An Open Letter to Thirteen-Year-Olds

Dear Thirteen-Year-Olds Everywhere,

I hope you’re proud of yourselves.

No, really! I hope you’re proud. I hope you don’t judge yourselves by the world’s standards. I hope you remember that you are precious regardless of what other people think. Actually, I hope you don’t think about what other people think (they’re not paying that much attention). I hope you’re proud of your accomplishments. Of your character. Of your work ethic and your friends. Of your fashion choices. Of who you are.

Because in five years’ time you’ll make such fun of yourself. You’ll look at old photos and cringe. “Why would I wear that hat?” and “If I see one more sparkly vest…” So while you’re being proud of your teenybopper selves, take lots of chances, if not because you want to use the bravery of youth, then because you know you’ll soon bond with new friends based on your mutual silliness as young’uns.

But first some guidelines: please don’t wear too much eyeliner – even if it’s a statement (at this point it’s such a cliché.) Watch your hair gel usage. Don’t be mean. Ever. It’s never right, never useful, never just, never a good idea. You can do so much better than that. Wear cowboy boots before you realize they’re “uncool”. Shake up your lunch table scene. Always carry your favorite brand of bubble gum. Paint your nails ten different colors. Break out into song occasionally. Try those imaginative Lizzie McGuire twisty hairstyles that look absolutely ridiculous, but are so. Much. Fun. Until you have to take them out.

Wait, do you not know Lizzie McGuire? Boy, when did I get so old? But see, that’s the point. You’ll get old eventually too. You’ll gain responsibility. So, use your freedom while you have it. Office clothes, sadly, refuse to work with Lizzie McGuire twisty hair and cowboy boots (I might know that from experience). But don’t worry about office clothes, kiddos. Your first job is to explore, reach, grow, learn, extend, project, create, and engage with the world. Your second job is to hunker down with some school books, regardless of how mundane the assignment may be, and practice responsibility so it doesn’t sneak up on you.

On a related note, when you disagree with authority, don’t get huffy. Don’t be entitled. Those who’ve walked this earth for longer than you must have collected some wisdom along the way. Respect your elders. Invest in your families. Think before speaking and love before judging. Did you know that the decision-making part of your brain isn’t fully formed until you’re 25?

That doesn’t mean you aren’t capable; it means you have some work to do. Society doesn’t think you’re very disciplined, you know, so you have a few people to prove wrong. You have more technology than any generation before you. You have more resources available to you. In the words of George Feeny, “Gutenberg’s generation thirsted for a new book every sixth months. Your generation gets a new webpage every six seconds.” Now, even that statistic is out of date. The Daily Mail reported that 70 new domains are registered, 216,000 photos posted, 278,000 Tweets tweeted, and 1.8m Facebook posts liked every minute. And you guys have an advantage here – you know this media so well. Arguably better than the twenty-somethings starting careers as social media interns. It’s even more second-nature to you than it is to me and my peers. That’s powerful!

Then again, I’ve seen you stare at your phones too consistently to be healthy. I’ve seen you on  Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and Tumblr AT THE SAME TIME. How do you do that? Does it have something to do with magic that comes with a birthday after the year 2000? Honestly, it’s impressive what you’re capable of. Your dexterous hands, trained by years of Candy Crush, have such an impact on the social landscape. You have the opportunity to do such good now and in years to come.

While we’re talking about technology, I know adults that think the phone-as-appendage phenomenon shows unrelenting technological reliance, but is it possible it’s just a convenient thing to do with your hands? Because, I don’t know about you, but when I was thirteen, I had too many moments when I forgot what hands were supposed to do. Also, talking to actual people can be kind of horrifying. So, I get the phone thing.

Just remember, at your age I had a flip phone. That flip phone was good to me and I wouldn’t have traded it for the world. I took really low-res pictures, played Tetris, called people from time to time, flung the thing across the room without fear. And I watched actual television instead of Netflix. I don’t know what it’s like for a thirteen-year-old who stays home sick nowadays, but I watched children’s television until the court shows came on at lunch. Sometimes I’d just put on the Home Shopping Network and be done with it. I feel like I learned a lot about the world on those sick days.

And while we’re not too far away from the subject of Boy Meets World, watch it. Go ahead. I’ll wait. It holds up years after its creation, right? But please don’t judge Cory and Topanga based on the shadow of themselves they’ve become on Girl Meets World. Every once in a while you can see the real them poke through, if you look closely.

Maybe there’s some kind of poignant message in that. Being a proper adult is an obligation and a privilege. Attending to responsibilities leaves less time for the fun, creative, ambitious, energy-filled pursuits that are yet to come at the age of thirteen. Now, I’m not saying it’s all a drag. Growing up is rewarding and fulfilling in a different way, but be in no rush. Right now is precious. And you are going to have a beautiful life.

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