Well, back to the matter at hand. That is a big question – no, not because you are NOT normal, but because that is such a common question as you go through your teen years (and really through your whole life!). Adults still struggle with this sometimes, especially at challenging times in our lives. I thought what might make sense is to break it down into a couple of scenarios that might occur that might make you wonder, “Am I normal???!”
Everyone I see on FB/ instagram / whatever looks so happy. I’m not.
Social media is great – it is social, after all! But keep this in mind: IT DOESN'T ALWAYS REFLECT REALITY!!!. People spend a lot of time grooming their online images so that the image that others have of them is the one they want to project. That all makes sense, but the message here is, look at all that with a grain of salt. I mean, seriously, when is the last time you saw a picture on instagram of someone loading their dishwasher, mowing their lawn, or doing piles of homework, or a post on FB about spending Saturday night alone babysitting their little sister, in sweats and no makeup, watching old TV shows? You get the idea. Your life is filled with stuff you have to do, stuff that isn’t all that pretty and sexy and fun. But I am guessing those are not the things you (or your friends) post online! You probably post pictures of you and your pals smiling at a party, the beach, hanging out at a sleepover, playing sports. Not a lot of pictures of those glum days that aren’t going so well, where you are stressed out and you yelled at your family or cried in the shower. Not all of life is happy and fun. Some parts are really hard. Some are a lot of hard work. Those unglamorous, messy pieces are not the stuff that people post. They post the results. Results aren’t from magic or good luck alone, though people may make it seem like that on FB!
So, bottom line, yes, you are normal if you don’t feel happy and social 100% of the time, and aren’t out with BFFs 24/7 OR at every social event ever, and don’t wake up looking like a million bucks and all buff and cut and all that. Use those “reality glasses” as I like to call them, when you think that everyone else is that way because of what you see on their pages.
My family doesn’t look like the ones I see on TV, or like my friends’ families.
Popular culture projects pretty traditional images of families that are made up of 2 heterosexual adults with the same ethnic background, and some kids, maybe a pet. These media images are starting to change, but very slowly. Maybe you are the only one in your class that has a “non-traditional” family. Families can look all sorts of different ways. You might live with your biological parents, or you might be adopted by a family that wanted nothing more than a special child to love and with whom to share their lives! You might be raised by grandparents, a single parent, straight parents, gay parents, an aunt….. It’s all NORMAL! In fact, I looked at US census data and here is how THEY defined families – married couples with kids, unmarried couples with kids, single moms, single dads, living with grandparents, living with parent(s) and grandparents, and same sex couples. Almost a third of kids live with a single parent. A lot of kids live in families with gay parents. Or with adults that are not their parents. A family is where you get love, and support and build a life together. That can look like a whole host of things.
So, just because YOUR family doesn’t look like what you see around you doesn’t mean your family isn’t normal or that you aren’t – Yes, you are NORMAL!
I don’t want to be what my parents want me to be when I grow up.
Here’s a good one. I see this all the time with teens in different ways depending on where they live. Teens have dreams, and are open to the world of possibilities for their futures. And parents say things like “You MUST go to BlahBlah college, since your father went there” or “You are going to medical school” or “You have to take over the business from your uncle” or “Don’t waste your time on that – you’ll never earn a living or get a job doing that” or even "Girls don't need to go to college; that's for boys" (Yes, I have heard that from more than one smart young woman!!). You get the idea. I think really the intent is often good. Families want their kids to do well, have enough money to support themselves and not to struggle day to day to eat or have a place to live, and to be happy. But sometimes parents and families want so much for you that they can lose track that Such-and-Such status symbol college is less about what you want, and more about how good it makes them look as parents. Or parents worry about difficult challenges in life, and want you to go for the Sure Thing (family business). Or are not sure how you are going to juggle work to pay for school, or whatever the issue is for you.
But your life is yours. You may take a path that disappoints others in your life. You may have a dream that no one else can understand. Your job is to work hard towards what you want. You should listen to the advice and perspective of a whole host of different people – even those you disagree with. Adults you respect (such as your parents) do have life experience that only age can bring. Listen to it, consider it, apply what is relevant. And you can respectfully disagree with it. Your life is yours to build.
A few things to think about, though. At the other extreme, some families say “do what you love” and “find your passion”. These are certainly excellent, supportive messages. But I have recently heard a lot of young adults remark that they wished someone had also provided some of those Reality Glasses in terms of how hard it could be to find a job that pays enough for you to afford rent and groceries, or to be able to support themselves with certain paths that they had pursued. As the adult that you are shaping yourself to be – you need create a way to support yourself. That may mean that a passion that doesn’t make that much money may be very worthwhile, but that you may need a boring job just to help make ends meet. That passion may need to be a hobby. That is fine too! Life is made up of a lot of different pieces, some practical, some fun, and some inspirational. All those parts fit together. That is OK! That is normal! Even your most favorite job will not be filled with day after day of only fulfilling work. So extra interests and hobbies can help with that. But you need to get to the point you can support yourself.
So, you are NORMAL if you are not all that into doing what your family wants you to do. But keep these thoughts in mind: Work hard, keep all the doors to your future paths open, and build yourself into the self-sufficient, happy adults you want to be.
I have no idea what I want to be / major in / do for a living when I grow up.
Kind of related to the last topic…. I think that this is something that I think has really changed over the past generation. All sorts of high school students (or their parents!) know exactly what they want to do with their lives. Certainly there were always a few people like that when I grew up, but it was generally not expected that by mid-high school, you’d know your major in college! I had no idea what I wanted to be until well into college. I wanted to be a dentist, an architect, even Miss America (very cool back then, and no, I did not do Pageants!). These ideas would last a month or so, and then I’d move onto my next idea. College came. Flirted with a bunch of different ideas. Took a year off to sort out what I wanted to do. Got a boring job, paid rent and fed myself, and then decided to go to Med School.
So, enough about me. My point is that you are NOT weird if you have no idea what you want to do when you are an adult. How could you possibly be sure!? There are so many possibilities out there, and you have so many experiences and exposures ahead of you to help you figure that out. You may even change your path over the course of your life depending what you are interested in. I always say, “Be open to the universe”. But to do that, you cannot close off doors by blowing off school, getting in trouble with the police, getting in a life altering car accident, getting hooked on alcohol or drugs. You get the idea. Work hard. Stay healthy. Stay safe. Be open minded.
Not sure if I like boys / girls / both / neither.
Just like people develop physically and sexually at different rates, not everyone has sorted out exactly who they are interested in romantically at the same time, and others don’t feel at home in their body or with their sexual identity. It is not abnormal to be confused, or to wonder about these things, or to have your feelings go back and forth while all this sexual identity development is occurring. This is not to say that it is always easy and that everyone is open-minded to non-traditional romances or identities. Actually, more often it is difficult because often you may not be raised in a community of others similar to you.
A few facts – there are a number of studies out there looking at genetic links to homosexuality, and (in a nutshell) there is a link between certain genes and homosexuality. Meaning being gay is not a disorder or an illness, or even simply a “choice”, or something that “conversion therapy” will “cure”. Also, rest assured that confusion about identity and orientation lessens as your teen years progress. Wondering about same-sex relationships doesn’t mean you’re gay, but if you are, that is OK – love is love is love, right? I thought this was pretty interesting: One survey I found of 7th – 12th graders showed that reported homosexual attractions were more common than homosexual fantasies, which was also more common that homosexual behavior or identification. There weren’t big differences between genders, and not being sure about sexual orientation decreased as the teens got older.
Need more info?
- I really like TeenHealth.org as a resource for so many things. They have a great section on sorting out whether you are gay / straight / asexual, etc : Kids Health about sexual orientation from KidsHealth.org
- Also, the LGBTQ movement has really helped people find support with similar others as they venture through sorting this out. One organization I really like is the It Gets Better organization – check out their website here: It Gets Better . You’ll see a lot of familiar faces and get to read or watch their stories.
So, like I said, it is NORMAL to be wondering about these things as you mature through your teen years.
I am the only virgin I know.
NOT TRUE! (yes, those Reality Glasses again. ) ACTUALLY, teens like yourselves are waiting until later to date and to have sex, and U.S. teen pregnancy and birth rates are at their lowest levels in years (way to go!)! Recent stats show that about half of all high school students reported that they had had sexual intercourse. So, 100% - 50% = 50%, or half of high school students have NOT had sexual intercourse.
And just like everything else during this huge time of change in your life, everyone’s sexual feelings develop at different rates. So if you’re just not feeling the Urges, you are normal. And if you ARE but others around you aren’t, you are NORMAL! But either way, you need to educate yourself, so that when those times come, you are protected from infection and unwanted babies and emotional pain. Lots more on my blog about this.
So, in a nutshell: Different does not mean abnormal! Difference is what makes the world an interesting place! And difference should not trigger hate or disgust or judgment or harassment. Be kind to people that seem different to you – because, guess what, you are different to THEM! Doctor’s orders.