Recently I was searching through the files on the tiny thumb drive that contains the entire documentation of my dual Master’s program. I ran across a paper that caused me to stop and take time to read. The class? Human Development. The instructions from the syllabus?
“In this assignment, you are the significantly older brother or sister of a child approaching adolescence. Write a letter between 500 and 750 words in which you explain what he or she can expect socio-emotionally during adolescence. Be gender-specific; choose one or the other to focus upon. Share both the bright and dark sides of this time period and share ideas on how to get through it in the healthiest manner. Let him or her in on what you wished you had known.”
The following is what I wrote (without editing), and four years later, find myself in serious reflection.
Letter to an Adolescent
Dear Little Sister,
You are approaching adolescence and I wanted to share a few things that might prepare you for what is ahead. It can be a little scary sometimes if you don’t know what to expect. I hope this will help move you through this time as smoothly as possible. I have already noticed that you are physically developing into a young lady. You’ve grown taller and started wearing a bra. I’m sure you’re glad to have gotten past the chubby stage. You will start to be more attracted to boys and they to you. You are beautiful, but don’t let that be a distraction. Getting an education and demonstrating good character are far more important than how you look. Besides, looks change. Pimples appear. People get older. What you develop on the inside will be with you forever.
I don’t think I have to tell you that girls can be fickle and caddy. So many of them will like you one day, and not like you the next. Find the ones who are always the same, ready to apologize if they hurt you or others, the ones who cheer you on when you do well, and cry with you when you’ve been hurt. Ignore the rest. Their words can sting sometimes, but remember that what they say about you is really about how they feel at the moment, and nothing about you. If you are making good choices, there will always be those who look bad next to you. Don’t let them bring you down to their level. You can’t fix them, and you can’t change them. Be confident in what you need to do and move on.
At some point you will be invited to a party, or friends will offer you drinks or drugs. Know that you do not have to fit in. It will be hard. It will seem like everyone is doing it and there is no harm. But beware. No good can come of experimenting with drugs and alcohol. I could introduce you to some really great people who are now struggling with a devastating habit that started because they longed to fit in. Trust me. It’s not worth it. If you can’t talk to Mom and Dad about that stuff, then please call me. You deserve a future free of regret.
I know you are trying to discover who you are and what you’d like to do when you grow up. You have done so well at swim team and in the band. Keep up the good work but don’t ever feel like those activities are forever. It’s good to have those activities to do and gives you a good excuse to avoid participation in risky events that might hurt your future. If they ever become drudgery, it’s okay to move on to something you are more passionate about. Whatever you do, put everything you have into it.
When it comes to boys and romance, look for a guy who makes you laugh. Watch him from a distance. Does he offer to help people when they’re carrying a load, or volunteer to help clean up? Be friends first. Always expect respect and know that you are worthy of waiting for the physical part of romance until after the wedding vows. Don’t be afraid to tell a boy that right from the beginning. If he doesn’t respect that, then he’s not worth your time. If he does, he’s a keeper. Watch how he treats his mom or his sisters, because he will treat you the same.
You may not understand Mom and Dad in the next few years. Know that they care so much and only want what’s best for you. Most of the time, they really know from experience what could go wrong and are trying to keep you from pain. They will begin to allow you more time with friends, but they will ask questions. Offer the details, all of them, when they ask. It will relieve their minds and you will earn their trust. Always respect them, even when you question why they decline a request. You won’t regret it. I’m always here to help. The only stupid question is the one you don’t ask. I wish I’d asked more and known all I’m telling you here. Most of all, love Jesus with all your heart.
Love you, Vicky
On a day that seemed like nothing could go right, I needed to read these words again for myself and remember that difficult times are guaranteed to come and go, but character and kindness last forever.
And just now, I am remembering the advice given by my brother when I was in first grade. A third grade boy had passed my desk and made a negative comment to me, and I in turn stuck out my tongue, which was the only part our teacher observed. She marched me into the corner until I could say I was sorry. But I wasn’t. And I was stubborn. Lunch time came around and I was still in the corner, so my brother, who was six years older, was called in for reinforcement. He said, “Just say you’re sorry, even if you’re not, so you can go to lunch.” At the time, I was sure he just thought I was stupid. Looking back now, I realize he was, in his own way, showing me that it wasn’t worth missing lunch. The silliness of the situation wasn’t worth sitting in the corner for another minute.
And I smile. And I let go of the frustration I felt earlier in the day. And I wish he were still around to tell me, just like the letter above, just like he did years ago, what is and isn’t important.