Kat Bouska asks, “What advice would you give today’s high schoolers?”
These are the top three things that immediately come to mind:
Take care of your mental health
I think about this topic often, and it’s a bit delicate to address. I know — now that I have been a parent for 24 years — that we do the best we can as parents. And I know my parents did their best, something I certainly didn’t appreciate when I was a teenager. I’m 55 now, so I’m fully responsible for my state of mind and the perspective I take on the world.
By the same token, being exposed to a fair share of dysfunction when I was a teenager shaped the rest of my life, in ways good and bad. But having a mental health professional to talk to, especially after I was sexually assaulted by a trusted adult, would have been a good thing.
It was easy as a teenager to think some of the experiences I was having were unique to me and therefore mine to carry emotionally/figure out. Maybe that wasn’t the case (OK — I have a master’s in counseling and human systems, perhaps because of those experiences — and I know they weren’t unique to me).
I wonder if it’s different for teenagers today because they can anonymously look things up on the internet, like depression or other mental health conditions. Maybe so, and maybe despite all the bad that exists on the internet, it’s on balance a good thing that there are mental health support resources there too.
Learn how to communicate face-to-face, nondigitally
Despite the fact that I think internet access may have been good for my mental health (see above), I think I benefited from being a high school student at a time when I didn’t have constant screen access or social media.
I don’t want — by writing this — to lump all “kids these days” into one particular communication bucket. But I do see a tendency to prefer texting over phone calls (me too, but I’m not saying it’s a good thing!). I see less snail mail letters, meaning people are deprived of the joy they bring. I see people who don’t coincidentally discover a song they love because they’re forced to listen to the radio station and can’t pick a curated playlist that ONLY plays their favorites.
Face-to-face communication and the occasional handwritten letter matter. They matter in job interviews; they matter when you have to solve a problem with a friend or while conducting business; they bring more emotional depth to most every interaction. They still matter, and high school students should go out of their way to learn them these days.
Learn about personal finance
Maybe high school isn’t the optimal time to learn all the things about personal finance. I do remember watching a film in home economics (of all things) in 10 or 11th grade featuring a young couple who bought furniture on credit when they couldn’t afford to pay upfront. It ended up leading to distress and unhappiness.
Maybe if I had taken that one lesson to heart, that would have been enough. But I didn’t, and I did a really poor job managing credit. It has taken years to work myself (and my spouse) back up to a modicum of financial health.
I don’t know what could have been done differently. I also know I didn’t necessarily teach my kids well about personal finance. Here again, high schoolers, the internet is your friend. Read about money, prepare to say “no” when offered a credit card you’re not ready for and don’t need. Save even $100 that can just sit there earning interest until you retire.
It’s difficult to see ahead to your 55-year-old self clawing out of a few decades of financial stress, I know, but trust me — learn about money now, apply the lessons well, and you’ll give yourself so many more options to travel, invest, spend your time the way you want to — if you’ll be careful with your money now.
What advice would you give today’s high schoolers?