Some words of advice to teens and pre-teens

Editor's note: A technical error led to a portion of this column being cut from the latest issue of The Herald. Here is the column in its entirety.

To all soon to be middle- and high schoolers (or more likely your parents, who will hopefully encourage you to read this!),

Please pardon the interruption of your summer vacation. I know many of you recently “graduated” from elementary or middle school and were not expecting to do any reading for the next few months, but this will only take a few minutes.

As I’m sure you know, your life is about to change.  And since life is about change, that’s a good thing - but I want to encourage you let those changes happen naturally. You need to stop being in such a rush to grow up.  Right now many of you can’t wait to be 16 so you can drive. But the 16-year olds out there want to be 18 so they can buy lottery tickets and maybe vote. And the 18-year olds are impatiently waiting to be 21 so they can legally drink.  After that, the next age to look forward to is retirement, and by that point, you’ll be wishing you were young again. So, while you’re still young, why not be young?

I know it’s no longer cool to be a kid – and practically impossible to dress like one - but there is a way to do it without ruining your rep.  You see, the way I figure, it’s society putting all the pressure on you to mature early - to look and act grown up so you’ll watch their shows and buy their products – but, as a teenager, it’s your job, your duty, your sole purpose in life to reject and rebel against everything society has to offer, so be a rebel and refuse to grow up before your time! Don’t play society’s game, just play.  Be a kid.  Have fun.  Ride your bike, roll down hills, run the bases.  Don’t be afraid to act your age.

The problem is, many of you have no idea what acting your age means anymore.  12-year old rappers and singers are making music and videos about things I didn’t do until I was 18.  When I was 12, I think I was still playing “House” (and I’m not ashamed to admit it.) I was probably 15 when I first kissed a girl for longer than 2 seconds. But that was normal. I was a kid. And kids then didn’t care much about clothes, hair, fashion, or each other.  Make-up and making out were not options.  We didn’t have (or want) magazines like CosmoGirl or Teen People telling us how we should look, act, or feel.  We looked twelve.  We acted silly.  And we felt great.

Nowadays, most of you look 19, act like you’re on Spring Break, and feel miserable…and for what? So you can get a head start on forming reputations, addictions, and ulcers? Michael Jackson claims he missed his childhood, and look what happened to him.  Do you want to end up like…

Sorry, I’m starting to lecture, which was not my intent.  I just think it’s important for you to take it slow.  You all want to bite right through that Tootsie Pop (they still have those, right?) and get straight to the candy center.  Don’t.  Take it easy.  Enjoy what you have now and stop going just for the “good stuff” because in all honesty, the “good stuff” isn’t all that good until you’re ready for it. And what you’re skipping and speeding through might be even better. So slow down, stay young as long as you can and realize that not only do good things come to those who wait, but that the waiting itself can be pretty good too.

Think of it as baking cookies. There are some people who are so impatient they eat the dough raw, which, by the way, was not allowed when I was a kid. Others shove the cookies into their mouths as soon as they come out of the oven and they get burned.

But the smart ones wait. They enjoy the anticipation, the aroma, the act itself. They let the cookies cool down (but not too much) before taking a bite. And that's when it tastes the best. And for all you giggling right now, I'm talking about any time you feel pressured or stressed into doing something before you're ready. As for knowing when you are ready, here's a simple test: If you have to lie to your parents about where you are going or what you are doing, then you're not ready. It's that simple.

Unfortunately, not much else in life is that simple. Like those previously mentioned cookies and lollipops, life can sometimes be crummy and sucky — but usually it's pretty sweet and good. So live for the good times and deal with the others. And while you're at it, be careful.

Be smart. Be true to yourself. Don't do anything you don't want to do, but if you do, that doesn't mean you have to do it again. Experimenting is part of life but it doesn't have to be your entire life. Nor should it cost you your life. You may want to be the popular kid featured in the yearbook, but you don't want to be the kid they dedicate it to.

Keep in mind, reputations are easy to get but hard to get rid of. One mistake or bad decision can affect the rest of your life, but it doesn't have to. A lot of kids will mess up once or twice and wrongly take the attitude that, "Well, since everyone already thinks I'm a (fill in the blank) I guess I might as well be one." Don't fall into that trap. Mistakes will happen. You are going to screw up. You will get in trouble. But what you do is not as important as what you do afterward. You need to accept responsibility, deal with the consequences, and move on.

I've known too many kids who've felt so trapped and helpless after getting in trouble that they just kept digging themselves deeper and deeper into holes that wound up being their graves. Nothing is ever that bad — I don't care if you accidentally burn your parent's house down with your sweet granny inside — no matter how horrible you feel, someday, somewhere down the road, you will feel better, so stick it out.

And if you stuck with me this far, thank you. I will let you get back to your summer break. I wish you all the best for the future, just be sure to take your time getting there. Don't miss out on some of life's greatest gifts by ignoring the present.

Mike Wood is a life-long Shelton resident and author of the coming-of-age novel, Alchemy, available locally at Written Words and nationally at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.