Life Advice From Teen Experts
share your stuff
from a 14-year-old identical twin
Something me and my sister like playing is this game called “I’ll give you the stars.” It’s how we settle most of our disagreements. So if I wanted to wear my sister’s shirt, but she didn’t agree, I would say something like, “I’ll give you all the beaches in Hawaii” or “I’ll give you the tallest mountain on Earth.” And if it was good enough, she would let me wear her shirt.
— By Mackenzie Tucker, San Francisco, 826 Valencia student
Ignore the Critics
From a 16-year-old professional dancer
I used to go to this dance studio in my hometown in Colorado. The first year, the teacher loved me. I was featured on two dance teams. Then at the end of the year, he said, “I’m sorry, but you’re just not what I envision for this team. You don’t have the body type.” I was really confused and hurt. Then he told me I suck at tap and hip-hop, and those are my two top things. So I thought, You’re crazy! Now I get to prove him wrong every day. One thing I do to help me feel confident is I go back through my Instagram, and I watch my favorite dance videos that I’ve done. I just rewatch them. This might sound cocky, but I just think, like, Wow, you were so good in that video. It just gets me really excited. And practicing. I average about three to six hours of dancing a day, including time at school and time at the studio. I dance a lot.
— Amanda LaCount, Los Angeles, former dancer on The Voice and Dancing With the Stars, as told to Laura Beck
get people to care about something they don’t
From a 19-year-old environmentalist
I skip over science. Nobody cares about how quickly glaciers are melting, but people want to know what X glacier looked like when you saw it. One story I share often comes from my time in Tromso, Norway, above the Arctic Circle. I was there with one of my best friends, and we spent our nights chasing the Northern Lights and our days running around the snow with reindeer. I do climate activism ultimately to see the most beautiful places on this planet protected, and talking about those places has been really effective.
— Becky Chung, Claremont, Calif., as told to Eric Benson
Meet New People
From a 16-year-old military brat who has moved five times
I never approach anybody at lunch. That’s weird. Somebody’s eating, and you’re going to walk up and say, “Hey, mind if I sit here in silence and eat next to you guys?” I make my friends in class. I stick to the general rules of society: Don’t talk about politics, and don’t talk about your personal life. Don’t walk up to somebody and say, “Yeah, my grandma died recently, and it’s really killing me.” If you’re trying to get into a new community, just fake it till you make it. Don’t have a mind-set of, Oh, I’m the new guy. No one’s going to want to be my friend. Fake a fun mind-set until you can be that fun, cool person without a second thought.
— Jacob Meeker, Murrieta, Calif., as told to Eric Benson
organize a political rally (in one week)
From a 17-year-old activist
The urgency of the situation makes planning go easier. When you speak up about controversial issues, people are going to listen, and they’re going to put a spotlight on you. And if a junior in high school who has homework, piano lessons, choir, and drama rehearsal can muster the time and energy to organize a massive rally, then there isn’t really an excuse for anyone else.
On the first Sunday in September [a couple of days before President Trump announced that he would end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program], I was reading articles about DACA, and I thought, This community is probably feeling pretty alone right now. So I took it upon myself to organize a rally. I put out a call to action on a Facebook group called Contra Costa Progressives, and in 24 hours, I got connections to street medics, interpreters, folks skilled with accessibility and security, folks who wanted to contribute food, water, snacks. Then I put up a Facebook event page, scheduling the rally for the following Saturday.
I had to do most of the logistical planning during school. A lot of the people who were emailing me to help were from organizations, and they could only talk during their lunch breaks. Which would be right around 11:30, during math class. So I would be like, “Hey, can I go to the bathroom?” Then I’m in a bathroom stall on the phone — “Yeah, so can you bring, like, six cases of water and, like, two cases of granola bars?” At the end of the day, I would go home and do my homework, and the next morning, I would wake up and have a phone call at 7 before class.
Officers from the Oakland PD reached out to me. They sent me emails. They asked for a bunch of details — for a speaker list, the march route. None of which I felt comfortable telling them. I know that if the rally was held, let’s say, five hours later than it was, the police presence would have been different. Organizing it at 2 p.m. was much better than organizing it at 7 p.m. Police police differently with different amounts of daylight.
I’m lucky that I didn’t put my age out there because I don’t know what the response would have been. During the event, people I’d been talking and texting with constantly for the past several days kept coming up and asking me, “Oh, yeah, have you seen Lucy who organized this?”
— Lucy Siale, Concord, Calif., as told to Cameron Bird
hide the fact that you’re high
From a 17-year-old stoner
Make sure you have enough time. If I get high at noon and my parents say, “We’re going to pick you up. Where are you?” I’ll say, “Oh, I’m at this friend’s house” or “I’m doing something right now at the library.” I give myself, like, two hours. A lot of my friends, when they get high, their eyes get really red, so they use eyedrops. But my eyes don’t get red at all. Before my parents pick me up, I normally put on some really shitty cologne that I stole from my brother. My dad bought it for him, and it smells like something a dad would wear. I’ll put it around my neck and on my clothes. When I was growing up, I used to joke all the time, “Oh, I’m high right now,” so most of the time, they’re like, “He’s just being him.”
— Anonymous, Northern California, as told to Eric Benson
build a customer base
From a 17-year-old sock designer
I’d approach the people behind these huge sneakerhead Instagram accounts — these guys with $2,000 shoes and 100,000 followers. I’d go, “Hey, want to join my street team?” I was doing everything I could to get their followers, so I would send these guys as many free socks as they wanted, and they would post them with these really expensive shoes. When you have 30 of these guys, and they’re all wearing the same company, people are like, “OK, this company’s got to actually be legit. I’m going to check that out.” Every DM I get from potential customers — whether it be on Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook — I respond within two to three hours. I get 50 messages a day that say, “Hey, can I get free socks?” And I respond to all of those. I’m not going to give them free stuff, but usually I make a joke. Because there’s one quote I sort of live by in terms of advertising: “People aren’t going to remember you for what you do. People are going to remember you for how you make them feel.”
— Brennan Agranoff, Sherwood, Ore., CEO of HoopSwagg, as told to Eric Benson
cook with a blowtorch
From a 14-year-old chef
I got my first blowtorch for Christmas when I was 10. It was on my list. It’s usually considered just something for desserts, but I’ve cooked whole meals with just a blowtorch. One time, I made sushi where I blowtorched the top of it, and I had bread crumbs on it to make it crispy. What a lot of people think when you’re using a blowtorch is that you’re supposed to touch the fire to the actual item, but you really want the fire to hover above the food. That’s what keeps everything from burning or having a very charred taste. It’s really a great tool to have, especially for kids. What kid doesn’t want to be wielding fire?
— Adam Wadhwani, Sacramento, Calif., MasterChef Junior season five contestant, as told to Eric Benson
From a 19-year-old cryptocurrency tycoon
In 2011, I got a $1,000 check from my grandmother for my scholarship fund, which I put into Bitcoin. (Don’t tell Grandma. She still thinks I’m going to college.) At that time, Bitcoins were valued around $10 to $12 apiece. I had found out about Bitcoin on online political forums. I’m a believer. Digital currency is the future — not just the currency of the future, but the technology of the future.
When I started trying my hand with other cryptocurrencies besides Bitcoin, like Litecoin, I put in $1 and pretended it was $100,000. Then I tried $10 and slowly bumped it up to $1,000, then $10,000. This is the investment strategy I’d recommend for the average high schooler with a part-time job like mowing lawns. Kick in a dollar and see how well you do. Then keep upping the amount to whatever you’re comfortable losing — just enough to make a difference and not enoughto be a drag. Then don’t touch it.
Most market fluctuations are based on feelings. Today I own 403 Bitcoins. Some days they’re worth $1 million and others $2 million. I’m diversified in other cryptocurrencies like Litecoin, Ethereum, and eocoin, and I also own shares in a new decentralized prediction market called STOX. And yes, I also have more traditional stocks and bonds. For those, I just give my money to the bank, put off the management to a boring person at a desk.
What am I going to buy with my earnings? A yacht.
— Erik Finman, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, as told to Jemayel Khawaja
From an overcommitted 17-year-old
I quit tennis after my sophomore year. At the time, I struggled with a lot of self-doubt. I had some lengthy conversations with my teachers about extracurriculars, and I mentioned that I was leaving, and they were like, “That’s not what colleges want to see. They want to see dedication for all four years.” I think that’s completely ridiculous. I value my time, and I value where I put my energy. If I’m stuck and complacent — and I hate being complacent — then I’ll switch it up. Saying no is taboo, at least for high schoolers, but I’ve just been learning how to say no to things, and that’s been keeping me sane. I found Emilie Wapnick’s book, How to Be Everything, and in it she talks about the concept of “multipotentiality,” which is basically when you have multiple passions. And I thought that by quitting things, I was just being flaky or I couldn’t decide or I didn’t really have a passion. But that wasn’t true at all. I just have a lot of things that I want to accomplish.
— Larissa Lim, Santa Monica, Calif., as told to Eric Benson
throw a good dance party
From a 15-year-old DJ
I play a genre of EDM that’s called house, and it has a simple four-by-four beat pattern that just keeps up for the whole song. That’s good for transitions, too. You need to slowly fade out of one song and into the next, and to do that, you need the beats from both songs hitting at the same time. You want to play a lot of songs that kids know. Then they’ll start singing along and start dancing a little more. The Chainsmokers is usually a safe bet for that, and then there are remixes that turn regular songs into EDM— remixes of Justin Bieber, remixes of Kendrick Lamar and Travis Scott, stuff like that. It usually doesn’t take that long for people to get comfortable, like two to three minutes. At the end of the night, if you did it right, everyone’s super sweaty.
— Ian McShane, Portland, Ore., as told to Eric Benson
make a YouTube video that people will watch
from a 16-year-old YouTube star
I like to keep my bloopers instead of editing them all out. It makes the vibe of the video more chill. One blooper that stands out was in my “What’s in My Backpack” video. The first thing I showed was a loaf of bread, and before I took it out, I said, “It’s important to have your priorities in check.” I thought about redoing it because I didn’t want to seem weird, but I kept it in, and I got a great response from it. What keeps my viewers coming back is they feel like they are watching a friend instead of an influencer.
— Ava Jules, Mililani, Hawaii, as told to Eric Benson
power through a long workday
From a 17-year-old app developer
Get rid of as many distractions as possible. I like to make myself comfortable in my seat, I make sure my work area’s clear, I put my phone in a different room, and I eliminate all unnecessary noise, especially music. If I’m working on something less critical, I’ll take hourly breaks. You know, walk around the house a little and maybe get some hot chocolate. I’m not too big a fan of coffee. When I really need to stay up, like during a hackathon, then there’s a drink called Fusion Energy. I’ll have one or two of those. But no matter what I’m working on, no matter what I’m trying to figure out, I force myself to go on a 3- to 4-mile run every single day.
I have a predetermined time for this run: at around 8 p.m. And when I’m running, all I’m doing is thinking. Maybe that is part of the reason why I run at night. After I run, my focus comes back. I can just sit down and work for several hours straight, transforming my vision into reality.
— Michael Royzen, Seattle, developer of Ryde, RecipeReadr, and Voicepedia, as told to Eric Benson
manage your image
From a 16-year-old with four separate Instagram accounts
I think social media is a great way to keep in touch with your friends, but sometimes you don’t want to have to worry about how you’re going to represent yourself publicly. So I have a semiprivate account with 1,000 followers. I’ll accept you if I met you once, even if we’re not close. This sounds superficial, but the pictures on that account are edited and made to look nice.
My second private account has about 100 followers. That’s for people like my classmates — we’ve talked enough for us to get to know each other. I’ll keep people updated on my everyday life, or I’ll post funny memories for a friend’s birthday. I don’t put on a filter, literally — like, no color. And I have an extra-private one that has only seven followers. It’s like a group text in picture format. My last account is for food reviews, and that’s the only one that’s completely open. Even though I think a lot about privacy, I never post anything incriminating. My mom has the passwords to all my accounts.
— Amber Fu, Palo Alto, Calif., as told to Eric Benson