Right now a lot of kids in the US are gearing up for school or have started already. Even if it’s the middle of the school year when you listen to this, I want to share my best advice for back to school that can help all year long!
My first piece of advice has to do with icebergs. I read that 85% of an iceberg is below the surface, which is why we have the expression, “just the tip of the iceberg,” because there’s so much that we can’t see. Now I want you to consider how people, like your classmates, are like icebergs: we can see a portion of their life and who they are, but there’s always way more to them we don’t know about–more stuff going on below the surface. So if you feel like you’re the only one who’s awkward, insecure, stressed, lonely, anxious, or sad because you don’t see anyone else experiencing it, please know that you are definitely not the only one, and not like misery loves company, but I think it’s reassuring to know that others share your feelings. Circumstances may be different, but everyone is struggling with something. Life may look perfect on the outside–all smiles, a bunch of friends, trendy clothes, success, awards, etc. but you can’t see what’s weighing them down, what’s keeping them up at night, what thoughts won’t go away, what they wish they had more of in their life. So please remember, people are iceberg.
Which leads me to my second point, as author Ian MacLaren is attributed saying, “Be kind; everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” Think of a time someone was kind to you and how it made you feel. Maybe it was something small, maybe it turned your bad day better, maybe it came right when you needed to feel like someone cared. You will never regret being more kind, only less. Behavior can be contagious, for example, a kid bumps you in the hallway and keeps walking, you’re all caught up feeling mad about it and you don’t hold the door for someone, then they feel upset about that and slam their books on the desk, which scares your teacher who was already in a bad mood so she starts class all grumpy, etc. But kindness can be contagious, too. Instead, you shrug off the hallway bump and hold the door open for a student, then they feel good and help pick up someone’s books off the floor, which your teacher notices and she starts class in a good mood, etc. And all of those people had icebergs of other things going on in their lives, but acts of kindness mean way more to people than you realize and makes a difference in how they carry their icebergs. So like the quote I have hanging in my house says, “Throw kindness around like confetti.” I’ve got some more kindness quotes for you, too:
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou, writer and civil rights activist
“Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.” – Marlene Dietrich, actress and singer
“The really fantastic thing about kindness is that it’s free. It’s the best resource that we have because you can give and give and receive kindness, and the well of it inside of you will never dry out.” – Lady Gaga, singer/songwriter, actress, and activist
“How lovely that everyone, great and small, can make a contribution toward introducing justice straightaway. And you can always, always give something, even if it is only kindness!” – Anne Frank, writer and Jewish victim of the Holocaust
“There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.” – Edith Wharton, writer and designer
Finally, Speak up. Girls. Voices. Need. To. Be. Heard. Around middle school age, girls often become less sure about themselves, whereas boys that age tend to stay assertive. What you girls have to say matters, whether it’s answering a question in class, offering your opinion to friends, or sharing your concerns with your family or a teacher. People need to hear your voice–and you do, too. The more you speak up, the more comfortable you’ll feel doing it. If you’re shy or afraid to say something and need some motivation, I’ve got some quotes for you:
“It took me quite a long time to develop a voice, and now that I have it, I am not going to be silent.” – Madeleine K. Albright, the first female US Secretary of State
“When we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard nor welcomed, but when we are silent we are still afraid, so it is better to speak.” – Audre Lorde, writer and civil rights activist
“Women [and girls] speaking up for themselves and for those around them is the strongest force we have to change the world.” – Melinda Gates, philanthropist, computer scientist, and general manager at Microsoft
“Speak your mind – even if your voice shakes.” – Maggie Kuhn, activist and founder of the Gray Panthers movement
And finally, from the wise Elyse Meyers, “Do it scared.”
Speaking up will get easier, it’s like building a muscle, and you will grow more confident doing it. Raise your hand. Say Hi to a student you don’t know. Tell someone how you feel. Talk to an adult you trust. And if someone won’t listen, don’t be silenced. Your voice matters. Keep sharing it. You deserve to be heard and respected; everyone does.
There you go, that’s my back to school advice. People are icebergs. Be kind. Speak up.
To help you remember all of this, I created a “Back to school advice” poster for you to print out, personalize, and post on your wall where you’ll see it, remember it, practice it, and believe it — that’s the important part.
You may also want to check out:
The Power of One: Every Act of Kindness Counts, by Trudy Ludwig
The Invisible Boy, by Trudy Ludwig
Be Kind, by Pat Zietlow Miller
Raise Your Hand, by Alice Paul Tapper
Stargirl, by Jerry Spinelli
Wonder, by R.J. PalacioWhite Bird, by R.J. Palacio
Kindness is Contagious
The Princess Diaries
White Bird, coming October 2022
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