I recently met three amazing sixteen year old girls (at a wedding, not on a night out).
In between complaining about the frankly horrendous DJ – The Friends theme tune at a disco… really? We chatted about various things, including the best way to get the perfect cat flick eyeliner look (This was a sixteen year old telling ME) and eventually the subject of exam results came up, which brought back so many memories.
Ah yes… Sleeping soundly the night before, safe in the knowledge that everything would be fine. Skipping to the front desk to open my envelope and celebrating widely afterwards, care free and happy. Oh no wait… NONE of that happened. I spent the night before clutching my dad and shaking like a wet dog. “If I don’t get these grades, I’ll kill myself!” I woke up at 6am and needed to be driven the three minute walk to college, because my legs wouldn’t work. I opened my envelope and stared at the results blankly – two As and a B. I’d done it, easily smashed my target grades and therefore secured a place at university. So why did I feel so numb? Why didn’t I feel happy or at least relived? Probably because the reality dawned on me that it was all going to start again at university. Only this time the stakes were higher.
I put a lot of pressure on myself to succeed, partly because I knew that university = success and success = a good life. But, I was also affected by the people around me. Educators who expect so much of their students, the government and media spreading messages about the ‘perfect student’ who would achieve ‘great things!’ This is all well and good, but at age fifteen? Some kids are more susceptible to propaganda than others e.g. ME! I didn’t believe that there was a middle ground.. You either succeed 100% or you fail & end up a disgrace. Turns out there was indeed A LOT of middle ground.
Talking to one of the girls, she told me that her GCSE results weren’t as good as she’d hoped for, and I found myself telling her not to worry because “they count for shit in the long run.” It’s true, I haven’t been asked about my GCSEs since I started college. That’s not to say that teenagers shouldn’t take their education seriously, because they should. But not at the expense of their health & happiness. Teachers want their pupils to do excellently because it reflects well on the school (fair enough, no arguments there). Yet I think there’s a greater need for context, particularly with regard to how much GCSEs actually count for in the real world.
Another one of the girls told me that she was part of the school basketball team, which is awesome! Most of the girls in my year stopped playing sports around the age of fourteen, especially the ones who took an active interest in boys… Because, well it’s not sexy is it? Boys don’t like girls who plays sports. I used to love cricket for example, (probably because I really enjoy hitting stuff with a bat) & earned a place on the school team. But I quit after three months, because I was the only girl and it felt strange.
Adults (including myself) are often guilty of forgetting what it’s really like to be a teenager. Their problems are superficial & don’t matter… Whereas ours are much more important, right?
Let us evaluate:
- Appearance – Are you good looking? More importantly, do your classmates think so? Are you wearing the ‘right’ clothes? If you’re a girl, can you apply makeup like Zoella?
- Puberty – A nice batch of hormones that turn your life upside down. Side effects can include; Bad skin, excess sweating, voice change, random growth spurts, emotional outbursts and hair in places that it definitely wasn’t previously!
- Social media – How many followers do you have? Do you have the ‘perfect’ profile photo. Must not lose the beloved Snapchat thread. Must document every social event online. If you don’t engage in the SM then you technically don’t exist.
- Exams – Try sixteen of them in ten days, accompanied by a shed load of course work.
- BOYS/GIRLS – Should you be in a relationship? Have you kissed someone? Should you lose your virginity at the same time as everyone else?
- Peer pressure – If everyone else is drinking, smoking and trying drugs then maybe you should too..
For such a list of issues, there’s very little guidance. Ironically this is something that comes with age. Adolescents in contrast tend to learn from their peer groups.
For what it’s worth, here is what I’ve learned from my teen years:
- Puberty is shit, I can’t sugar coat it. A lot of things happen, sometimes overnight. Seriously one morning I work up to find that both hips and boobs had popped out of my body. How did I not feel that happening?!
- It doesn’t last forever and you don’t need to be a slave to it. My advice is to do lots of reading and prepare yourself. Puberty can be embarrassing, but it’s completely natural. If you start to sweat more than usual and it reeks, then go to the doctors and get a medicated deodorant. Or if your skin breaks out then I’d recommend visiting Caroline Hiron’s website – everything you need to know about skin is logged here.
- Girls – ask questions about your menstrual cycle. We all know about the blood and cramps, but what about the other stuff? For example, nobody told me about the headaches, fatigue and endless mood swings! If you can talk to a parent or family member great. I’d also recommend checking this website out. Knowledge is power!
- Boys – this website is also good. I’ll never forget the day my brother’s voice broke, both hilarious and terrifying!
- Nobody ever looks as good as they do on Instagram. Erm hello I freaking LOVE filters!
- As tempting as it might be, try not to engage in arguments or conflict on Twitter. We all like to think that we can compose the perfect, witty response and everyone will magically agree with our point… but the reality tends to involve both parties getting more and more angry. Nobody wins in the virtual world. If you’re getting abuse from someone then just block and move on.
- Oh and pleeeeeeeeeeease try and keep the usage down, read a book instead or something. (Says the woman who checks each SM channel every 20 minutes.. but I’m working on it). Seriously, SM might be addictive but it does very little for the brain. Why not work your way through these https://www.waterstones.com/campaign/young-adult-books
- Probably one of the most stressful periods that you’ll ever experience, although you will get through it. Work hard, but don’t work yourself into the ground. So what if you get Cs or a D? It’s embarrassing for a day or two and then nobody cares.
- The key is, organisation – (check out this revision time table. Rewards are good too, I’m all about incentives!
- If you have an exam in the morning then don’t go out the night before. It’s not worth it, end of.
- If you’re struggling with exam pressure then talk to a teacher. Choose one that you trust. Teachers are much more clued up on mental health these days and should be able to help. The Young Minds website is also useful.
Relationships and peer pressure
- If you don’t feel comfortable doing something then don’t do it! Easier said than done I know. Yet seriously, will the world end? Will it be so important in a week or two? Count to ten (mentally) before you make a decision.
- For what it’s worth if you notice that your friendship group engages in activities like stealing cars, taking drugs and violence against others, then you might want to rethink your situation…. It’ll be hard for a while, but better in the long run. Surround yourself with people who care about you.
- I’m not going to lie and say that my friends didn’t drink under age, but we knew when to stop. Or at least most of us did…. BEC! Don’t do it simply because you think getting smashed is cool. It’s not and most people will end up laughing behind your back. Also, not to sound like a nag but alcohol kills brain cells and the human brain is in a constant state of development until the age of eighteen. (Probably why that’s the legal age).
- First time sex is NEVER good. It’s mainly just awkward and embarrassing… so don’t worry it’s NOT you. Films, porn and Fifty Shades of Grey have a lot to answer for.
- Hopefully this is obvious, but if you’re going to engage in sex then be safe. Contraception isn’t just to prevent pregnancy. Visit your doctor or health clinic for advice. Oh and if a boy tells you that he “doesn’t want to wear a condom” for whatever reason, then dump him immediately, I don’t care how fit he is!
The truth is, your teen years are for making mistakes. (Not the kind that will land you in prison). If you f**k up and things goes wrong, it’s ok. There are ways to deal with it. Oh and as much as I hate to admit it, 9/10 times your parents are much more understanding than you think, so don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Do what you enjoy, don’t take what people say as gospel and be kind to yourself.
If you need to fall apart then do it, your problems are just as valid as everybody else’s.
Other useful websites