The teenage years are both exciting and trying. They’re a time for changing and growing into the adult you’re meant to be. But this growth process isn’t without trauma, anguish, heartache, or moments of clarity. The experiences we have are what shape the person we become. Ideally, we learn from our mistakes and adjust our lives accordingly So which teenage mistakes are worth making? And what exactly did we learn from them, if anything? Or were they just colossal fuck ups?
Ah, young love. It’s exciting, thrilling, new, and ultimately, tragic. Of course, not all first relationships end in heartbreak, but we’ve all experienced unrequited love at one time or another. Do you remember that feeling of getting your first boyfriend or girlfriend and thinking that nothing else in the world mattered? You swore this was it. You were in love. You’d found your soulmate and no one could tell you different. Think Romeo and Juliet with fewer metaphors and death.
You were flying high until you discovered the relationship wasn’t what you thought and you were left heartbroken and completely devastated. As painful as it is in the moment, having your heart broken actually teaches you a lot about yourself. You realize that you’re stronger and more resilient than you once thought. Sure, for a few weeks you swore the Earth would fall off its axis as you crawled under your blankets, listening to depressing love songs. But once you crawled out of your slumber, you were a little wiser. A little stronger. You had learned a little bit about yourself and love.
Heartbreak in your teens teaches you to heal. To reflect on the past relationship and discover things about yourself as a partner. Things like what you are and aren’t willing to put up with, what you deserve, and areas of self-improvement. Maybe you could have been a more patient and supportive partner. Did you act jealous or insecure? Although reflection isn’t exactly a teenager’s strong suit, this is the time to perfect the process. So as sucky as teen heartbreak is, and no matter how trivial teen relationships seem, they actually help you develop real, lasting relationships well into adulthood.
Teenage rebellion is something we all go through. And if you didn’t, you should. Living a life of complete solitude, shelter, and inexperience can have negative effects later in life. Without experiencing the good and bad that life has to offer, you may be left with feelings of FOMO — the fear of missing out. Your mind will be consumed with questions like, “What if I’d done this? What does it feel like to do that?” These thoughts will nag you over time and may result in even more reckless behavior in the future. I’m not suggesting that as a teen, you break all the rules or act out against authority. But there are some healthy experiences that all teens should have — attending parties, homecoming games, going to prom, Jersey shore weekends, and road trips with friends. When you become a teen driver, you adopt a certain sense of freedom paired with responsibility. And it’s this sense of independence that is a common cause for rebellion.
Have you ever heard of a young adult whose parents were insanely strict? What ended up happening? As soon as they turned 18 and moved out, all hell broke loose. It was their inner rebel dying to come out. They wanted to drink in life, explore themselves and others, travel, and basically give authority a big “F you.” That’s why a healthy amount of rebellion in your teens is a good thing. Without it, you might find yourself in trouble in your 20s. Not to mention, the stupid mistakes you make in your younger teens are often repairable. Once you’re 18, shit gets real and stupid mistakes can result in criminal consequences. In your teens, you often rebel against who others think you are in an effort to discover who you’re meant to be. And without this process, you may be left searching for your true identity well into your adult years.
The desire to fit in and be accepted doesn’t end when you leave high school or even college. All humans have an innate desire to feel welcomed and accepted by their peers. Sometimes you become so blinded by this desire that it alters your behavior. It may even alter who you are. Teenage cliques are common and sadly, unavoidable. Kids naturally divide into specific groups — the jocks, the creative kids, the academics, and the outcasts. Despite the fact that students don’t receive labels when they enter the doors of the school, the labels are somehow distributed over time. So what does being a part of these illusive cliques teach us?
Some would say nothing positive comes from teenage cliques. While bullying is a real issue that needs to be addressed, being a part of a clique, or being excluded from one, teaches you a lot about relationships, interactions, and being true to yourself. It takes a strong person to stand up to a group of fellow teenagers, especially ones you call friends. If you were lumped into the popular clique and found yourself in a situation where your group of friends were tormenting or teasing students labeled less popular, you had a decision to make: go against your gut instinct that told you what they were doing was wrong in fear of being ostracized yourself or standing up for what’s right. What did you choose? If you succumbed to peer pressure and stood by doing nothing, you likely felt terrible once your conscience got the best of you. If you chose to speak your mind, you discovered what it felt like to stand for something you believe in. And it likely felt pretty amazing.
Standing up for what’s right is a lifelong lesson. The teenage years are a time to hone and strengthen these character traits. Cliques also give you perspective on the types of friends you want and people you want to associate with. As you get older, you realize that what you once thought was important (looks, status, etc.) doesn’t hold much weight in terms of what makes a good friend. Take a look back. How many of those people are you still friends with? Exactly.
4. Adopting A Questionable Style
Your teenage years are all about exploring who you are, what you like, and finding positive ways to express yourself. Have you ever looked back at photographs of yourself and thought, “OMG, what was I thinking?” You should! That’s all a part of discovering your personal style. Maybe you adopted a goth style and dressed only in black for a year straight. Or you decided to wear only sports clothes whether or not you were actually on a team. Long hair or short. Make up or none. Heels or sneakers. Even piercings or hair dye. These are all forms of self-expression and a healthy part of growing up. Not to mention the era in which you grew up somewhat dictates your style. Bell bottoms in the ‘70s or Buffalo shoes in the ‘90s. In the grand scheme of things, as long as your choices aren’t offensive to others, exploring different fashion styles will make it abundantly clear which ones flatter you and which ones you should bury and never unearth again. And the proof is in the photographs and yearbook pages.
So don’t reject the awkward teen you see who wore their hair in a ponytail every. Single. Day. Don’t pity your teenage self who thought crop tops were the only shirt that existed. Instead, thank them for teaching you the do’s and don’ts of fashion. It’s part of the reason you’re so damn sexy today.
5. Failing At Something You’re Just Not Very Good At
If you’ve ever sang into your hairbrush, dreaming of being the next Britney Spears, or joined the tennis team because you dig the adorable outfits but can’t swing a racket, you’re dreaming big, like all teenagers should. Does that mean you’ll succeed in your efforts? Not necessarily. In fact, you’ll probably fall on your face. And that’s okay! In fact, you need to dream big and try things regardless of your skill level. These failures are where coping skills are mastered. Don’t view these missteps as embarrassing failures you want to bury forever. Instead, understand what you learned from them. You learned how to handle rejection, disappointment, and how to overcome challenges. This helps you become more resilient. It teaches you to accept your shortcomings and focus on your strengths. And when you look back on your teen years, you can do so with no regret.
Being a teenager can be amazing and horrifying all at once, but you have to experience these ups and downs to find the right path in life. And without stumbling and falling, you may never discover the person you’re truly meant to be. So don’t reject those awkward, painful teenage memories. Instead, reflect on them. They likely taught you way more about life than you ever realized.