1. I love you.
2. You are beautiful.
3. As you grow up, you will hear many times that you are not beautiful. Teenage boys, or mean girls, might laugh at you or say mean things about your appearance. If you let them, these casual comments can cut deep and leave permanent scars. In addition, many companies will work very hard to convince you that you’re not beautiful enough, or that you need to look a certain way to be beautiful. Don’t believe them. They are wrong, and their messages are self-serving. The mean girls want to put you down in order to feel better about themselves. The companies do it to make you buy their products.
4. Be prepared to work hard. It’s the only way you will succeed. It’s great that you’re smart and beautiful, but that’s by the luck of the draw. The reason I’m proud of you is not your beauty or your talent – it’s your willingness to work hard and improve yourself.
5. Be very choosy about the people whom you hang out with. Whether friends, partners or spouses, choose people who make you feel good about yourself. If they put you down, drain your energy or if you feel worse after being with them than before, stay away from them.
6. Find yourself a good man. A “bad boy” is called bad for a reason. He is bad for you. Find someone who will treat you with love and respect. In other words, to borrow from your own preteen world, everything that Lady Gaga sings about when it comes to love (“I want your ugly, I want your disease”) – do the opposite.
7. Respect yourself and your values. If you stick with what you believe in, and don’t allow others to influence you and pressure you to do things you don’t want to do, they might moan and whine, they might threaten to leave you, fire you, not be your friends anymore – but ultimately they will respect and admire you. More importantly, you will respect yourself.
8. Respect money. Money is not a goal in itself, but it is your ticket to freedom – freedom from financial worries, from the need to work for a living. Being financially independent gives you more control over your life and more choices, including the choice to do work that you love and to give to causes you care about. Be ready to work hard, save aggressively, invest wisely, and build your own wealth. Never depend on anyone else to “take care of you” financially.
9. Be careful. Most people are good, but there’s enough evil out there, that you should guard and protect yourself against it. From identity theft to date rape, bad things happen to good people. Being aware will not always prevent bad things from happening, but it’s the least you can do.
10. Talk to me. I’m always here to listen. I can probably help, too, if you want me to. Never think that you’re alone, or that no one can help you. Even if things are really bad, even if you think you’re alone in this, know that your parents, while not the heroes you thought we were when you were little, can be very helpful in offering perspective and in helping you out of situations that seem too complex to handle. It’s called age and life experience, and it does have value. Make the most of it.
11. If something feels wrong, if you have a gut feeling that tells you something is wrong, it probably is wrong, and you have the right to stop it. If you can’t stop it by yourself, tell me about it and I’ll help you.
12. Sometimes things can feel pretty hopeless, especially to a teenager. But even when things get really bad, there’s always a way out and there’s always a better future down the road. Never, ever give up and decide that “this is as good as it gets.” It WILL get better, I promise.
13. Forgive yourself. You will make mistakes. We all do. Learn to have a short session where you learn from your mistakes, but then forgive yourself and move on.
14. Have fun. Yes, I want you to work hard and stay true to your values, but life is so incredibly short and you only get one chance. So don’t forget to laugh and sing and dance and notice the beauty around you, and if you feel like splurging once in a while, that’s OK too. Don’t allow life to become a huge “to-do list” that you have to go through as quickly as possible. Slow down and enjoy the moment. And while you’re doing that, I’ll try to slow down too. 🙂
In the photo: My daughters navigating a rocky path, August 2005.