Dear Teen Me,
Hey you, the one who is blow drying her hair on low for hours so she can still hear the phone ring if a boy calls – what are you thinking, missing the beautiful summer evening? Wouldn’t your time be better spent outside, and, while I’m at it, won’t the boy be more interested if you aren’t always right there ready to answer the phone? You, the one sneaking out after midnight to walk along a deserted road and then a busy one to go to an all-night diner – don’t you know that’s dangerous? Do you have any idea of the many bad things that could happen? And what about you, the one drinking too much at that rock concert you probably shouldn’t be going to anyway, or you, the one cheating on that biology test, don’t you know you could get caught and it could ruin everything?
I have the great luxury of letting you in on a little secret: you get away with all of it. I mean, on occasion you’ll get caught, maybe you have to stay in on a Saturday night, or stay off the phone for a week. But, in the greater sense, YOU GET AWAY WITH ALL OF IT.
You don’t get run over by a car, or in trouble and suspended for looking at someone else’s paper. You don’t get alcohol poisoning that kills you, or end up boyfriendless because you are so overeager. And that, my young friend, is something that you and I can learn a lesson from. Most of the time things do work out, and nothing terrible happens. The greatest secret of all is that I have a hard time keeping that in mind lately and, more than anything, I want that feeling of not constantly worrying and second-guessing everything back.
In the novel you write in about thirty years – yes, you heard me right, a novel – one of the characters acknowledges that, “sometimes it’s hard – impossible even – to know how much magnitude a choice holds until it is all over.” And maybe that’s the trickiest part about growing up, you start to realize that and wonder – at great length – if the choices you’re making are going to negatively affect you or your family. But you, sitting there watching MTV and wondering if you can get someone to take you to Steve’s Ice Cream later for a chocolate and peanut butter cup mix-in, you definitely have the right idea.
And, now as a grown-up with a family of my own, I can learn a lot from you. Try your best to remember and hold onto that feeling because somewhere along the way you risk losing it.
When I told our 13-year-old – you heard me right again, you’ll have your own teenager someday – about how none of the things you are doing now end up having much magnitude because you always came home in one piece, she asked about good magnitude. If magnitude means having great meaning, then that should go both ways, right?
Before our brilliant daughter mentioned that, I hadn’t thought of it. But she was correct. So, teen me, let me say the magnitude of all this is that you are doing everything right: experimenting, taking risks, focusing too much attention on boys. The magnitude is – despite all that – you grow safely into adulthood. In the meantime, please be a little careful, because from where you stand you don’t yet know that it all goes okay. You could probably do without those store-bought premade screw drivers. But be happy and free and take chances and, if you can, bring some of that along for me.
Elizabeth of the Future
ELIZABETH LABAN worked at NBC News, taught at a community college, and has written for several magazines and newspapers. The Tragedy Paper is her first young adult novel. She lives in Philadelphia with her family