You are about to enter the world of Jr. High and I would be lying if I said I’m not freaking out a little inside. There are some important things I want you to understand before I send you off to this crazy place, because I’ve been there and I wish I’d known some of these things before I entered those doors.
1- I’m not as smart and all-knowing as you once thought I was, but I’m not as stupid as you are about to think I am either. It is true. I’m not perfect, and I make mistakes, but no matter what your peers may say, my 37 years of life experience cannot be trumped by their 13. So, if they tell you something will be fun and make you happy and I tell you not to do it- it is not because I want to make you miserable. Your eternal joy and happiness is, in fact, my number one objective as your mother. The truth is, I have either tried what they are telling you will make you happy, or I’ve watched others try it and I know from experience that it is not, in fact, a choice that will ultimately bring you joy. Give me a little more credit than your friends do. You can trust that my motives are purer than theirs and I know a thing or two about life that they don’t.
2- As you walk the halls of your school and sit in the lunchroom, you will see kids who don’t have anyone to talk to or sit by. They may be a little different than you on the outside. They may be awkward to have a conversation with. If you grow up to be the decent adult I’m trying to raise you to be, you will look back and wish you had reached out more to those kids. You will realize they were the ones facing challenges at home that would break your heart and they needed a friend more than anyone else. Or, they were the ones who struggled with disabilities that made every day a struggle just to come to school. Reach out to these kids and be kind. Stand up for them if you see them being bullied. Let them know they are noticed and they matter. Let them know they are loved. Then, you can look back and have no regrets. You might even change or save someone’s life.
3- Jr. High is the time when most kids are trying to figure out who they are separate from their parents. Unfortunately, because kids in Jr. High are not yet secure in who they are, they make a lot of choices that insecure people make- the most common of which is to put someone else down to try to lift themselves up. If someone is cruel to you, look on them with pity and let it roll right off you like rain off an umbrella. Their cruelty towards you is a reflection of how they feel about themselves. People who feel good about themselves would never treat someone else cruelly. Do not take their insults to heart or believe a word that comes out of their mouths. Let the experience deepen your resolve to never treat another human being the way they treated you. And then, move on and continue being the awesome person you are.
4- Your value as a person has nothing to do with the condition of your body, the clothes you wear, or the way your hair or make-up looks. You are a daughter of God. Your value in His sight is beyond anything you or I can comprehend. The world wants you to forget that. It wants to convince you that your value lies only in your appearance and how appealing you are to men. This is a lie. Do not get caught up in it. Do not
spend waste your life catering to it. If we took the amount of time we waste as women worrying about our appearance and used it to serve others, the world would be a much better place. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t take care of your body and that you should be a slob with your appearance. Be healthy and active because it makes your body feel good. Don’t overdo or under-do your appearance. Dress and do your hair and make up in a way that the first thing people notice about you is your powerful and beautiful soul. Never forget you are loved, your worth is infinite, and you have the power, ability, and opportunity to do great things with the body, mind, and spirit God gave you.
5- Technology is the gift and curse your generation gets to face. The world runs differently now that there is a screen in every hand and a face in every screen. I do not envy you. I struggle as an adult to use self-restraint when it comes to technology. I can’t imagine how much harder it is for you. I wonder if we watched a video of the life of the average teenager today if we would be bored out of our minds because it would just be hours and hours of watching them stare at their phone. Despite this beautiful world all around them, and the interesting, real-live people passing by, the majority of their time and interactions take place on a hand-held device. It is such a weird world to live in and navigate. Don’t sacrifice your opportunity to experience this amazing world and all the incredible people in it to a screen. Live your life in the real world- not a virtual one. You have endless potential for good. Do not waste it on things that have no value. Interact with those around you. Pull their faces away from their screens. Love them. Have fun with them. Be creative with them. Serve them. Lift them. Put down your screen and make a difference in this world.
6- Speaking of technology- there will be kids at your school who use their phones to bully others, to spread hate, to exploit their bodies, and to view things that exploit the bodies of other people. This is why I will not be giving you a phone with internet access to use while you are away from home, even though the majority of your peers will have one, and I will not be allowing you to have social media accounts yet, even though you are old enough according to their guidelines. It is not because I think you will necessarily do any of these things. It is because I don’t want you to be a victim of these things. I’m just not convinced that it is wise to give a kid unlimited access to a device that can feed every curiosity that pops into their mind. And social media use by kids your age has more risks than benefits. You are not old enough to be expected to use the kind of self-restraint needed to handle a smart phone responsibly. So, as much as you might hate me for it, I’m going to be a bit of a snoop and probation officer about your screen use. I promise, you will thank me someday.
7- Don’t focus on being popular. Focus on being respected. Not just by your peers, but by your teachers and the other adults in your life. Popularity is fleeting and attached to superficial things. Respect is lasting and rooted in the things that matter most. We respect people who are kind- who don’t take advantage of another’s weakness. We respect people who aren’t selfish and put other’s needs before their own. We respect people who have integrity- who are honest and stick to their values even when it is difficult and can cost them something. We respect people who work hard and are dedicated to things that really matter. I know it is difficult to do in a world where we don’t even seem to expect these things from our presidential candidates, but focus on these things, and I promise, you will never feel empty inside. You will come to know what true joy and fulfillment tastes like if you focus on earning the respect of those around you and let your desire for popularity fade away.
8- The friends you choose to spend your time with will have a huge impact on the course of your life. Choose friends who love you for who you are, but at the same time make you want to be a better person. Be kind to everyone, but if there are people in your life that make you feel badly about yourself, try to manipulate or control you, or encourage you to do things you know are not right- be kind from a distance. There were drugs and alcohol at my school- but I was never offered any because people knew I would never accept them and I surrounded myself with people who would never accept that invitation as well. There is strength in numbers. Develop a good group of friends who encourage each other to do the right thing and life will be so much easier.
9- You are living in the most self-centered generation ever to exist on planet earth. You are taught by the world that everything should revolve around you. It doesn’t and it shouldn’t. You don’t need to share a selfie whenever you go anywhere or do anything in order to be cool. In fact, this may be hard to believe, but people lived happy and fulfilling lives long before they could be instantly documented and shared on social media. Resist the impulse to make your life look more awesome than it actually is, and instead focus on actually creating an authentically awesome life for yourself. And here is a hint: an authentically awesome life is filled with service to others out of a pure love for them- not a constant search for the next fun and exciting thing to gratify your own self-interests. If you are ever feeling bored or depressed, look for an opportunity to serve someone else- it will bring you true joy that can come in no other way. I’m not saying you can’t or shouldn’t have fun, I’m saying the happiest people live lives that are a good balance of fun, hard work, and service to others. Focus on creating that balance, and your life will be awesome.
10- I know you are just learning and growing and you are going to mess up sometimes. Please know that that is okay. Everyone makes mistakes, including me. There is nothing you could do that could ever change how much I love you. You can tell me anything and we can overcome anything together. Don’t ever hide from the truth. This just makes things worse. When you mess up, own it, learn from it, get back up and keep moving forward. This crazy period of life will pass so quickly, but the choices you make over the next 5 years will greatly impact your life. You can steer your course in a direction that will allow you to do amazing things if you are careful about the decisions you make today. I have great faith in you. You’ve got this.
Love you forever,