How To Be A Teenager

Be young. Be so young. Be born in 1996. Do you even know what that means? Do you even know what people who were born in the 80s think of you? They can’t believe you’re a fully formed human being. 1996 is supposed to mean placenta, training wheels, kindergarten. It’s not supposed to mean cigarettes, ashy fingers, and sucking on someone’s mouth. 1996 isn’t supposed to mean that yet.

But it does. It does mean that. It means you’re a teenager which, hi, good luck existing for the next few years. Have you ever been a teenager before? No? Crap. Okay. Here it goes. Here’s what it’s like.

Being a teenager means constantly fluctuating between being fearless and terrified of everything. Sure, you’ll drink that handle of vodka and vomit rainbow colors the next day. Why not? You’re not scared. You’ve got nothing else to do, besides FEEL EVERYTHING and have LIFE EXPERIENCES. You want to do everything. You want to have stories to tell at lunchtime and feel like you’re living, like your life isn’t actually dull. So, yeah. You’ll vomit and you’ll survive because you’re 16 and can survive almost anything. You’re bulletproof.

You’re sad. You want to die. You’re killing yourself. Where’s the Gillette razor blade? Which way do you do it again: across or up and down? Wait, JK. I’m not dying. My friend just invited me to this party I thought I wasn’t invited to so I’m going to live. I’M SO HAPPY. I LUV MY LIFE. I LUV BRITTANY, THOMAS, ASHLEIGH, SAM, AND EVERYONE ELSE. YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE! :)

Crap. You’re sad again. Thomas wouldn’t let you listen to his iPod at lunch but he let Brittany listen, which is so typical. Brittany gets everything. She’s so pretty. You hate her. You hate everyone for what they have and hate yourself for everything you don’t. When will you be the person who gets to share someone’s iPod? When will you finally get what you want? Right now you don’t have anything. You don’t have financial independence, your own place, a significant other, a best, best friend. You’ll be convinced that you’ll never get those things, that you will always be friendless and loveless. A time after high school, a time that feels any different than the way it does now seems unfathomable.

You’re preppy. Wait, you’re a vegan punk. Now you listen to indie rock and eat steaks. You like girls. You’re a misogynist. Oops, just kidding! You’re gay and love to drink and smoke weed. I thought you were Christian? Oh right, that’s just what your parents called you. Gotcha.

Have good years and bad years. 9th grade sucked, 10th grade was okay, and 11th grade was AWESOME because you found new friends and started going to parties. All you really care about are the summers though. In high school, everything worth talking about happened in the summertime. It’s like your life is in slow motion for nine months and then BAM! You get new friends, kiss your crush, go through puberty, end a best friendship and come back in the fall as a changed person. The first day of school is always such a mindf–k because some people come back looking unrecognizable. “OMG, did you hear what they did this summer? You won’t believe it…”

Everything moves by so slow and then so fast. It’s nothing but extremes. You can spend four days straight with one person and go on so many adventures. You go home to eat and sleep but that’s it. You  barely see your parents. It’s like you went on a drug binge except instead of drugs, you’re getting high off of being with your buddy. Close friendships can develop in a matter of hours. You hang out with someone on a Friday and your BFFs by Monday. It can burn out just as quickly too. One day everything is fine and the next, you go to your spot at lunchtime and your BFF is acting weird towards you. WTF HAPPENED? Chances are, it was something so minor but before you know it, the friendship is over. “We were BEST FRIENDS junior year and now we barely talk. I still don’t know what happened.”

You might fall in “love” with someone, you might not. There are two kinds of experiences you can have in high school: the one that includes a BF/GF scenario and the one that doesn’t. It’s that altering. Because if you have a BF/GF, you’re probably no longer a virgin, which changes your world entirely. The divide that exists between those who’ve had sex in high school and those who haven’t is huge. I mean, I guess there’s always a big divide but high school puts every difference under a magnifying glass. It’s a rat race but no one’s clear on what happens at the finish line.

Your parents are terrible and you’re convinced that they were born 45 and miserable. They couldn’t have ever been teenagers themselves. If they had, they wouldn’t actually derive pleasure from ruining your life. They would know how important it is for you to go to this party.

Everything you do during this age, everything that you were so certain made you cool, will embarrass the hell out of you in a few years. Just saying. I mean, go dye your hair orange. I support everyone having an ugly phase but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

You’re going to kiss. You’re going to scream. You’re going to put your life in danger without ever realizing it. You’re going to listen to bad music. You’re going to be bored. You’re going to feel high off your feelings. You’re going to feel high off drugs. You’re going to be close to people who will feel like strangers in a matter of years. You’re going to do terrible things. You’re going to do your homework… maybe. You’re going to rely entirely on fun nights with your friends for your happiness because you don’t know how to love yourself yet. You’re going to be so happy and so sad.

And you’re rarely, if ever, going to realize how lucky you are to be a teenager until it’s over. TC mark

image – Thirteen

Ryan O'Connell

I'm a brat.


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  • lauren ann. (@laurenkearney_)

    Ryan, never stop writing ever. This is perfection.

  • Only L<3Ve @

    […] Thought Catalog » Life Add a comment […]

  • Sonia

    I never liked being a teenager. Thanks for reminding me why.

  • Caroline

    SO perfect.

  • Ben

    Awesome article, although i do hate when everyone says ‘you were so lucky to be a teenager’ Honestly, it was fun and all, but I’m 50 times happier at 22 than I ever was at 16. More stressed and nervous about moving to NY and being successful, but definitelyyyy way happier.

    • AB

      22 is the best year. When people said that to me I thought it was just those individuals who had that awesome experience that happened to be at that age. But no, it’s just the best. End of story.

  • Anon

    And then there are those born in 1996 who are sitting here and reading this article and thinking that this article doesn’t paint the true picture of teenage life. It represents the 20-somethings’ whimsical and romanticised view of being a teenager. It shows the way that those beyond adolescence warp their experiences with retroactive rose-tinted spectacles. I hope I don’t get to a place where I think that my teenage years have been dramatic, crazy, or a whirlwind of anything in particular. I’m not living in a ’90s high school movie, and I don’t know if many others are living in one, either.

    Aside from that, I enjoyed reading this article. You’d probably be very good at writing screenplays for teen comedy-dramas, Ryan.

    • fellow anon

      I was born in 1994 and I agree with you (although this article was well-written and fun to read). Thanks for showing that not all of us teenagers are, like, oh my God, total naive idiots.

    • Katie

      You say this now…please save this comment and read in 6 years. You can’t realize it while you’re in it. No one says it will be like a rom com, you will just realize what a small view of the world you had and how much growing you had left to do.

    • :D

      eeeeep, you sound like a high schooler. those are total vocabulary workbook words :D

    • Sophie Cat (@CatWitches)

      1996 kid right here and I very much agree, I especially think 20-something year olds had free-er teen years than we do, because nowadays cynicism is forced on us earlier because we know that our dreams are not reality and that we’re gonna spend the rest of our lives struggling to find jobs and pay heavy taxes because the economy is fucked. Maybe it’s just me ans the fact that im a 16 ear old girl living in Ireland typing at 1:37am in my bedroom ut my teen years sre dont feel like an american high school movie.

      • Sophie Cat (@CatWitches)

        I realise how many typos I made, i better go to bed….

  • Joseph Brillantes

    I needed this. Turning 20 this year and feeling a huge load unloading itself fro me :p

    • Claire

      Same here! Less than a month until 20!

      • Taylor

        agreed! leaving all the teenaged years behind.. it’s kinda freaking me out.

      • kelsey

        im turning 20 in 3 months and im scared. but this article was great. perfectly put.

  • jave

    Yeah, teenagers, you lack the the sage, experienced perspective that comes in your mid 20’s!

  • becky

    I turn 19 in July and wow this describes me when I was 16, I don’t even think I have changed much, now I just recognize my actions more and don’t worry about what people think of me, I mean I am still so young so I hardly know what is going to happen in a few years…. :) this was awesome though I feel like you described me back then perfectly. :)

  • fred johnsen

    i hope that after reading this that everyone who writes for Thought Catalog & everyone
    who reads Thought Catalog IMMEDIATELY shoots themselves in the face, or, get out & do
    something w your lives people & stop indulging yourselves in this way! help someone. make

  • patrish (@PatrishCee)


  • Irene

    I was born in 1996. This is such an inaccurate, egregiously stereotyped portrayal of teenagers.

    • B

      There was also always the Irenes

    • SA

      Stereotypes exist for a reason sometimes. Just because it’s inaccurate for you and your friends or school or whatever, doesn’t mean it’s inaccurate for teenagers in general.
      In a way you’re almost fitting in to the stereotype. Teenagers don’t want to be understood – they want their emotions to be raw, the outrages to be unacceptable, their happiness unparalleled, and their sorrows unrelatable

      • D

        ^………lost me that last sentence. I agree with Irene.

    • Dan

      the eye cannot see itself.

  • Liz W

    Parts of this are accurate, but its mostly condescending. Teenagers are hormonal, emotional, and often selfish – many lack perspective – but they can be smarter than people sometimes give them credit for.

    • Michelle Garcia

      Yeah, have you ever watched Dawson’s Creek?

  • Amani

    And there are also those born in 1996 who feel not a bit like this and consider themselves beyond petty stereotypes of current teenagers portrayed in ABC Family sitcoms.

    Most of you 20-somethings should look up “ageism.” I feel that this article, plus many of the comments, are the prime example of how things like ageism do exist. Teenagers, like every other person, don’t need to be coddled and patronized by haughty Thought Catalog readers because they graduated their teenage years a meager two years ago.

    Perhaps there are some who choose to live their lives like a selfish hormonal drama queen, but to the many (and I repeat, many) who don’t, this article is pretty insulting. Other than that, I love your talent, Ryan!

    • Moon Temple

      omfg tho

    • lola

      It may not be a necessarily accurate perspective of all teenagers ever, but Ryan never attempts to depict EVERYONE. What he says is dead on in many ways. Perhaps focusing on specific aspects like drugging and drinking and having relationships isn’t what you should be doing because, true, that’s NOT everyone’s experience.
      But it captures the essence of the lack of perspective, of the rawness of emotions, and how your friends and what you do with them and in school pretty much create your world. And regardless of what sorts of high-school experience you have, these things ring true.
      20-somethings don’t agree with this article because of a ‘meager two years’ but because of life experiences they couldn’t get in high school. Its not about AGE per-se but about the sorts of experiences one can even have when in high school and how limiting they are.
      haha and I’m pretty sure we all know what ageism is. We agree with this article because we relate to it and to being a teenager and how our lives change, not because we don’t know what being a teenager is like and therefore make false assumptions

  • Wesley

    So damn good! I love this piece, you summed up four years in one article.

  • shafiqa

    i’m 18 and yeah this articles sort of made me cry (okay! it legit made me cry).

  • Amy

    The sheer volume of offense and insult that all of these teenagers are dishing out in the comments section only proves the author’s point even more.

    • larna

      I don’t see teenagers dishing insults. I see some teenagers respectfully disagree and a whole lot of 20 somethings insulting those teens.

  • Emma

    Does this actually happen it sounds like so much fun
    I was born in 1996 and I’ve has the same friends since I was 11, I’ve never been to a party, been drunk, or kissed a boy
    I just study and go on tumblr and sleep yay me

  • Courtney

    Loving how everyone past teenage years says, “Wow, this is so accurate,” and teenagers say, “omg i’m totally not like this wtf”…

    Expect prolonged, unobserved times of revelation. Read this in five years. Comment, “Wow, this is so accurate.”

    • Sophie Cat (@CatWitches)

      Because they remember the few night they ever dd anthing ‘wild’ when they were teenagers, while we (im born in 1996) remember the 363 days we did shit-all except watch tv online and go on tumblr.

  • Hai

    Oh man. This is amazing. I think I appreciate being a teenager much more now. (: hehe.

  • Anne

    I felt this way when I was 16 too..Those teenage years were confusing,and then you suddenly grow up and realize how immature you were. You discover who really has your back, and who’s stabbing it. If I knew this back then, maybe I would have enjoyed my teenage years a little more, and not be living with regrets.

  • Hannah

    “You hang out with someone on a Friday and your BFFs by Monday.”
    Your/you’re misusage? Dealbreaker. Shut it down.

    • Unnecessary Pedantic Grammar Police Police

      Seriously? Who are you?

  • Eva

    Being a teenager didn’t really feel like this. From what i remember and what i read in my old diary i was a happy and emotionally stable teenager. But it’s a nice article anyway and the last sentence is so true.

  • Jennifer

    This just makes me wish so badly that I had had friends in high school . . .

  • Deirdre

    You’re my idol

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