The Great Thing About Getting Older

You live and learn, but these things takes time.

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Danielle Macdonald and Jennifer Aniston in Dumplin’ (Photo: Netflix)

Grown-up hindsight, though potentially encouraging to a discouraged teen, might offer little real solace to an eighth-grader suffering mean girls, horny boys, and growing pains.

And even if it does, buying what adults preach when they say “It gets better” might prevent put-upon teens from living in the moment — and dealing with it, too. As a former bullied teen, I wish someone had helped me figure out how to deal with the insults and physical threats that were regularly hurled my way. I knew things would improve in the future, but that didn’t get me through today during my middle school and high school ’80s. I wasn’t sure what to do in the there and then.

The here and now

More than 20 years later, I still don’t have any solid answers.

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Elsie Fisher as Kayla in Eighth Grade (Photo: A24/Sony Pictures Releasing)

Terrible teens, go away

Those terrible teens can be torture, and it’s so easy to wish them away, like Kayla mentally fast-forwarding to high-school graduation and giving advice to her four-years-older self at the end of Eighth Grade. I’ve been there (I spent most of middle school and high school thinking in future tense), and I wish I’d known then what I know now: how to handle racists, homophobes, and bullies, how to win friends and influence people, how to be alone, how to take a decent picture.

A good grasp of the latter might have prevented the slight mortification I felt several years ago when a Facebook friend posted a photo of the 16-year-old me at the beach with her and some other friends. As I stared at the snapshot, I almost didn’t recognize myself.

Cruel as kids can be, I can understand why some of them might have been tempted to pick on me. I was such an easy target!

Not that being older and wiser is without its special challenges. The joints start to creak, the muscles ache and hair comes and goes in all the wrong places. Still, I wouldn’t trade my middle age for anything in the world. If you’re lucky, as you get older, you become more skilled at expressing yourself, dressing yourself, and posing in more flattering ways — or rather, not posing at all, because that is the secret to taking great photographs. I didn’t really learn that until I got older.

As better as it gets, that’s not the only message we should be sending to tortured teens. Those of us who have improved with age need to explain how we got over, what we did to start winning at life. It’s not an automatic process, or a guaranteed one.

Written by

Brother Son Husband Friend Loner Minimalist World Traveler. Author of “Is It True What They Say About Black Men?” and “Storms in Africa”

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