Medcalf: A survival guide for teen girls and their loving parents

·5 min read

Last week, a woman with a mountain of food in her cart joked that we should trade as we stood in the checkout lane at a grocery store.

"I have teenage boys," she said, as she made a motion to show how they towered over her.

We then discussed the challenges of nurturing and guiding teenagers while also learning to stay out of their way. I told her about my oldest daughter, 14, who started her freshman year in high school last week.

"I'm learning on the fly," I said. She nodded.

I wondered if she could sense my fears. I worry that I'm not equipped to assist my daughter through this next chapter of her life because I only know that experience through the lens of a young man. I wrestle with what I can offer her over these next four years beyond emotional support, my presence and love.

Maybe that's enough. I'm not sure.

But I know I'm scared. I also know, in these tumultuous times for parents, I'm not the only one with these fears.

That's why I reached out to some amazing women I know in the Twin Cities and asked them a question: If you could go back in time, what would you tell yourself to help you prepare for your freshman year of high school and the years ahead?

Here is their advice:

"Start getting to know the voice inside that's going to guide you for the rest of your life. Try to make that voice kind, gentle and honest. How you talk to yourself and treat yourself matters greatly. Explore what brings you joy and doesn't feel like homework. Give your friendship and attention to people who like you just as you are right now. If you're struggling, it is a sign of strength to ask for help. No matter how hard things get, try to be brave enough to believe that the best is yet to come." — Nina Moini, senior reporter on MPR's race, class and communities team

"You might meet your forever friends in high school. There is really no way to say for certain. You may find them in college or at your first job, and it is entirely possible you know them already. And the unfortunate reality is, as you grow and change and learn so will your friendships. And then there will be a day, when you are older, where you realize that we all have played the villain in someone else's story. At some point, we are the bad guy, the mean girl. Whether we know the magnitude of our role or not. Don't let that time be in high school. Don't fall into the trap that's been set by the generations that came before you. We're sorry about that. We didn't know any better. But we do now. And I think a lot of us, when we think back on high school, our regret is simple. We wish we had been a little bit more kind. To others, yes. But also to ourselves." — Lindsay Guentzel, local media personality, mental health advocate and host of the Refocused Pod

"That young person needed to know: They were never not enough. That they were the only one of them in the world and that, THAT, wasn't just OK — it was perfect. That all that mattered wasn't if they were asked to go to homecoming by the popular kid — what mattered was were they kind? Were they curious? Did they lead with empathy and fairness? They were kind. And scared. And I would say, 'Child, it's OK to be scared and unsure.' If you aren't, you aren't feeling — and feeling is 14. Feel it." — Jana Shortal, Kare 11 host and reporter

"To my ninth-grade self: Value and nurture your natural gifts that make you unique and try out activities and classes that will let you use them, even if you have to dare yourself to join them alone. You'll find new friends that way and being different won't be a source of loneliness. Nothing lasts forever either, so don't dwell too long on awkward moments; they'll definitely happen. Laugh them off and know that the memories you'll keep from high school will be the good times with your friends, so join extracurricular activities together and be supportive of each other's wacky ideas!" — Marlena Myles, a Native American and self-taught multimedia artist

"What you need to learn is sometimes the grade on the final is not reflective of all you learned, especially when you learn how to keep trying even when you are ready to give up and fail. You are more than a grade. Build the skills of tenacity and consistency. You are building the foundation for your future now. You don't have to be perfect; you just have to keep growing. Expect to be pushed, but speak up when pushed too far. You have the ability to make all of your dreams your reality; you just need to believe in them and fight for them, little by little every day." — Angela Rose Myers, former Minneapolis NAACP president

"You have a right to be here. You are on scholarship, but you earned it. An academic scholarship. Your public school-trained mind got you into a private college preparatory school. Remember that every day. You have been the only Black person in places before. Your culture protected you then and it will protect you now. Go pursue your diploma, back straight!" — Lissa Jones-Lofgren, former KMOJ radio host, public speaker and educator

Myron Medcalf is a local columnist for the Star Tribune and a national writer and radio host for ESPN. His column appears in print Sundays twice a month and online.