Friday, June 10, 2011

Advice to Teenagers

After reading a post with advice for 18-year-olds today, I decided it wouldn’t be a bad idea to take a crack at such a post myself. My primary motivation is that I found the above listed post to be at times preachy, unrealistic, and largely out of touch with some of the problems kids today face as they enter the adult world.

For one thing, I am aiming this at teenagers of all ages, because 18 is not a good time to begin thinking of becoming an adult; it’s too early to expect certain things and far too late for others. I can’t pretend to know the schedule one ought to follow to attain the maturity expected in adults today, but I can tell you what will be expected of 18-year-olds and what you ought to be thinking about as early as 14 or 15.

The post I linked to above is very accurate on certain things, and even where I disagree, I think there are redeeming aspects which can be utilized by anyone. I’ll be using its format as a guide.


First off, debt is your enemy. I have very little experience in this area, because I never used credit cards to buy things I didn’t have the money for, but I know it’s a horrible situation to be in. The interest rates on credit cards are downright criminal, and trust me when I say I know people still paying off a trip to the grocery store in 2004.

I don’t find that credit card debt comes from large splurge purchases (as the other post suggests). You will probably find yourself in trouble from everyday purchases piling up, groceries especially, rather than doing something dumb like buying an Xbox or taking a ski vacation when you can’t afford it. Sudden medical bills will probably be your biggest catastrophic expense.

And while it goes without saying, I recommend a part-time job if you aren’t lucky enough to have parents who shower you with money. Save as much of your cash as humanly possible during high school, especially while living at home. The more money you can save while not incurring expenses like rent, utilities, and food, the better.

If you’re hurting for money while on your own or in college, I recommend reading “Steal This Book,” by Abbie Hoffman. It has some unconventional ways of keeping yourself fed and clothed for little or no money. It’s old and a little outdated, but a little searching online will yield updated information of a similar nature, and the overall message of the book is still sound today (and you won’t get bored reading it… trust me). Avoid breaking the law, whenever possible.


I’m not sure I like this heading, but in the interest of adhering to (not plagiarizing… of course) the other post, I’ll stick to it.

I’m not so opposed to the use of drugs. For one thing, selling drugs is a great way of financing yourself. You point me to another job where you can earn a couple hundred dollars in less than an hour of real work (tax free, mind you) and I’ll point out that prostitution is also illegal. Selling drugs is a great way to network and gain skills you’ll use in sales.

Just know that you might have trouble finding a job if you can’t pass a piss test. There are ways around it, but you can avoid all the hassle by not doing drugs. You also avoid the possibility of jail time if you keep the drug use to a minimum (you’ll probably still take Adderall during finals). Honestly, if you’re white, you can pretty much get away with anything short of running naked down Market Street. And if you’re reading this online, let’s be honest… you’re probably white.

You’re better off sleeping in your car than driving home after you’ve been drinking (taxis are expensive). Park outside of the lot within walking distance if you drive there. This can all be avoided by getting an apartment near where you drink (or just drinking at home). I really recommend against bars (the cost is exorbitant on the kind of budget you should be on), so being near a frat house or a friend’s place or even a pizza joint that sells booze is the way to go.

As for picking a roommate, here’s my advice: never room with a friend. All of my best roommates were vague acquaintances, while the worst were friends and ex-girlfriends. I think the best roommates are those you don’t feel comfortable wearing only underwear around, unless you’re openly planning to marry that person.

I’m a big proponent of cohabitation before marriage. My wife and I lived together in my apartment for months before slowly moving my stuff into her better apartment, and our cohabitation period was a good indicator of the fact that we were going to work as a married couple. Don’t get married until after you’re 22, preferably after 25. If you’ve been with someone over 10 years, just marry them or learn to live with the fact that everyone is going to bug you about it.

Regarding other sexual and relationship milestones: aim for loss of virginity at 15 (don’t be shocked if it takes until college if you’re poor or are not very attractive or funny). Don’t get married before 25. The first person you date for two years probably won’t be who you end up with. Whatever else you do, use a condom for all penetration (not after a few thrusts or right before he’s going to cum).

Despite that rule, you’ll inevitably stop using condoms with someone you’re dating for a while, so be sure she is on birth control, that she’s pro-choice, and that you have $350 dollars saved away for a “rainy day” (contact your local abortion clinic for an exact cost, since prices may have gone up since 2005, especially after the government defunded Planned Parenthood). Men should pay for it.

Whatever you do, don’t have a kid until you’re ready. Your future you will thank you.

Regarding tattoos and piercings, I think piercings are a better way to go than tattoos, though you should know that piercings will probably leave scars. I have none myself, and it’s largely because I’m afraid of needles, but I see piercings as pointless and tattoos as stupid. I don’t care what your tattoo is, you have no way of knowing if you will regret it.

Suppose you have a snake, and some horrible political movement rises in America, imprisoning innocent people of particular demographics and torturing opponents in a fascist manner, and their symbol is a snake. It’s an extreme example, but you have no way of knowing how a symbol will be interpreted in the future. Imagine if a Tea Partier, very early in their movement, had gotten a tattoo that read “Proud to be a Tea Bagger.”

Tattoos are something to be laughed at on other people, not collected by you. Tattoos are expensive, anyway, and you could seriously feed yourself for weeks on what a tattoo costs.

Regarding education, I couldn’t recommend it more. I recommend finding the cheapest school that will allow you to study what you are most interested in (taking into account scholarships, of course), and don’t be afraid to change your mind on your chosen career path if you hate it. Don’t feel like you are stuck doing something, because the longer you wait to alter course, the worse off you will be.

I also recommend going to college out of the state you grew up in, especially if you have lived in the same state your whole life. If you live in the middle of the country, go to college on the coast, and vice-versa. It will do you some good to see what other people are like on a day-to-day basis. You should research which states you can apply for residency in immediately, as this may allow you to become a citizen of that state and only pay in-state tuition.

If money is tight (and it most likely will be), it’s better to go to school in-state than not at all.

When it comes to informal education, I can’t speak highly enough of reading non-fiction. Reading the “Harry Potter” or “Twilight” series after high school is just sad, and I wonder if books like these are intellectually retarding adult readers. At any rate, it’s certainly a waste of time. Biographies, histories, books of quotes, even encyclopedias can be quite entertaining to read, and they’re real.

However, if something is boring you, don’t be afraid to put it down and pick up something else. If reading feels like a chore, you won’t do it in your free time, so whatever you read, read what you love. It’s better to read garbage now and cultivate an overall love of reading than to get out of the habit and struggle when you do mature and your interests do include that which can only be found in worthwhile literature.

I am fairly sure that a distaste for reading molds one into a fool more than anything else.


I’m too young and too inexperienced to comment on advice for work. What I can tell you is that it’s tough finding a decent job when you have little experience and no social connections. Most jobs are found through social connections, whether close or distant. If you are looking for a job, don’t forget to tell friends and friends of friends about your search, in case they can get you inside where a cold-contact application can’t.

Outside of those facts which were told to me, I have nothing constructive to say on jobs from my own experience.

Odds and Ends

There’s a big difference between believing you will act a certain way in a certain situation and actually doing it. You can think something out a thousand times in your head, and you can even practice obsessively, but ultimately the best experience you can have is in a truly competitive format where there are negative consequences for failure and tangible benefits upon success.

Never back down from an opportunity to fail. The prize for people who only compete when they can win is a lifetime of mediocrity.

I say this because I know if you’re growing up now, you’ve probably been conditioned to dislike competition and you probably have little experience with failure. You may have even played a sport where they played games and didn’t keep score. If so, you’ve probably already been crippled, though rehab isn’t impossible.

Make the most of your time and hobbies, and be the best you can be in everything, from school to whatever you do in your free time.

If you play chess, join the chess club and strive to be the best player there. If you play video games, join a guild/clan/whatever and learn the inter-personal skills you need when interacting with a large group of people cooperatively against others. If you play sports, practice and workout more than anyone else. If you play an instrument, practice it alone, with others, and perform publicly as often as possible. If you sit around doing nothing at all, at least be a blogger.

Be politically active and knowledgeable. Be your own person. Don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself, because if you don’t, no one else will. Life isn’t fair, and you shouldn’t be concerned with playing fair. Abuse every loophole, take advantage of everything that is given to you, and take all that you can get away with. In return, be generous, return the respect of others, and tip well.

If you have legal trouble for any reason, the price of a good lawyer is almost always worth it. While some laws are made to be bent, traffic laws are not. Honestly, I would rather you be a heroin addict than a dangerous driver. More people die on the road in a month than die from heroin in a decade, and heroin addicts don’t kill innocent people when they OD. You don’t need to drive fast; leave the house sooner or deal with being late.

Okay, lightning round. I will tell you whether the following are worth their price:

Health insurance: Yes
Name brand medication: No
Any Apple product: No
New DVDs: No
DVDs from Blockbuster going out of business: Yes
Textbooks: Yes on Amazon; no to bookstore
Haircuts: Yes for girls; guys, do it yourself (works for Bill Gates)
Porn: You pay for porn?
Alcohol: Yes, after expenses and savings are accounted for
Drugs: See above
Gifts: Yes
Loans to friends: No
Designer clothes: No (exception: Goodwill)
Boat: No, never

If you managed to read all of this, let’s be honest: you aren’t 18 or younger. So I say to you, my fellow adults, take it easy on kids. They’re going to make mistakes, especially in this world today that pounces on weakness and naiveté like a polar bear on a baby seal. My advice to adults is to exercise patience, especially with the young, for they don’t know any better. And often, neither do we.


  1. If you managed to read all of this, let’s be honest: you aren’t 18 or younger.

    I feel no urge to comment on the rest of the post, but I wanted to let you know that this seventeen-year-old read the whole thing.

  2. Great, then the damage has been done, and I'm sorry.


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