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The UnCollege Blog

Why Your Teens Matter (And How to Make the Most of Them)

While teenage life is undoubtedly erratic and emotionally-loaded, it doesn’t give adults the right to discount teenagers’ potential. Neither should teens underestimate themselves. Teens don’t know everything, but adolescence is a crucial period of brain development, and one of the biggest learning curves we experience throughout our lives. The teen years matter, and it is possible to channel the adolescent learning curve to make what you do during your teens count.

“The capacity of a person to learn will never be greater than during adolescence”: We can’t underestimate the power of this. If our brains are primed for learning during the teenage years, then the feelings, experiences, and ideas of teens matter; they aren’t throw-away years. When thinking about how to make the most of your teens, advice usually falls under doing well in school, staying out of trouble, and working toward your goals. There are far more specific ways that young adults can harness their innovation, ideas, and learning toward a positive end game, cementing habits that can lead to successful adulthood.

Read Often

It isn’t unusual for reading to be aligned with homework, something teens aren’t exactly jumping to do at the end of an exhausting school day. However, don’t just read the books you have to, read the books you want to: Yes, the literature we’re reading in English class builds vocabulary, reasoning skills, and the expansion of emotional range, among other things, but seeking out authors, books, and stories you’re genuinely interested in actually encourages an interest in reading. Reading improves memory, reduces stress, and promotes imagination, all of which are tied to innovation and a deepened understanding of the world. Don’t just read one book, or one author: Read articles from various sources, read blogs, read how-to books. Prior to the surge of the Internet and technology, creative minds spent ample time indulging themselves in the written word—it was a way of increasing knowledge. Now, because access to almost anything we want to know is just a click and scroll away, we should be reading more, not less.

So why should you read? You should read, above all, because it promotes curiosity. You should be curious throughout your life, but especially when you’re young: Experiences you have in your teen years affect the rest of your life, but the knowledge and skills you’ve gained during this time stay with you, too. Reading is one of the best (and simplest) ways to understand new skills and stimulate your curiosity.

Find Your Passion

The old stereotype: Find what you love, and do it. That seems too simple, right? While venturing out on a crusade to find your passion might sound far-fetched, there are practical ways to discover where your interests, talents, and ideas for your future intersect. There’s something important to note here: Despite what the pressure surrounding college decisions tells you, you don’t have to decide your entire life as a teenager. Not only is it almost impossible (because your interests will likely shift as you develop new ones), but it adds unnecessary pressure. Your teen years are a time of discovery, so use that to your fullest advantage!

Think about the things you like to do even when you don’t have to do them: Is it writing? Working on computers? Taking things apart? Helping your friends solve problems? Sometimes, talent isn’t the most obvious thing—it is the thing you spend time doing without realizing it. Passion tends to sit there, too, so take a look at what those things are for you.

Step Back From The Social Scene

Something great innovators like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Elon Musk had in common? They spent ample time alone. You should have a social life, because it exposes you to people whose experiences or ideas may be different than you own. However, a fantastic habit you can cultivate in your teen years is learning to spend time solo. That alone is a tall order: Between the usual seven hours of school, extra-curricular activities, and family time, try to carve out an hour alone to do something that matters to you. High school comes with a hefty dose of social pressure, and when you break from the herd mentality, it gives you space for recharging, personal discovery, and developing your own views.

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