You’re probably reading this on your smart phone. I didn’t have a smart phone during high school (no I’m not that old, we had flip phones instead) and I’m extremely thankful I didn’t. I read a lot about how smart phones and the introduction of social media has made it easier to feel isolated- ironically enough I read most of these articles on my smart phone. Anyway, you probably hear enough of this from your parents and teachers so I don’t need to repeat it – I’ll get to the point.
You are a human being.
You are going to feel lost, confused, angry, scared, horny (YES I SAID IT) during your school years and you are going to have hope that in the future everything gets better….
Yeah, about that. Being an adult is hard, but I have now reached the grand age of 25 and can happily say I finally feel like I have found myself. Not the ‘found’ myself travelling version during a gap year, I have finally accepted myself for who I am and don’t seem to give as much as a shit about anyone else who wishes to change this.
Yes we adults swear a lot also – it just gets less cool and more when you’re in the car when someone doesn’t thank you for letting them go.
I’m writing this letter to you today to help with some of those lost feelings and give any tips I can to help you survive your schools days or just give you a chuckle because I have about 1,000 embarrassing memories from school that make me who I am today.
Tip 1: Don’t be so judgemental
I used to find it difficult talking to teenage girls, especially when I was a teenage girl myself. I always wanted to be liked, to fit in – because if you fit in you’re less likely to be bullied or isolated. You are often the one someone turns to to make a judgemental comment about an outfit or a new backpack someone walking past is wearing. Which then makes you feel both excited because you feel involved but also guilty because you know what it’s like to be made to feel that small.
Try not to judge. You don’t know that person’s story or what’s going on in their head- your words could harm people more than you think.
I used to love dancing. I started dancing when I was 3 years old with my best friend. In the end I quit aged 13 because a young man from my school saw me dance and said “I didn’t know you could dance if you were fat.” I quit the next week because I already had felt self conscious about the tight outfits and his words were enough to make me believe my negative feelings.
Tip 2: Don’t be something you’re not
I didn’t feel like I had an identity for the first 18 years of my life. I had a personality, sure, I liked making my peers laugh and was always the first to get to the classroom (when it was a subject I loved). I was just… there. I wasn’t horrifically bullied and I wasn’t popular. I was just there.
I remember dying my hair dark black in year 10 and wearing gloves & bows in my hair so that I had some form of ‘thing’. So I could be the ’emo’ girl. Or I would wear baggy clothes because I felt like trying to be a tomboy. I then tried to be a ‘pretty’ girl and would spend hours plucking my already-fine eyebrows or slapping on tones on foundation. Not because I needed to wear makeup – because I felt like I didn’t want to just step out of the house as me. Plain ol’ Emma.
I wish I could go back in time and tell myself to just allow me to grow. Say what I wanted to say, wear what I wanted to wear, do what I wanted to do. Instead of hiding within myself because I thought a pretend version would be more popular.
Being yourself is easier said than done. But believe me, once you let go you are happier than you have ever been.
Tip 3: It will take time for your body to develop
Until 14 years old I had no boobs and yes, no one let me get away with it. I remember sitting in the bath and wishing so hard for just some lumps – something that I could present to the school bullies to make them just leave me alone. A set of girls who pretended to be my friend made up a fake persona ‘Phil’ with a flat chest and discussed how much they hated ‘Phil’ and his silly flat chest. Yep you guessed it – turned out I was ‘Phil’ and they had been making fun of me for the best part of 3 months whilst I thought they liked me. I hope they grew up to be better people.
Tip 4: DO not be ashamed of your period
I didn’t start my period until I was 16 years old – Yes a late bloomer some would say. People would often joke at school that I was secretly a man and I would never start. I did, however, and soon begin to wish I wouldn’t start for another few years – every body has it’s own clock.
When I started my period over a weekend, I came into school on the Monday and my best friends had made me a ‘Happy period!’ card and threw me a party to celebrate.
Tip 5: The ‘pretty’ and ‘popular’ girls are struggling too
I often used to stare at the girls at school who didn’t seem to have any issues. They had boys interested in them, flawless skin and hair and seemed to have 100% confidence and self esteem. I now know that most of them probably had their own inner battles. Most people are good at hiding insecurities and pretending to be confident. Even though some of these girls didn’t treat me well, I can look back and understand they probably were thankful that the bullying wasn’t happening to them and that no one had discovered their insecurities yet. Every one has a secret.
Tip 6: Make the most out of your education
There are teenage girls around the world that still have to fight for their right to be educated. Our education system isn’t perfect but we have more human rights than some.
I loved going to class when it was a subject I enjoyed and often got annoyed if people were talking and misbehaving (I know- it’s shocking I became a teacher). I have a clear memory of being called a swot or a teachers pet for this positive attitude but I ended up with 10 GSCES and the love of my chosen college and university subject. Try and focus on what you can learn from school – and not just from the classroom sessions, there are plenty life lessons too.
Tip 7: Don’t get so obsessed with finding ‘love’
I wish I could go back and save myself years of heartbreak after heartbreak lusting after boys who didn’t want me. And you know what, they didn’t have to! We have to accept sometimes that we are not always everyone’s type. During school I had frizzy ginger hair, massive glasses, a retainer and the lowest of self esteem – I think it was best I didn’t have a boyfriend! Maybe if I had focused on myself, building my confidence and self esteem I probably would have had some better years. Being alone is fine, secondary school relationships rarely last or make it to adulthood so why is there so much pressure to be with someone at such a young age? We don’t even know ourselves well enough yet let alone who we wish to be with.
Tip 8: Differences are something to admire, not fear
As humans the first thing we often do when we see something we don’t understand or something we may not have seen before – we panic. We fear the change or the lack of understanding and often lash out. Try to understand it, rather than fight it. Equality and diversity has come a long way in the last 30 year’s or so but we still have a way to go and should accept one another for our differences. Learn about other religions, support friends who are being discriminated against and overall just be open.
Tip 9: Stop tearing others down to make you feel better
I covered this earlier but I think it’s so important I’m going to mention it again. Don’t tear people down. I have discussed how bullies are often struggling themselves and that’s why they pick on others. If you are one of these people please accept you have insecurities and talk to someone about it rather than making others miserable. I know it’s not easy to open up but I’ve had girls from my school year approach me drunk in a club and apologise how they treated me – don’t regret how you treated your peers.
Tip 10: Spend your summer actually doing something
I know how easy it is to sit around nowadays and watch Netflix for 5/6 weeks during the summer holiday but try and use them well. Meet up with friends, go for a nice walk solo to clear your mind, read a self-help book, get some work experience or volunteer.
Tip 11: Read, listen to music – use your creativity to escape
If you are having a hard time at school I always recommend finding a good book or painting a way of escaping from the negative thoughts. Use your creativity to help – I’m a terrible painter but I use paint by numbers and find it very therapeutic.
Tip 12: Exercise
Ew. P.E. is not the one. I hated it. But try and do a little bit each day to help as it can make you feel better and reduce the school-stress. Walk home from school, join a sports club, do some evening yoga to help you sleep.
Tip 13: Don’t spend your time trying to keep up with trends
My mother was a saint and spent so many weekends at the Trafford centre with me spending her money on things I didn’t need but DESPERATELY needed cause I’d seen someone wearing it at school. You don’t need material things to make you happy, they are just trends that will fade out over time. I always hated ‘Own clothes day’ because it was just like a fashion show.
Can someone also please explain to me how you all can have perfect eyebrows? I don’t understand as everyone my age had horrendous make up stages (does anyone remember bright blue or pink eyeshadow?)
Tip 14: Don’t have sex until you are ready
I waited until I was 19 and I still wish I had waited longer. You will know when you are ready – allow yourself that right and don’t let anyone pressure you. If someone is pressuring you please tell someone else or report it. No means no. (Also, I’ll let you into a little secret- some young people don’t know what on earth they are doing and it’s just awkward. If a partner is tapping your clit like it’s a lift button then you need to have a quiet word)
AND finally Tip 15: there is always someone to help. Always.
If you don’t feel comfortable telling your parents or a teacher about something there are many charities and organisations working hard to help young people living with a mental illness or struggling with school. We are just one of them.
You are not alone.
We’ve all been there before or if we haven’t we know someone who has.
You are not meant to be perfect. We all have insecurities – we just need to learn to support one another instead of use them against one another.
Take care of yourself
P.s. Controversial tip – don’t put too much pressure on yourself for your exams. I have 10 GCSEs, 3 A levels, a degree and a postgraduate degree and I still can’t figure out how to use a can opener and earn under £15,000 a year.