Lately I’ve been thinking about things I want my daughter to know at 18.
This past year has been a big one for Flea. Not only because she turned 18. She’s also left home, moved into a flat in a new city, and started at university. She’s joined a new sports club, and is making completely new friends.
A few years ago, I wrote a post about all the things I wanted Flea to know when she turned 13. So on the basis that this feels like another big moment in her life, I thought I’d update my thoughts. What are the things I want her to know now?
1. IT’S OKAY TO NOT TELL ME STUFF
At 18, you’re an adult and it’s so important to remember that you have the right to share what you want to share, and keep everything else to yourself.
While I am thrilled when you tell me stories about your day and your weird and wonderful adventures, know that I also understand that there may be things I don’t need to know, or that you choose to share with your friends, not your Mum. That’s okay, it’s normal, and it’s healthy.
2. COMFORT ZONES ARE OVER-RATED
Loads of teens these days struggle a bit with social interaction – awkwardness and anxiety are natural when you’ve gone through a pandemic and had lots of disrupted education. I also look back to starting uni and wonder if I’d have been so outgoing if I’d had Netflix, Snapchat and TikTok. It’s so easy after a tricky day to stay in your room watching a comfort box set and ordering Uber Eats.
I think it’s important for Flea to know that pushing yourself out of your comfort zone is really hard, but it’s a little less hard every time you do it. Go to that club, join that team, make yourself go to that party. Life’s full of adventures, but very few of them happen on Snapchat.
3. YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO GET IT WRONG
I think the first year away from home is a steep learning curve for teens. It’s not easy making a home in a new city, getting to grips with higher education, dealing with budgeting, making your own food, and managing your social life.
I want my girl to know that’s it’s not just normal to get stuff wrong. It’s necessary. That’s how you learn what not to do, what you don’t like, what makes you feel unsafe. We all had to learn some things though painful experience and stupid mistakes. Don’t let it make you afraid of trying.
4. YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE PERFECT
In this social media age it’s tempting to think that everyone needs to be perfect. Perfect looks, perfect clothes, perfect grades, perfect ‘aesthetic’ life. It’s all in our heads.
It’s okay to fail. It’s okay to do something you’re terrible at, just for fun. It’s okay to get bored of something, and give up. Life gets most fun when it’s a bit messy.
5. MONEY MATTERS
If there’s one thing I wish I’d known at 18 it’s that money really matters. I don’t regret any of the experiences I’ve had, and I don’t think you should take a job you hate just for money. Don’t ever pick friends or relationships based on the size of their bank account.
But money stress sucks so much fun out of life. If you can, save a little money from every pay packet. Take up every employer that offers to contribute to a pension. Make a spreadsheet so you know how much your bills are, and have a bill paying account that you transfer money into. You think it’s boring, but it frees up so much mental energy for having fun when you aren’t panicking about how to pay the rent next month.
6. NOBODY IS WATCHING MOST OF THE TIME
My overwhelming memory of being 18 (and 19, and 20, and 21..) is that I was crippled by self consciousness. And it seems to be ever more of an issue for today’s teens. Everything – but EVERYTHING – is potentially ‘awkward’ and must be avoided.
Here’s what you need to know: most of the time, nobody is watching. They’re worried that their own dancing is ‘cringe’ or their dress isn’t right, or they just said the wrong thing. Don’t miss out on experiences because you’re worried people are watching.
Don’t believe me? Try and think – off the top of your head – of five embarrassing things you’ve seen other people do this year. You can’t, I expect. Because you weren’t looking. And neither are they.
7. IT’S REALLY NOT ALL ABOUT YOU
You are important. You are amazing. You are worthy of happiness and respect and all the wonderful things in life. But so are most other people.
Try to be a person who celebrates your friends’ achievements. Be the person who checks in when you know a friend is having a tough time. Don’t always wait to be asked to do something generous – just do it because it’s the right thing to do.
There’s an old saying that people will forget what you say and do – but they don’t forget how you made them feel. That’s truer than you know.
8. START SMALL
Life can be overwhelming and it’s easy to feel paralysed by all the things that you should do, could do, want to do. On days when it all feels like a LOT, try choosing just one thing. It doesn’t have to be big. Maybe your goal is to talk to one new person this week, or to make your bed each morning. It can be big or small but choosing one thing to achieve each day does wonders for your mental health.
9. I AM ALWAYS HERE
There is nothing quite so terrifying as your child leaving home and adult mistakes can be a LOT bigger and scarier than the mistakes of your average thirteen year old.
But the same rule applies. There is no mistake so big or bad that you cannot pick up the phone and ask for help. No matter what mess you’ve made, or stupid thing you’ve done, there is nothing more important than you being safe – and that applies to your friends, too.
These are the things I want my daughter to know at 18 – how about you?