What I would (and would not) tell 12-year-old me.

Riffing on a Fark.com thread, John Lynch ponders the pearls of wisdom he might offer his 12-year-old self. This got me to thinking that there is useful advice I'd want to share with that earlier time-slice of me, but there is also information about which I think I'd keep earlier-me in the dark.*

Here's what I'd share with my 12-year-old self:

  1. Hardly any academic setting will be so insulting of your intelligence as seventh grade -- so hang in there.
  2. There are very few creatures more willfully vicious than teenage girls -- but much of this is in response to cultural forces that don't want to let females be fully human (really!), and most of them will grow out of it.
  3. Despite the fact that everyone sees you as a total klutz, as an adult you will demonstrate not only coordination, but flashes of athleticism.
  4. That kid in all your classes who seems like she might be trouble really is trouble, but in exactly the right way to harness your teen rebellion for good rather than evil. (Also, she'll grow up to be a rocket scientist, and she'll be a friend for life.)
  5. Don't waste any more time trying to figure out fashion. Do figure out how to dress for the weather.

There are a few facts I wouldn't share with my 12-year-old self, on the theory that they might screw up parts of my journey that turned out to be important:

  1. You won't end up being a doctor or a practicing scientist.
  2. You will end up being a philosopher.
  3. Your twenties will be way better than your teens, and your thirties way better than your twenties.
  4. Your parents will end up appreciating who you are as a person, but it won't really happen until you've gotten to the point where you realize that you're the one who has to be happy with yourself.

*Is it paternalistic to withhold information from myself at an earlier age? Can one be paternalistic toward oneself?

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I think it's appropriate to hold things back from one's younger self. In my case I'm not sure it would matter though, because I know my 12-year-old self wouldn't really listen to adult advice anyway.

I would tell my middle-school self most of those things you mentioned plus this:
- Contrary to what you think, *everyone* is awkward and unattractive in middle school. Things will start to work themselves out in high school.
- Those popular kids who seem to have everything will someday become pudgy and lazy from drinking too much beer in college.
- Don't be so mean to your little brother. He'll soon have a growth spurt and become stronger than you.
- Your parents really are trying their best. Don't give them crap for things outside of their control.

I notice that even in writing your setup, you make a distinction: you would give >advice< to your younger self, but withhold >information<. Seems only reasonable, really.

I'd give one big piece of advice to my younger self, and two little ones. The biggest one:
- If something feels wrong in your social environment (family, school, etc), don't assume that it's a problem with you. Tell people about it, and keep telling lots of people until you get a useful intervention.
The littler ones:
- Asking for help is not a sign of weakness.
- Productive work that you WANT to do is a better life/career choice than productive work that you think you should be doing, but don't enjoy.

1) What you're hearing is called "sexism." Read Simone de Beauvoir, Gloria Steinem, and MS Magazine starting the day it comes out. Having a Y chromosome does not mean that someone is superior, despite the current laws. Don't hold your breath, but something called Title 9 is coming your way. And Roe vs. Wade.

2) When men tell you that women shouldn't go to grad school, med school, or whatever, realize that they're sexist [expletive deleted]s. And that they're not changing anytime soon. That guy who's going to tell you that women shouldn't be allowed to do the job you've applied for? Do it anyway.

3) Don't be afraid. Rebel more.

4) The women AND men who encourage you, even a little? Cherish them because they mean it.

5) Change your name now; don't wait until you're 20.

This is the big one I'd tell my teenage self:

School really is as big a waste of time as it seems. Middle and high school are settings that teach rule-following, mind numbing conformity and almost nothing you learn in class will be worth the time you spent on it. You are right about the pathetic wastes of flesh who try to teach you and the filthy vermin who populate the administrative offices.

You are wrong about looking back on this as having been worth it after all, or having been the better of choices, or having needed to be done. Stop wasting your life with that mess, drop out of school, teach yourself math, physics and chemistry, get your GED and start college at 16. If it takes you twelve years to get your B.S., that's fine. You'll still be ahead of the game.

Oh, and kick the computer games to the curb.

The problem in my case is, my biggest single life problem has been a learning disability that wasn't even defined when I was 12. Maybe the best advice would be to get my butt into cognitive/behavioral therapy with a certain shrink (who I did find again much later), even if Mom had to borrow money for it.

By David Harmon (not verified) on 30 Oct 2006 #permalink