This one’s for you.
I am going to give you a list of things that you can do to form the kind of person you’d like to be when you get a little bit older. You are young, so you don’t have the benefit of experience that we older folks do. That doesn’t mean you don’t know anything; it just means that we have had the chance to do a bunch of stuff, and we learned some things from it. We made a lot of mistakes when we were your age. Don’t ever get the impression that your parents have no clue what you are going through.
Your world is smaller than ours. You need to understand that. We give you a home to live in, food in your belly, and clothes on your back. We deserve no award for this- it’s what we are supposed to do. Being a good parent is an obligation to take care of you. The consequences of our actions have huge effects. If we don’t work our butts off, we can’t pay the rent or the mortgage. If we don’t work, you go hungry. But just because your world is smaller, it doesn’t mean it’s not important. It is. You are trying to figure out who you are. Guess what? Some adults go through their whole life not knowing who they are. You’re in good company, kid.
You worry about how you fit in with friends. You worry about being accepted. You are concerned about your image. You may play sports, and you want to perform at a high level. You may be into math. That’s awesome. I’ll give you some tips on dealing with that later.
Middle school and high school are torturous experiences by design. It’s a test to see how tough you are. There are mean girls in corporate offices. There are liars everywhere in the adult world. There are people ripping us behind our back all the time. If you think this stuff ends when you get older, you are dead wrong.
If you can make it to high school or college graduation, you have achieved a huge thing. It IS hard. We old people understand this very well. We have experience with this- we’ve already done it.
We also get how much pressure is put on you by social media and photo/video sharing sites. Everything you do is being documented by someone- everything you say, everything you wear and everything you do. Your life is being photographed, recorded and posted, in real time. We understand that it’s different from back in the day. We could go to a party and there would be no physical evidence it ever happened! No one had a smartphone when we were your age. No one had a video camera. No one had a social media account.
The things that we used to worry about when we were young are almost identical to the things you discuss now. The tools to have those conversations now, however, have immense power. In our time, a bully would pick on some kid, and the only witnesses were a few people standing around. Now someone can try and destroy you on Facebook, and let hundreds or thousands of people watch from their iPhones and tablets.
This sucks for you. Please know that we get it. It’s the exact same stuff we dealt with with. We understand because we have experience. Ask us to help. We can.
The absolute worst thing about being a kid is that if you are smart (and actually enjoy school), people might think you’re a loser. As if being an idiot makes you cool. How does that make sense? Being fabulously fashionable, being great at throwing a ball and being ignorant of the rest of the world are behaviors that are celebrated and promoted in your world.
A few of these people, the ones who wear the fancy clothes and tease you for not wearing them, are going to peak at age 18. This is the most popular they are ever going to be.
You want more.
We old people go to high school reunions, and the things we see are amazing. The kids who were geeks are now scientists. The kids who were in speech club are now successful politicians. The kids who put together the yearbook are now social brand managers. Some of those football players, once the studs of your campus, are completely, absolutely ordinary. Those cheerleaders won’t have perfect bodies forever, you know.
But these people, the ones who thing being smart is dumb, are influencing you every day, right now. That’s why being you is hard. We get it.
You have to find a way to pursue your dreams without too many people knowing about it.
If you are the star running back who loves poetry, keep it on the low, but write as much as you can. Don’t be ashamed. The other will never understand. Don’t give them the chance to judge. The average length of time in the NFL is three years, and 78% of pro players are bankrupt within a year of leaving the league. Don’t be that guy. Be ready for the reinvention you’ll have to do when the cheering stops.
Besides, by the time you publish your first works, it’ll be too late for anyone to rip you for your beautiful choice of words.
If you are an algebra genius, this isn’t going to get you gigantic popularity points. So what? Do your work. You are going to do some every special things later in your life. Try not to advertise it. What the others don’t know will help you get through these tough times.
If you are awkward and have some difficulty making friends, don’t punish yourself. You have a brain, and it’s going to be your friend. Mark Zuckerberg is no charmer at a cocktail party. He’s worth 19 billion dollars, kid. He’s got a pretty young wife too.
You are judged by who you hang out with. You know this. Choose your public friends carefully. Roll with people who aren’t targets. That will ensure you don’t become one. Better yet, roll with the popular kids if you are able. These robots have no clue how great you are. Let ’em think you don’t know anything. That makes you even more incredible, for you are showing your stealth side.
Be careful on Facebook. Be a good online friend. Praise the popular and don’t ever be mean. No matter what the mean girls say, don’t take the bait. They have nothing else to do, nothing else to think about. Be neutral, or better yet, be boring. Post on what they post. Blending keeps you from being a target. In thee adult world, we call that the “ability to work with others on a team”.
Your ability to be everyone’s friend, or an enemy of no one, is the way you can survive school. You can use your private time to compose poetry, look at Fibonacci’s Sequence or design women’s dresses. You can explore the heavens, break down Keynesian economic theories or polish up on your studies of behavioral psychology.
The hell with the rest of them. Your brain is going to help you have an adult life that will be so much easier than those who want to punish you now.
All they have is now. You know about the future. Don’t let them ruin your dreams.
If you can’t find kids your age who love the same things you do, find some adults who are. We are mostly helpful, and we won’t think you’re anything but…curious. That’s a great thing to be.
Go to football games. Show your face at school functions. Roll with an adult, if it makes you feel better. No one will torment you if you’re with your parents (or a coach or a mentor).
Your brilliance can be your secret.
The rest of ’em?