Updated: Dec 8, 2021
Dear Katy Teens,
It’s that time of year again. The end of the school year, where we look forward to finishing class, spring concerts, choir pop shows, try-outs for next year’s teams, banquets, and awards. And that also means finals, cramming homework, estimating final grades, calculating GPA, finding the perfect banquet dress, and training for try-outs. With that, comes HIGH emotions on all ends- from comfortable emotions like excitement, to really uncomfortable ones like stress and fear.
I’m a dietitian who specializes in eating disorders. It also happens that I work down the street from Taylor High School, where I spent 4 years of my life. Working in the community I grew up in has given me a unique perspective of what my clients (and other teens) are going through right now. My goal in writing this is to offer some perspective of what DID matter, and what really didn’t.
The english teachers would be so disappointed that I stated my goal by saying “my goal is”, but I did it anyway. And guess what, you’re still reading it ;)
Which brings me to my point- what do you really take from school? Before I have a mob of angry parents in my office, I want to for sure say that I’m not telling you to turn in your homework blank or not study. I want you to do whatever work is healthy for you right now. What I am saying is that I don’t remember the name of every sentence pattern, but I do remember that varying sentence patterns makes for more readable articles. I don’t remember every detail in the fetal pig dissection, but I do remember that the intestines are very long and loopy and need fat for support. I don’t remember every detail from the band banquet, but I do know that my friends and I had fun eating pasta and talking about how gross the salad was. And that I was too anxious to enjoy my meal because I was worried about finals the next day.
The details of what you’re trying to learn won’t matter in 5 years. Yeah, I get that it impacts your GPA which means you might not get into Rice or UT. More likely than not, you aren’t gonna get in anyways. Sorry. So why stress if it’s not gonna happen?
Well, because you have parents and teachers and peers telling you to stress. The thought of not making an A, or not making the team, or placing 5th chair in band is too unbearable. So, you study through lunch, stay up until 2 am, and cry yourself to sleep. Like I said, I was a Katy teen once, too.
Obviously, there’s some things I wish I would have done differently. Sleep deprivation, missing meals, stressing daily, and fear of judgement are not a healthy part of a teen’s daily life. If I could do it over again, here’s what I’d want to know:
1. Your GPA really doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of your career.
I mean, if you’re aiming for the Ivy league, that’s one thing. But for a state school, an average GPA is more than ok. I felt a little betrayed to learn that my 3.8 got me into the same schools as a 3.0, or even a 2.5 if my classmates did ok on the SAT. And for classmates that got lower than that and wanted to pursue a degree, they started at HCC and ended up at the exact same schools.
2. You are going to forget about most of your classmates.
The kid that pointed out your chub in front of your crush? Wiped from your memory. The teacher that scolded you in front of the class- what class? Gone. The popular group you so desperately wanted to get invited to join? Trust me, you probably don’t want to join them when you’re in your 20’s.
3. Kid, you gotta eat.
Just because you’re almost’ an adult doesn’t mean your bones and brain are anywhere near done developing. You need to eat frequently, consistently. One of my major qualms about school schedules is that they don’t allow for snack breaks. Some kids are hungry, but don’t eat because it’s not time, or because teachers don’t allow snacking. So when you get home, you’re hungry and wolf down the entire pantry. After, your parent(s) might get mad at you for eating so much, not realizing how hungry you are. Commonly, my teen clients are mad at themselves and attribute the binge eating to a lack of control. We call this the 'binge/restrict cycle’, and it’s actually a sign of an eating disorder or at least disordered eating!
4. Just go to sleep.
Ya want anxiety? Cuz this is how we get anxiety. By staying up, you are telling your brain that the world is so dangerous that you can’t close your eyes. It releases adrenaline and cortisol which is hard on a growing body. During sleep, we ‘hit the save button’ on the day’s events, and ‘clean up’ the neurons and blood in the brain. If we don’t get it cleaned up, we have a higher chance of mental illness, dementia, Parkinson’s, and even cancer. TLDR: sleep.
5. Once you’ve done that, move!
It’s really hard to exercise if you’re exhausted and starving. So, don’t worry about your daily bike or dance or swim until you’ve gotten sleep and eating down. Not perfect, but at least in a routine. Exercise increases dopamine (the happiness hormone), reduces stress (gets adrenaline out of the system faster) and improves sleep (tires you out). You might notice that I said move instead of exercise. While exercise isn’t inherently bad, this work can evoke feelings of inadequacy and limit you to what’s commonly considered exercise- such as biking, weight lifting, and running. Other options are playing tug with your dog, cleaning, walking the mall, gardening, or dancing. Can you think of anything else to get you moving?
If someone gave this list to my teenage self, OH BOY would I have some thoughts of perfectionism and anxiety. Which brings me to my 6th point:
Ok, yeah I know, “but my parents will never let me”, “that’s only for crazy people”, “other people need it more than me”. I can assure you all of my clients have said something similar to this. If you think you need therapy, then you definitely need therapy. If you’re “fine”, then you REALLY need to call ASAP. Us folks over here at WC&NT would be more than happy to get you set up with a therapist, or facilitate some food and movement changes. If that’s not feasible, or if you’re not ready to ask your parents to bring you to therapy, below are some free or low cost resources:
Wishing you all the peace and clarity