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A Letter to the Teens in My Life

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Some truths I want you to hear

Dear Very Important person in My Life,



Alex was in a funk when his mother saw him on Tuesday. At eighteen, he expected to have a sweet ride…maybe even a Camaro like his friend Cody. He thought he’d have a top-paying job, too. And a girlfriend. But he was living with his friends and they had been evicted. On Tuesday, Alex asked to move home. On Wednesday, Alex moved some stuff in while his mother was at work. He wasn’t home for supper and his mom was in bed when he did make it back. Thursday, Alex didn’t get up for breakfast, so his mother left him a note asking that he be around that night to talk. When she got home, Alex’s mother found him hanging from the garage rafters. Alex thought he knew a lot about himself, but it was what he didn’t know that killed him. I wish someone had said those things to Alex; I want to say them now to you. Things like:

    You have valuable assets. Invest them. Okay, I’m not going to tell you “Some day someone will think you’re just as pretty as your daddy does.” No one ever will think you are anywhere close to the catch your dad thinks you are. But I know you have skills. Are you a people person? Are you musical? Do you speak another language? Are you a kid who really liked math class, or enjoyed writing poetry in English? Are you good at putting on makeup or arranging hair. Can you fix a bike? Sit down with your mom or dad, or a friend you really trust, and figure out what your talents are. THEN figure out where and how to invest them.  Maybe you’ll have to go to tech school or maybe college. It could be you’d fit in to the Army or maybe Job Corps. The point is, you have some assets to invest in yourself. Everyone does. And it takes time to realize a profit from an investment. Set a goal, and give yourself some time to achieve it. 

     Eighteen is just a number. When I was a teenager, you could drink 3.2% beer at 18, but you couldn’t vote. And you could be drafted to the military to fight in Viet Nam, but you couldn’t buy car insurance. WHO TOLD YOU that you become an adult at 18? That’s ridiculous. Lots of people don’t mature until they are in their 30’s. Many of them have gone out and gotten jobs and educations and still move home because they can’t cut it. Eighteen is a good number, but so is twenty, or even thirty. What if we said people aren’t adults until then? The surprise comes when you attempt to get car loans and insurance and get hit with super-high rates because banks and insurance companies actually don’t consider people in their twenties as adults.

                    Feel sorry for yourself a little. Whine. Adults do it, and feel justified. Don’t believe anyone who tells you your life isn’t as bad as your neighbor’s or the girl on TV who was born without arms or legs, or even the kid in your science class who has a terminal cowlick. Your life sucks if you think it sucks. That said, a little whining goes a long way. Do it, then get on down the road. As long as you’re alive, there is hope. Hang onto it.

                    Nothing lasts forever…not the good stuff and not the bad. Wait it out and it will change. Hang on. Stay in there. That sounds corny, but you know what? It is true. The job that won’t hire you this week will need new help when the kids who work there now go back to college. The worthless feeling you have because your best friend (or your girl or boyfriend ) dumped you will last exactly as long as it takes you to make a new friend. Ask out that girl who works at Starbucks. You’ll see I’m right. And if she won’t go out with you, order a double chocolate latte, and move on to her sister. 

The point is, you’re young. You are supposed to make mistakes…that’s how you learn. The Mark Zuckerbergs of this world are as rare as the people who recognize that name. (Zuckerberg is the boy wonder who came up with Facebook, and now is filthy rich.) And consider this: in our economy, fifty-year-olds are crashing and burning…losing their jobs and homes and reinventing themselves.

Maybe that doesn’t encourage you, but it sure does me. I’m not dead yet, so I’m still learning. I haven’t yet decided what I want to be when I grow up. Until then, I’ll keep on making mistakes, because that’s what people do, and with every mistake, I’ll learn what doesn’t work. Then I’ll try again.




A note to parents: If your teen or young adult seems to be depressed, don’t wait for him to seek you out. He won’t; you’ll have to approach him. And when you do, be sure your planner is empty. No calls. No checking emails while you talk. Only rapt attention on your child.

Pick a place where he or she feels comfortable.

How do you start? Well, how about honesty? “Hey, I’ve noticed you seem down. I’d like to know what’s going on inside.”  Or maybe you could ask his opinion on something you know he cares about  (something personal---not world peace,) then graduate to the heavy stuff. However you do it, if he responds…you shut up and listen. Listen until he pauses or until he is through. Then, don’t feel you have to offer a pearl of wisdom. Unless he asks.

And don’t compare him or her to someone else you know.

Ask if you can help, and if you promise something, follow through.

Most of all, if you sense you are in over your head with your child’s depression, GET HELP.

  Signs of depression: (from

  • You feel sad or cry a lot and it doesn't go away. 
  • You feel guilty for no real reason; you feel like you're no good; you've lost your confidence.
  • Life seems meaningless or like nothing good is ever going to happen again.
  • You have a negative attitude a lot of the time, or it seems like you have no feelings.
  • You don't feel like doing a lot of the things you used to like-- like music, sports, being with friends, going out-- and you want to be left alone most of the time. 
  • It's hard to make up your mind. You forget lots of things, and it's hard to concentrate.
  • You get irritated often. Little things make you lose your temper; you overreact.
  • Your sleep pattern changes; you start sleeping a lot more or you have trouble falling asleep at night. Or you wake up really early most mornings and can't get back to sleep. 
  • Your eating habits change; you've lost your appetite or you eat a lot more.
  • You feel restless and tired most of the time. 
  • You think about death, or feel like you're dying, or have thoughts about committing suicide