10 Things I Wish I’d Known As A Teenager

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My oldest, Tristan, is a preteen. It’s a horrible stage where I’m more of an embarrassment than anything. I’m not looking forward to his teen years, honestly. I’m not really sure what to expect. So I thought I’d put together a little list of things I wish I’d known as a teen to help give him some direction. You know…while he still might actually listen to me.

So, Tristan, here are a few things I wish I’d known as a teen:

1. The sexiest thing is asking a woman for permission.

The first time I kissed a girl, I asked her permission, and although I felt really nervous to ask because my friends said asking would kill the mood, she smiled and said, “Yes.” There was a confirmation in asking that gave me a lot of confidence, and going forward I never kissed a woman without asking first. As nerdy as that might sound to you, guess what, I’ve never had a woman say no.

2. The kids who tried in school now own jet skis.

I didn’t do too well in high school because I didn’t care. School was not cool. I barely graduated. And those nerdy kids who were all about homework, now they post photos on Facebook of themselves on jet skis in tropical locations. I’m not going to say that money is the key to happiness. But I’d like to leave you with a question: How sad can you be on a jet ski?

3. Butterflies in your stomach isn’t love.

That’s the tricky thing about love. You won’t really know what it is for another several years. I thought I was in love with my high school girlfriend. And we stayed together for a long time. And I will be honest, I learned a lot about what I didn’t want. But what I should have done was date around, gotten to know other people, enjoyed other experiences, figured out what I wanted along with what I didn’t. Because chances are, the person you will marry doesn’t go to your high school, and just because someone gives you butterflies doesn’t mean it’s love. For all you know, it could just be gas.

4. Sometimes the best thing you can do is fail.

You’re going to fail at friendships, romantic relationships, tests, and sports. You might even fail your driver’s license exam like I did. Pathetic, I know. Keep in mind that you will succeed too. But failure is a part of life, and the best thing you can do is not crawl into a bubble of shame where you are closed off to feedback and refuse to evaluate where you went wrong because you feel like a failure. Sometimes the best thing that can happen to you is failure. In fact, that high school relationship I mentioned above was a complete failure. But you know what, I learned from it, and then I met your mother and felt confident in what I wanted from a relationship. We’re going on 12 years now.

5. Personal hygiene isn’t a waste of time.

Photo credit Clint Edwards

I spent a lot of time fighting having a grooming routine. Shaving. Deodorant. Haircuts. I saw all of it as a hassle (see above photo). I had dandruff. I didn’t know how to deal with it. Now I realize that it’s best to put a little effort into the way you look and smell because it gives you confidence.

Dandruff is super common among teens too, so just use a shampoo and conditioner like Head & Shoulders with Old Spice Swagger. It’s pretty simple. Smelling like a man and having clean, flake-free hair is always a good thing.

6. Learn to listen.

It’s so easy to get caught up talking about what you like and only what you like (your music, your movies, your sports). But you know what makes a person interesting? Listening, learning, and adding to conversations in a way that is mutually inclusive. When you meet someone new, ask them questions, find common ground, and don’t force your opinion by talking over all the people in the room. Side note: This will prepare you for marriage.

7. Being weird is perfectly acceptable.

Considering the above statement, please realize that it’s okay to let your freak flag fly. I was really into punk music as a teen. Probably too into it (see long-haired photo above). It made me a weird kid who grew up to be an odd adult who still listens to punk music. And you know what, I have a career, mortgage, wife, and kids. It all turned out fine. Be confident in yourself. Just don’t doing anything dangerous or illegal, or I’ll ground your ass.

8. If you feel stuck, ask questions.

I took all these tests in school that said I should be a farmer or a mechanic. Not that there is anything wrong with those professions, but I just wasn’t all that interested in them. I come from a long line of men who worked with their hands, however, and so I assumed that I didn’t have any other options. I felt stuck, and sometimes, when I thought about that, I’d feel this hopeless tight pressure in my chest. But looking back, I had so many options. I just wasn’t asking the right questions. So if you ever feel stuck, talk to anyone who might be able to help. Move forward with something productive until you don’t feel stuck anymore.

9. Partying doesn’t make you a grown-up.

There’s something about sneaking off to a party that makes you feel independent and grown-up. But the fact is, it doesn’t change a thing about where you are in life. I know this because I did it more than I should’ve, and once it was all said and done, I was still just some teen kid with sagging pants. I freaked my parents out and caused a lot of unneeded stress.

10. Ask your parents questions, regardless.

I felt so nervous to ask my parents questions because I was afraid I’d get in trouble. My job is not to get you in trouble. My job is to help guide you into becoming a well-suited adult — not a jerk or a liar. Let’s make our jobs easier by being open and honest with each other. Cool?

That’s all I have for now. But you know what, I feel confident that if you take my advice here, you will be a step ahead of all teens. Yes, I know how it feels to take advice from a parent. It feels like a tight suit jacket. So this is what I’m going to do: I’m going to put this list on the table. You can pick it up, or you can leave it right there.

But please realize that I really, really, want you to pick it up.


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