Friday, September 10, 2010

Rules of the Road: The Teen Years

There was a couple that helped out with the youth group at the church my family attended while I was in high school. I babysat for them once. They were younger, fun and cool.

But the one thing I really remember about them was a very brief conversation we had once. My friend and I were in the midst of some teen angst and the husband looked at us, shook his head and confessed, "you couldn't pay me enough to be back in high school." His wife nodded in solemn agreement.

I loved them for that.

Finally, someone acknowledged that life was not all roses for teens or that it should be. Sure, we didn't have to work. Sure, our parents took care of us. (Disclaimer: I realize other teens had it worse than me by far but talking from my own experiences.) But it was still hard.

And that's what I want to tell you. Those teens years can be what you make of them. But they will not always be rosy and they will, at some times, suck. And yes, I agree that I could not be paid enough to go back to that time. And I wasn't even tortured in high school!

There are a lot of different factors that swirl about, constantly changing, which can make things difficult. Peer pressure. The social standings of a small pond (i.e. high school). Gossip. Friends/enemies (often the lines are blurred or camps are switched instantly). Dating. Drugs. Alcohol. Sex. The maturing process. The overall drama.

It all adds up to an interesting time. The important thing is to keep it all in perspective. This is critical. Crucial.

Look at your overall life -- your teen years are but a tiny fraction of what will otherwise hopefully be a long and full life. Some actions (like getting pregnant/impregnating a girl, drug use, tattoos) can have long-reaching impacts on that future life and consequently deserve heavy thought prior to action. Other actions (like being shunned by a popular person or walking around the quad with toilet paper stuck to your foot) will be forgotten relatively soon and only serve to cause you a chuckle at the torment you put yourself through about it.

Honestly, once you even get to college, things are different. Your standing in high school is irrelevant. You start over. And everyone fits in somewhere in college. As my mother wisely said, "there is nothing lower than a college freshman." So true. So yes, prom queen and high school star quarterback -- you get to start at the bottom. Good times all around.

It's tough when you are in high school. Because it is a VERY small pond. Things easily seem monumental when you are tootling around a puddle. And it is easy to be caught up in the drama that is high school, in part due to the small environment and in part due to the hormones at an all-time high (only rivaled during pregnancy). That small environment can make you do stupid things. Welcome to the mob mentality.

To quote Tommy Lee Jones in Men In Black, "A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it."

Yes, Tommy, I do know it. He's right. You individually might make a good decision. But the minute you hear others talking around you, start gauging their reactions to your reaction, it is far too easy to get swept up in the drama that is created and far too tempting sometimes to create the drama yourself. Suddenly one person's comment of "hi!" turns into "OMG, he is totally into you!" or "she is so going to get you -- watch your back!" It is tough but sometimes you need to say "I need to think about how I want to react to that" and do just that -- take some time, alone, step back and ask yourself if you are indeed reacting to what the person said or are being swept along in the rising tide of melodrama that high school society inures to itself.

It is incredibly difficult because high school is not just small but a strange environment thanks to the maturing process occurring during that time. Not just physically in terms of pubic hair and boobs -- although that posts its own host of issues. But emotionally, psychologically and physiologically. And when I say physiologically, I'm talking about your brain. Do you know that during the maturing process, in the teen years, your brain changes? Yep. In childhood, children are intuitive thinkers. They go with their gut. Hence they do things like gorge on candy not thinking about the impending stomach ache or dart out into the street to retrieve an errant ball without looking for cars. They just react. There is no thought necessarily before that. An adult (in theory) is a logical, rational thinker. Someone who looks eagerly at a double fudge devil's food cake but realizes that eating the whole thing would like make her very sick (not to mention the additional pounds). Someone who stops and looks for oncoming cars before retrieving a basketball that has gone off the court.

So in the teen years, the change begins slowly and there are moments of intuitive thinking and then moments of rational thinking. And that will slowly edge over to rational. But people mature at different paces and in different ways so you are surrounded by people who are all maturing at different rates than you might be. That creates a constantly changing dynamic that you have to deal with. Hence you might find yourself "outgrowing" certain friends and might find certain friends have "outgrown" you. Don't worry -- it all evens out eventually.

The key again is to realize that it all passes. And that we are there to support you and help you no matter what.

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