By Rabbi Daniel Bortz
As the school year begins, here are five tips to help teenagers navigate school life.*
Fun vs. Happiness
It’s okay to call risk taking and parties “fun” or “exciting”, but don’t expect to achieve happiness through them. Happiness isn’t acquired through one event or person. It isn’t laughing & yelling at a party. It’s what’s left when the party’s over. Happiness is an inner contentment that comes as a byproduct of living a meaningful life, knowing that you’re going in the right direction on the long road to actualizing your potential.
Friends & Family
When choosing your friends, try & look for those who value you for who you are. My primary ambition in school was making friends with popular people & being liked by everyone. But it’s crazy how we agonize over the opinion of someone who doesn’t really care about you, while we ignore loved ones who (while we may find them annoying) deeply care about our happiness. Those who really worry about our wellbeing are precious, so be good to them & express your love openly. Who knows how long we will be blessed to do so?
School is competitive and consuming. It’s easy to only focus your time on homework, sports or dance, Netflix and Snapchat, but I encourage you to find time to give to those in need. It will put life into perspective. College acceptance is less stressful when you realize many people don’t have the opportunity to enjoy the most basic comforts of life, let alone college. Every day you have endless opportunities in front of you to give: Help someone at school who struggles in class or in making friends. Even a quick smile can be amazingly powerful for someone. We have no idea the power that adding positivity in another’s life can have.
Life Is Fragile & Precious
I’ve watched young friends and acquaintances die suddenly. Life is fragile. All I thought about in high school was the immediate, that my wellbeing was assured and I was untouchable. I would live forever regardless of the risk involved. These impulsive feelings have Scientific backing: The teen brain is different. It thinks primarily with the amygdala – the emotional side of the brain, while adults think with their prefrontal cortex — the part that responds to situations with a focus on the consequences of an action.
So, remember that a momentary error in judgement can have a big impact, even if you don’t see it right now.
It’s Going to be Fine
Feelings of sadness will come. But based on what we said about the teen brain seeing only the immediate reality, it’s easier to feel hopeless – that the pain you’re going through now is forever. I’m here to tell you that it will pass! There are so many great life experiences on the other side of this.
While school is important, don’t let it or any other skill define your worth. You have intrinsic value so treat yourself with love. Then give that love to others. Why be someone else when you are a unique light that the world has never seen before? This is why you had to be born; humanity was incomplete without you. Trust the process. Every detail of your life is being carefully watched over by a loving Creator who has a special plan in store for you. Remember that there’s always light after the darkness. The darkness is only there to lead you to an even greater light to come.