This year, my daughter starts her high school journey. Like my son, she is moving to a high school where she knows no other students. She will enter into a grade of 180 boys and girls with only a couple of faces familiar from orientation days and information sessions.
At times I think my daughter is far better equipped to deal with the challenges of everyday life than I am, but I still want to send her off into this new adventure with some words of encouragement and advice. I have adapted the letter I wrote for my son, as it still represents what I want to share with my children as they move into this next life stage.
First and foremost, I want to tell you how overwhelmingly proud I am of all that you are. You bless me every day with your wonderful sense of humour, your gorgeous smile, your quick wit, inquiring mind, warmth and amazing creativity.
In some ways, it seems incredible to me that you are here, on the threshold of high school and teenage years. The last (almost) thirteen years have passed so quickly. In other ways, it makes sense to me that you are moving into this next stage. I know that you are ready for more challenges, more independence, more opportunities to make decisions and carve your own path. I am excited for you and look forward to seeing what is ahead but I know that you will have moments of doubt and uncertainty, so I want you to remember these things:
You are more than the marks you achieve in tests and assessments.
You are an intelligent girl who works hard and shows an amazing willingness to give your best to every task you complete, but you are so much more than the marks on your test papers, which only measure one aspect of who you are. You have gifts and abilities that will never translate into a grade or assignment mark, yet they are a very real indication of the woman you will become one day. You are creative, compassionate, kind, gentle, insightful, wise and funny. Your test results show what you can do, but your character is who you are.
You are not alone.
Teenage years, and high school in particular, can sometimes leave you feeling isolated and disconnected, but even if you feel alone, you aren’t. You are surrounded by friends and family who love you. We’re a bit dorky at times and not always as funny as we think we are. We miss the point, misunderstand and make mistakes, but we will always have your back and be willing to hold your hand, both literally and figuratively. Always.
And when you look at others who seem so happy and connected and carefree, remember that some of them are looking at you, wondering how you can be so happy, connected and carefree when they are feeling isolated and discouraged. I was astounded to discover at my high school reunion that many of the ‘popular’ kids struggled with the same feelings of being an outsider and not fitting in that I did at school. Your friends and classmates are working through the same issues you are, even if it doesn’t look like it from the outside.
I know that I seem hopelessly old and outdated. I don’t know about the ‘cool’ music, fashion or words (see, I still think it’s okay to call things ‘cool’). Believe it or not, I was young once and I do remember what it was like. My parents’ rules frustrated me; I felt both annoyed at the childish limitations they imposed and nervous about my new freedoms. I worried about physical changes, struggled with new emotions and rode the same hormone rollercoaster that you will.
I remember and I understand.
Cherish good friends.
I know that you’re sad about leaving so many friends behind as you change schools. I know their friendship and your shared memories are special to you. For some of these friends, taking a step away will make your friendship stronger. You will have new things to talk about, new ideas to share and your time together will seem more special because it takes some effort. Sadly, for some of these friends the time apart will change things in a less positive way, but this may well have happened anyway. The coming years will bring lots of changes, in you and your friends. You would naturally move in different directions even if you stayed at the same school and that’s okay. Your memories of these friendships will still be precious.
You’ll make lots of new friends at high school. Some will be friends for a few weeks or a term, some for a year, others for longer. People will let you down sometimes, you’ll misjudge some people and you’ll be disappointed by others, but at the end of the day, the true friends will stll be with you and the trials you’ve gone through with others will be worth the treasure you discover in those few who remain. I’m still friends with someone I met on my first day of Year 7. Trust me. I know what I’m talking about.
You get to choose.
You can’t opt out of writing essays and assignments in subjects that don’t interest you (sorry about that), but when it comes to what you say, wear, eat and do, who you hang around with and who you allow to influence your actions and your thoughts, you get to choose. You have such a wonderful sense of style and confidence in what makes you happy. Don’t let others undermine that because of their own insecurities, jealousy and other issues. Don’t let anyone make you feel that you are powerless. You aren’t. Ever.
Reach for the stars, but keep your feet on the ground.
The next six years will be amazing. Embrace the opportunities that come your way. Try new things, meet new people, think new thoughts.
Know that you can achieve amazing things. While you reach for the stars, we’ll be here cheering you on, keeping you connected for those times when you need to temporarily backtrack so that you can follow a different path.
Mistakes are okay.
In fact, they’re kind of inevitable. Everyone makes them, even parents and teachers. (Don’t tell anyone, but I might even make a mistake or two myself occasionally.) Your friends will make them and so will you. Learn from them and then move on. No-one expects you to be perfect. We love you exactly the way you are.
Everyone changes at a different pace.
It’s really hard to not compare yourself physically with the other girls, but no-one can control when hormones will kick in. You will grow and develop at the time that is right for you. Girls who are comfortable with themselves no matter what stage they are at will always be happier, whether they are tall, short, busty, sporty, slender, or curvy, whether they shave or wax their legs, fuss with their hair and makeup or would sooner poke their eye out with a sharp stick than use an eyelash curler.
Society’s definition of beauty keeps changing. Comparing yourself to photoshopped images and chasing ever changing social ‘standards’ regarding your appearance cannot make you happy. You ARE beautiful and unique. Don’t wear yourself out trying to achieve impossible appearance goals. Set your own standards and encourage your friends to do the same.
Summary for a busy pre-teen.
I love you, I believe in you and I’m proud of you. Work hard, have fun, enjoy the moment. Cherish the good times, learn from the tough times and continue to be the amazing person you already are.
Love Mum xx