Straight Talk Advice

Best & worst lessons about high school and college

Aug 04, 2015

Rookie freshmen get advice from “old pros”

Dear Straight Talk: I have three grandchildren starting high school and two heading to college. What advice do you have for them? What were your best and worst lessons? —Devoted Reader

Elle 19, Boca Raton, Florida Ask me a question

To both sets of rising freshmen: Step away from the gadgets! I don’t remember the nights of Netflix, YouTube or texting. What did make memories: pushing curfew hiking with friends, flirting with masked strangers at a masquerade, goofing off with professors, blooper-riddled afternoons making short films, late-night pillow talks, getting sunburned climbing a mountain. Have real adventures! Life’s not Neverland, we do grow up and it happens like that.

Samantha 23, Toledo, Ohio Ask me a question

I was a people pleaser. In high school, I followed teacher and parental expectations to be a nurse, loading up on science classes and crushing hard for grades. By college, I knew I hated science, but I couldn’t let anyone down. I was determined to make my mom proud no matter what. Trust me, this doesn’t work. I’ve dropped out of three colleges and still have no idea what I want because I always worried about everyone else. The grandest irony of all: My mom is super proud of me anyway — no matter what! Think how differently things would’ve turned out had I understood that 10 years ago.

Molly 23, Oakland, California Ask me a question

My best advice: Do you. Do what fulfills you, not your parent's dream. I’m not talking about homework, chores, jobs, etc. (these help you), I mean big picture things. Don't be an engineering major because your dad wants you to be. Don’t go to a prestigious college just because you got in. It's your life.

Justin 18, Brentwood, California Ask me a question

For those starting high school, don’t let cliques and peer pressure affect your genuine self. Follow that and the constant drama around drugs, sex and friends is handled. Use school work as a focus. Think about college ahead of time, not last minute — and get help. I did the applications alone and it was incredibly stressful and confusing.

Karlee 18, Bentleyville, Pennsylvania Ask me a question

High school didn’t prepare me for the slap in the face of college red tape. I didn’t even know about the FAFSA. Use your college’s mentor program for a first friend who helps figure everything out. Biggest tip: Do not slack. Yes, social life is important, but get your work done or you’ll be handed your hind end on a platter. Protect yourself. If someone wants to sleep with you immediately, they've probably slept with half of campus. STDs are a real concern. Not every senior boy who gives you a drink is drugging you, but roofies and heroin-laced pot are also very real (you can’t just “jump off” heroin, it derails or kills you). Finally, leave the cliques in high school and be yourself.

Colin 21, Sacramento, California Ask me a question

Ten things your grandkids should know: 1) Every human deserves kindness and basic rights. 2) You can become as addicted to money as to cocaine. 3) The “choices” people make reflect how they’ve been treated. 4) On jury duty, you can refuse to convict someone if you think the law is unfair. 5) Poor countries are kept that way deliberately. 6) The U.S. has overthrown 15 democratically-elected governments since WWII, sometimes imposing evil dictators. 7) We are foolishly close to war with Russia. China will back Russia, not us. 8) Climate disruption will create severe food and water shortages in our lifetime. 9) Top water and carbon-footprint reducer: eating fewer animal products. 10) Humans are naturally cooperative. Until the invention of agriculture 10,000 years ago, for 200,000 years humans shared everything and had no money, government or war.

Dear Devoted: I hope your rookies are helped by these lessons from the “old pros”. My best offering (in 50 words or less): Get each grandchild the life-changing book, “The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter” by Dr. Meg Jay. High schoolers will get a leg up and those leaving the nest will want to kiss you. Also, talk with each one about drugs and alcohol. The free Tufts Parent Handbook explains how.

Editor's Note: Regarding Colin's "Best 10 Things I've Learned", since fear can be a paralyzer rather than a motivator, let me take more than 50 words to tell you about another book that brings hope and real solutions to Colin’s dire warnings.

The book is called “EcoMind: Changing the Way We Think, to Create the World We Want”. To give you an idea of how I feel about this book, I have asked my entire large family: aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, inlaws, outlaws, nieces, nephews, sons and daughters to each read it so we can all discuss it. I promise you, I’ve never before begged for such a thing. The book is by Frances Moore Lappé, who wrote the seminal “Diet for a Small Planet” in 1971. (I was one of her interns in the late ‘80s when she was running "Food First", but that's another story...) A preeminent researcher and thinker her entire adult life, Lappé has written another blockbuster. 

“EcoMind” is a must-read for those who care about the world and wonder how to overcome society’s challenges. The book is organized into “Thought Traps”, which most of us are caught in — and how to get past them into real solutions. I promise you, this book will change reframing seeing the world as an impossible mess into something more hopeful. Here is the table of contents. Recognize any of these?

Thought Trap 1: No-Growth is the Answer
Thought Trap 2: Consumer Society is the Problem
Thought Trap 3: We’ve Hit the Limits of a Finite Earth
Thought Trap 4: We Must Overcome Human Nature to Save the Planet
Thought Trap 5: To Save Our Planet, We have to Override Humanity’s Natural Resistance to Rules
Thought Trap 6: Humans have Lost the Connection to Nature
Thought Trap 7: It’s Too Late!

The Defining Decade” and “EcoMind” are two of the most exciting new books for "getting it right" both personally and globally. —Lauren

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  1. By Nancy, age 19, from Carmichael, California on 08/05/2015

    My advice to all of them is: Don’t worry too much!  When starting both high school and college, I worried myself sick about things that I thought “might” happen, but never did and all the worry was for nothing.  We had just moved when I was starting high school and I was really worried that no one would like me and that I wouldn’t be able to make any friends as I’ve always been shy.  However, I made friends the first week with girls who still remain good friends today.  I’ve always been very modest about my body and wasn’t used to undressing in front of anyone but my sister with whom I’d always shared a room.  I was therefore really scared about having to change in the locker room and take showers.  However, it only took a short time to get comfortable changing in front of the other girls, and I realized it was nothing to worry about since we were all the same.  They didn’t even make you take showers if you didn’t want to, unlike what I had heard.  However, when the hot weather hit in the spring, I decided that I actually wanted to take showers and wash away the sweat and smell and realized that it would be stupid not to shower in the hot weather.  I was already used to undressing down to my thong in front of everybody, so it was no big deal to go one step further and take off my thong and take a shower.  Nobody was ever the least bit interested in looking at my privates in the shower, and since we all had the same privates, it didn’t matter of other girls saw mine anyway.

    I also really worried when I was about to go away to college.  I had heard the horror stories about dorms and “roommates from hell” like those written about in last week’s column, so I was really worried.  However, my dorm wasn’t like that at all.  Things weren’t perfect, but nothing like what I read in the column.  Everyone was really nice, and the worst that I ever saw happen that girls who weren’t used to drinking alcohol would get sick at a party and vomit in the bathroom.  It happened to me once, but I got so sick that I knew it wasn’t worth it and I never let it happen again.  Despite my worries, my roommate was very nice and we became good friends and will be roommates again next year.  It only took about a week to become just as comfortable with undressing and nudity in front of her as it had always been with my own sister.  I really wonder if the horror stories about dorms and roommates are that common.  Those who have horror stories to tell are more likely to write than those who do not have problem, as there’s really no reason to write if nothing is wrong.

    Anyway, based on my experience, the best advice is not to worry about things that may never even happen.  If a problem arises, deal with it then, but don’t get upset ahead of time about something that hasn’t happened and likely never will.


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    1. By Melanie, age 14, from Santa Ana, CA on 08/06/2015

      I’m starting high school in just a couple of weeks and am having similar anxiety about the locker room and showers, so it’s good to hear from someone else who survived it.  But I’m still very nervous. I don’t have a problem with undressing and nudity in intimate private situations like with my sister in our room that we share or with close friends during sleepovers and slumber parties.  But the idea of having to undress and even take showers completely naked in front of everybody really scares me.  And my sister whose going to be a sophomore says that the freshman gym teacher is very strict about making everybody take a shower every day, even in the cold weather when nobody’s even sweating!  She says its her responsibility to ensure proper hygiene and carefully checks to make sure that everybody’s taking a shower.  Rumor has it that she’s gay and just does it so she has an excuse to watch everybody in the showers.  I don’t know if that’s true or not and I don’t really even care, I’m just very nervous about it.  My sister says the showers are communal with no privacy at all, so I’d better get ready to deal with it.  Like you, she says that you get used to it in a short time and its no big deal and nobody’s interested in looking at you anyway and it doesn’t really matter anyway since your all the same.  I keep telling myself these things, but it doesn’t really help me that much and I’m still really scared.


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      1. By Vickie, age 16, from Salinas, CA on 08/06/2015


        You will survive it.  I survived it and if I can anybody can!  I felt exactly like you.  I had no problem with undressing and nudity with my sisters, my girlfriends, or my mom, but I couldn’t stand the thought of changing and taking showers nude in front of everyone with no privacy.  I was (and still am) overweight and was sure that everyone would laugh at my body when I was naked with them in the showers.  However, it turned out that the old saying “there is nothing to fear but fear itself” was true.  The fear of this turned out to be much, much worse than actually doing it!  As both Nancy and your sister say, nobody even cared about looking at me and nobody made fun of my body.  I also could see that I wasn’t the only one whose body wasn’t perfect by any means.  After a few months, it was not problem at all and I now don’t give it a second thought that other girls who are the same as me are seeing me nude.  What is there to worry about?

        This may not be much help to you as hearing things like this from my sister and others wasn’t any help to me and I was still just as scared as it sounds like you are.  You’re just going to have to go through it, but I think you’ll find that it’s not nearly as bad as you’re thinking.



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  2. By Holly, age 16, from Lodi, California, U.S. on 08/07/2015

    I agree with Nancy’s advice about don’t worry too much.  I also agree with Vickie that being told that probably isn’t going to be that much help and that you just have to go through the things you are worried about and find our for yourself.  Being told not to worry didn’t help me, but as Nancy says the things I worried about so much didn’t turn out to be so bad after all.  Now my little sister is about to start middle school and is worrying herself sick about everything.  She’s especially freaking out about the issue of undressing and taking showers in the locker room which appears to be a very common theme and worry for teenage girls.  Ever since she started puberty, she won’t let anybody see her naked or even in her underwear except for me since I’m her big sister who she shares a room with.  She won’t even let our mom see her naked which I find really hard to understand.  I was also sensitive about my body when I started puberty, but I was still comfortable with my mom seeing me and was glad that I could let her see the changes in my body and assure me that everything was normal.  I’ve tried to do the same for my sister, since I’m the only one she’ll let see her naked and see the changes in her body. 

    I’ve tried to tell her that I went through the undressing and communal showers issue and it was no big deal.  However, it hasn’t helped her and she’s still freaking out about it.  I think she’ll just have to go through it like Vickie says and find out for herself, but I really wish I could help her as I can see how upset she is about this.


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    1. By LAUREN, from on 08/15/2015

      Holly and Melanie—We have done several columns on this. The most recent is here:

      Others can be found in our Search by Topic list under Sex, then Nudity.

      Many thanks to Nancy and Vicki for sharing your experiences. These teach more than anything!—Love, Lauren

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  3. By Amy, age 42, from Toledo, OH on 08/08/2015

    I think the best advice is to avoid peer pressure.  I have 2 teenage daughters who are in high school and there is tremendous peer pressure to engage in dangerous and unhealthy activities such and drug, alcohol, and tobacco use and sexual activity.  So far my daughters have resisted the peer pressure, and I sincerely hope that this continues.  However, I have friends and relatives whose teenage children have given into peer pressure and gotten into serious trouble.  I have seen cases of kids as young as 15 and 16 having to go into drug and/or alcohol rehabilitation and getting pregnant and having sexually transmitted diseases at such young ages, primarily due to peer pressure.

    According to my daughters, there is also great peer pressure among teenage girls to wax their pudenda, something my daughters do not care to do.  Despite what others have said about girls not paying attention to others nudity, girls do notice when others do not wax when they see each other nude in situations such as the locker room showers and sleepovers and slumber parties and those who do not wax are made fun of.  They share their room with their stepsister during visitations so they all undress in front of one another and see each other nude.  They say that their stepsister who is only 14 is already waxing as well as wearing body jewelry on her pudenda and nipples!  She acts as if this somehow makes her superior to them.  I would never allow my daughters to do this at such a young age and wonder if her mother even knows.  However, I don’t think it is my place to talk to my husband’s ex-wife about it.  I have told my husband, but he just shrugs it off and says that all the kids are probably doing it these days and his daughter is too old for him to be talking to her about her intimate body parts and that it is up to her mother to deal with such matters, but he does not intend to discuss it with her either.

    I really think that peer pressure is the root of many (probably most) of the problems that teenagers face these days.  I’m just glad that my daughters have been able to avoid it for the most part so far and am keeping my finders crossed.


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    1. By R.C., age 17, from Petaluma, California on 08/09/2015

      My younger sister who is 16 is also under peer pressure to wear body jewelry on her breasts and pudendum.  One girl in the group she hangs out with is very forceful and has become the leader and thinks everyone has to do what she does or they’re just not “in” and ostracizes anyone who doesn’t follow her lead. My sister doesn’t really want to do it, but doesn’t want to be different and be on the “outs’ with the others when they see her nude at sleepovers and slumber parties and the other girls are starting to go along. 

      I see nothing wrong with waxing and do it myself and help my sister do it.  Some of my friends whom I’ve seen nude wax and some don’t and I believe that it is one’s own personal business, and I would never put someone down because they don’t wax just because I do.  However, getting the private parts of one’s body pierced and wearing jewelry there is a different story.  I would never do it and I have never seen any of my friends whom I’ve seen nude doing it either.  My sister knows that our mom would never sign the consent form that is required to have it done legally since she’s a minor, so she isn’t even going to bother to ask.  However, the girl who is pushing everyone to do it found someone who will do it on the black market and do it cheaply.  I think it would be very dangerous to have a cheap black market job done and have told her so, but she’s seriously considering it. As sisters who share a room we see each other nude every day, but our mom never sees us this way even though we wouldn’t really care if she saw us, but she avoids coming in our room when we’re undressed.  Therefore, our mom won’t know if she does this unless I tell her and am torn as to whether or not I should if she decides to go forward.  A friend of hers who spent the night in our room recently was very proud to strip and show us her body jewelry.  I was NOT impressed and thought it looked stupid and slutty and told her so. She really acted hurt, but she showed us and asked us what we thought and I was just honest.

      I don’t really want to see my sister do this, but I’m not sure if I should just let it be her business or tell our mom what is going on.


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      1. By Sue, age 17, from Auburn, CA on 08/09/2015


        You have to stop your sister from doing this before it’s too late!  This is very dangerous.  My sister got a very serious infection from a black market piercing of her vulva that she did due to peer pressure.  As with you we share a room and see each other naked so I knew about it, but our mom didn’t know until it was too late.  When she got the infection, she had no choice but to tell our mom, and then both of us were in big trouble and received long term grounding.  Her for doing it, and me for knowing about it and not telling.  Against my better judgment, I had decided to let her make her own decision so I didn’t tell. 

        If I had it to do over again, I would have told her in advance that if she went ahead and did it, I would tell our mom and make sure that she knew that I meant it.  I really think that this would have stopped her.  This is what I recommend that you do, and if she complies your mom will never have to know that she was about to do it.  This girl who appears to be “leader of the pack” sounds like bad, bad, news, and if your sister’s refusal to go along with her gets her kicked out of the group she will be much better off in the long run.  Most girls I know don’t do this, so she should be able to find another group of friends who do not engage in dangerous behavior such as this.


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      2. By LAUREN, from on 08/15/2015

        R.C.—I couldn’t agree with Sue more. I like Sue’s idea to say that if she does it you will tell… and make sure she knows you are entirely serious. I do not recommend justifying WHY you will tell even though there are many reasons (such as the chance of infection, which is very real—thank you Sue for writing in with your experience—and many emotional drawbacks such as feeling the need to “show off” the jewelry and thus expose oneself prematurely to judgment, further objectification of sacred body parts (including self-objectification), and to those who will make assumptions and take advantage of her). You can tell her these reasons, do not let them be a source of argument as if your telling is up for debate. Just say you WILL tell no matter what and that’s that.—Love, Lauren

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