how to solve big life issues.  They need to feel safe and loved.

3.  If your kid makes a mistake, talk to them.  Because they are going to make mistakes, lots and lots. And some are BIGGGGGG.  There should be consequences, but sometimes we need to listen and hear them.  And have conversations before the fact about things like…alcohol, drugs, consent, sex, sexting, boundaries  pornography, broken glass, knives, etc etc.  Have the hard conversations NOW.

4.  You have a right to check your kids phones, set limits on their phones and what they watch, tell them to put on more clothes, go through their room, make them leave the door open when a boy friend/girl friend is over, to set boundaries, and have consequences as well. If you are worried and have a bad feeling about something, trust that.  Also teach your kids to trust that.  And listen to them.  Sometimes they are trying to tell you something during those moments.  And it’s okay for them to be mad about a choice we make. It’s okay for us to say NO.  It’s okay for them to disagree with us.  We get one shot at this time.  We need to make it count.

5. Forgive them.  And ask for forgiveness when we mess up.

6.   Don’t gossip about other parents to your child, or to other parents. Parenting is not a pissing game, and you don’t know better than everyone else. Less judgement.  We should all be in this together.  Be kind.

7. Love them. Love your kids when they are unlovable.  Love them when they are easy to love.  And just love them. They need to know they are loved. This time of transition is just as hard for them as it is for us. They need us so much.