My Advice to the Teenager In Your Life

Hello, teen. I assume someone you know has forwarded you this — unless you came to it on your own, which seems unlikely. Either way, thanks for giving any of what I’ve written here any of your valuable time at all.

My name is John Shore. I am not a teenager — though, like all people over twenty, I feel like one. But I’m not, and haven’t been for what is bound to seem to you like an extraordinarily long time. I’m fifty. Fifty!

Yet, crazily enough, I still feel about … well, twelve.

Have you ever heard of Sigmund Freud, the “Father of Psychology”? Sigmund Freud is as famous as famous gets for figuring out more than anyone ever had before him — or for at least more explicitly explaining more than anyone ever had before him — how human beings think, feel, and experience their lives. One of the things for which SF is most known for is his assertion that people, basically, never get past about the age of twelve. At best.

We are all arrested in our adolescence, he said. By that he meant that most people — being, like, 99% of people — are stuck thinking and feeling throughout their lives pretty much exactly the same way they thought and felt when they were about twelve years old.

Like zillions of people before me, I have actually found that to be pretty dang true. The #1 reason this is true is because, as it turns out, there isn’t a whole lot about life left to learn beyond whatever you’ve learned about it by the time you were about twelve.

Oh, sure, there’s lots of details that it’s hard to really grasp until you’ve got enough raw years behind you for the sort of “Been there; done that” savoir-faire that’s so popular amongst people who know their wines. But what really matters in life is emotion. And the bottom line is that by the time you’re about twelve, you have very intensely, under very many different circumstances, experienced just about every emotion that any human ever can experience.

Grief. Joy. Sorrow. Regret. Envy. Love. Passionate dedication. Determined resolution.

The heartbreak of psoriasis.

Okay, maybe not that. But something close enough to it.

Anyway, if you’re a teenager, here’s my Quick, Extremely Solid Advice: Do. Not. Worry.

I’m telling you not to worry because — surprise! — you’re right.

You’ve been right all along.

People really are as crazy as you think they are. They always have been. And (trust me) they always will be.

You can’t escape the crazy. Crazy is to humans like air is to birds. It’s what they move in.

And what you’ve always thought was true will, in fact, always remain true, if you just let it. And that is that just because other people are crazy does not meant that you have to be.

In the end — and in every way that anywhere along the line ever matters — right always wins. Always, always, always.

People are crazy. But what’s true never is.

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  • Ann: Yeah, I do know. That's exactly why I wrote this. I wish someone had verified for me then what I KNEW was true, which was that, in any real way that would ever really count, nothing would change. In degree it would, but not in kind.

    Penlee: I STILL have that mindset you describe. Not thrilled about it–but I do.

  • Ann

    Maybe its good that teenagers doubt what they know, though, do you think? Because if you had been SURE you knew, wouldn't you have hurled yourself off some altruistic cliff, somehow?

    Doubt keeps them cautious and caution keeps them safe until they're old and cowardly like me. Oh wait.

  • Ann

    I knew it. I knew that I knew everything when I was seventeen. They told me I didn’t but I knew they didn’t know. The truth was beautiful then. Its only in middle age, when that bright brilliant truth has gotten a little hard to look at, that I’ve come up with some pretty clever means of deluding myself that I know more than I did then. Because I don’t. And I knew then that I wouldn’t now.

    You know?

  • Hullo and I am not a teenage either in fact I am 70 years old but still feel a teen in many ways. I was raised very naive and immature and didn’t know as much as teens do today. But the one thing I do remember is that right up until I became a born again Christian aat 39 years age, I viewed life “IN THE NOW” There was no looking ahead to consequences, goals, or even what life was all about. Let alone who I really was as a person on this planet! I just knew life was all about me! Sounds amazing but guess what, I finally got there.

  • arlywn

    I think I'd agree with this. I learned a lot about school, mostly that if you weren't going to use that particular subject in the job…. you really didnt need to know it.

    for example. I believe Algebra/ AFM/ Geometry…. blah blah is pointless. I work at a movie theater. the highest math I have to know is— if some one gives me a hundred 1. do I have enough money to change that? 2. What is their change? I count, add, subtract…. thats about it.

    I learned a lot about people. Some people are good for you. SOme arent. Some are weird, but good. Some are weird and evil. Some are just good or evil.

    I pretty sure I dont make good decisions all the time, but relatively I apply a little common sense, some strategy and BAM! there is my answer.

    oh…. never ever dispute the power of eeney meenie, minny, moe. It is all powerful. lol.

  • Hjordes

    This was great, John. It's true… by the teen years you've pretty much experienced the basics of life. At least, it was true for me. I was much more wise at 12 than I was at 21. Maybe the "details" clutter our vision as we age?

    The only life-changing experiences that most people (hopefully) haven't experienced by 12 are shattering grief and parenthood. Both of those fundamentally change the way you perceive life.

    I'm printing this blog for my amazing teen. 🙂