I sit with high school kids every day, in my office, who share their pain about feeling left out, being different and believing that they are alone in suffering through this hell we call adolescence.
I have two thoughts running through my head as I re-read those last two paragraphs:
1. Why would anyone choose to go to a high school reunion after swimming in that pool of hormones and insecurities for four entire years?
2. By the time we are 48, isn't it nice to realize that everyone has joys and worries, emotional maturity does happen and no one is supposed to weigh at 48 what they did at 18?
I was looking at a photo of my son and his tenth grade buddies and commented to my husband, "this picture will be priceless in 30 years". Simultaneously, my son saw the hair loss and belly expansion in his future and wonders "how can I make it stop?"
Would I really make it stop if I could? There has been so much living and learning over the past thirty years.
When I sit with distraught, angry and sad teenagers, I know my "I've been there" mentality is not what can help them. I can listen and validate, sometimes I can throw in a story or advice (my favorite to share is that I skipped class once; Mr. McKerron's 11th grade Honor's English class because I hadn't finished the reading for a quiz. As I left the cafeteria that day, I walked head-on into Mr. McKerron). That was my story and my shame having to explain to Mr. McKerron ( who spared me from any harsh detentions), but my telling it does not help these kids learn their life lessons. They need to experience their own "bustings" and consequences to develop their own personal morals and values.
When I want to shake my clients and explain that the "popular people" have insecurities and worries just like they do, they roll their eyes at me as if I am clueless. I get that it feels miserable at this moment in this teen's life and I know that she doesn't know that the pain will subside and heal in thirty years time. In the meanwhile, I give her the tools she needs to believe that she is as wonderful as the next girl; what are her strengths, what makes her feel good, how can she fill herself up with joy when she is feeling so low?
Everyone has suffered in some way - insecurities are universal. I didn't know that then and I know these kids don't know it yet. As I looked at the beautiful photos of my high school classmates I know that they each have happiness, troubles, insecurities and great laughs. Some have more money than me and less BMI than I, but at 48, I know that we all have bad days, silly annoyances and big challenges, even the popular ones!