If you learn only one thing from these Web pages, it should be that I don't know anything. What I mean is that I don't know anything compared to what there is to know. Neither do you, and you and I never will. Fortunately, knowing stuff isn't the most important thing. It's much more important to know how to think and how to learn. If you do it right, you'll be doing it all your life, so start early and practice hard.
This idea can be applied almost everywhere in life, and is closely related to one of the things that has helped me out more times than I can even count: looking at both sides of everything if you can. Like a coin has two sides, so do people's opinions and actions. Loud, soft. Tall, short. Awesome, so-so. Forever, an instant. Best friend, worst enemy. You get the idea. Somewhere in between each of these extremes is the "nothing too much" zone. That's where most of these pages will take you. Of course, that means that if we look at both sides of a lot of things, you are going to have to make up your own mind and decide for yourself what's right for you. If I were to just tell you what's "right", that would only be one side. That's not how we're going to do it here. It's too easy, and wouldn't help you anyway.
Note carefully that the "moderation" we're talking about here isn't the same as "mediocrity". (Mediocrity is when you do just enough to get by; the opposite is greatness.) Tiger Woods focused on golf from about age 4, but he would probably tell you that balance -- including other activities, considering options, being flexible -- is what really made him great.
It helps to have the attitude that you'll try anything once. That doesn't mean you should try everything, of course. If something's going to kill you, don't try it. If something's sure to get you put in jail, don't try it. But if you haven't tried something, it's not fair (or wise) to try and convince yourself and others that you don't like it. You can say you don't want to try it. Fine. Lots of people make those decisions throughout their lives, for lots of different reasons, some good, some not so good. But you cannot know whether you like something or not if you haven't tried it.
Take dancing, for example. Not the kind you do at a school party, but the kind people do on the stage, with fancy music. A lot of boys who may not know how to think for themselves might say right off that they don't like dancing. But some boys, and girls of course, find out that they do like dancing, and they spend their careers making tons of money doing it. It's fair to say you don't want to learn how to dance, whatever your reasons are, but believing that you don't like it when you haven't tried it will limit your options and make you narrow.
Whenever something happens to you or around you, or anyone says anything to you, expects anything of you, or shuts you out of any activity, think about it, and decide how you feel about it. That doesn't mean you'll always share those feelings. Sharing feelings is great, and you should do it whenever you can, but sometimes it can get you in trouble. But just thinking and deciding for yourself what you think is always safe. It's one of the few rights we all have that no-one can take away from us. It's also one of those things that, if you don't use it you'll lose it.
In general, my advice to you is this. Get to know yourself first. Take things apart, and then put them back together to see how they work. Start with your bike, though, not your television set. Cook a meal for yourself and maybe for your whole family. Go to an art museum and giggle at the naked women (and men) in the paintings. Find real, alive role models in your life, ask them lots of questions and tell them about what you think, too. Superheroes and plastic action figures may be fun, but the're not people. Make and keep friends that are worth keeping. Make friends with people that are different from you, as well as those who are similar: different ages, other sex (there is only one other than yours, you know!), different cultures, different looking -- variety is the spice of life. Don't ever worry about getting close and personal with your friends once you feel you can trust them, even though you could get hurt. Let's be honest, you will be hurt sometimes, but if you worry about getting close to avoid getting hurt, you may not be happy either. Share your feelings, fears, joys, disappointments and successes, as well as your plans and dreams.
You no doubt know by now that you're on the front edge of adolescence. The word literally means "becoming adult". This time of life is scary for a lot of people, and I'm not talking about you or other adolescents -- I mean the people around you, both younger and older. Time and time again we hear parents and grandparents looking at younger children and saying, "I just wish they could stay like this forever". And younger kids will inevitably be worried (and jealous and frustrated) because you will be changing, hopefully getting more responsibility and privileges, and simply getting bigger. Little kids sometimes worry that bigger kids will stomp on them. (And sometimes they do, as you probably know already.)
For you, on the other hand, scared is just one of the things you will feel as you move into and through adolescence. You will also be excited, awestruck, confused and sometimes thrilled. I've seen most of the stages of life now, in myself and in others, and there is no question in my mind that adolescence is the most significant decade of all. The first five years of life is when you learn all the basic stuff such as talking, moving your arms and legs with some degree of control, reading, using the toilet, and how to control and use emotions such as fear, joy, anger, surprise and humor. Those things are important, all right. They are the basic tools of the human animal.
At adolescence, or more precisely, at puberty humans begin to add other layers onto the basic animal that aren't fully possible before. We move into a type of existence that, as far as we know, the other animals don't experience. Technically, it's referred to as "abstract thinking" or even more technically, "formal operations". Those terms aren't important right now. The idea here is that we begin to be able to think about ourselves and our place in the world in ways that go way beond just where our next meal is coming from, or how to stay safe in the jungle. We can create art and music, and we can appreciate or hate the art and music that other people create. We can design and build skyscrapers and parks and highways that many people can use, not just for our own convenience. And we can love, and be loved in uniquely human ways.
This brings me to the one and only important paragraph in this whole set of Web pages: The process of developing ourselves as what we might call "higher humans" -- that's not my term; I borrowed it from the philosopher Nietzsche (pronounced NEET-chee) -- must be a lifelong process. I visualize adolescence as a spark that lights the fire of the rest of our lives. We must not lose that spirit, that growing, that spark of adolescence no matter how old we get.
Two wise quotations will help me make the point.
I once knew a jazz musician and music producer, who died too young I'm sorry to say. On the wall in his recording studio was a plaque that said,
That's true far too often, but it doesn't have to be true for everyone. Some people keep the spark alive. I try to, and I trust you will, too.
I'll explain more as we go along, but let me tell you up front that being a boy today is not easy. Being a successful person growing up has never been particularly easy, and probably shouldn't be, but until recently being a boy wasn't a drawback in itself. Changes in society, mostly due to the fact that the world is now dominated by communication media that weren't here before -- television, the internet, voice and video communication between individuals, for example -- have made some fundamental changes in what it means to be a person in the world today, and boys are having a particularly tough time.
The first one is around age 8, give or take a year or so because everyone develops at a different rate. That's when your brain develops enough to begin thinking in ways that you couldn't use before. You begin to see and understand how the world around you works, where all you did when you were five was run around and bump into the furniture and pick your nose. You probably still do those things, but now you're "aware" that you're doing it. That's oversimplified, of course, but then you can always read and learn more about it later.
The second turning point is a little more obvious. It's actually a lot of changes happening at the same time, but we generally refer to it with the physiological term "puberty". I'm sure you've heard about it: getting taller overnight, growing hair and maybe acne (pimples) in previously-smooth places, and sounding all of a sudden like your uncle, instead of your baby cousin. Those are the obvious changes that happen, but puberty actually starts quietly about a year before those other things appear. For boys, that's right about age 11 -- again, give or take a year or so, since everyone develops at a different rate. (Whatever you do, remember that "different rate" thing. There's nothing you can do to change it. Besides, if you're developing late, there's always someone later than you, and if you're singing baritone at age 10, there's a nine-year-old somewhere doing the same thing.)
This leads me again to one of the central points, maybe even the most important one, of this whole essay: I believe that the end of childhood and the beginning of adolescence is the most significant event in all of a person's life. You start out as an embryo (an egg and a sperm get together), then you become a baby, then a child, then an adult. And that's where you stay -- as an adult -- for the rest of this life. That's the goal of development in the first two decades of life, and you begin that final morph about where you are right now: Age 11. And where does it end? It never should, even if you live to be 110.
You see the world in a whole new light. If you'd like to read a master writer's vision of this stage of development, get your hands on Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine. (Actually, many of Ray Bradbury's books and short stories deal brilliantly with this theme.) When you are around this age, like the characters in Dandelion Wine, all of a sudden you really see the world around you, and yourself in the center of it. Somehow, the light (of life) is turned on and your visibility seems infinite, where before you could hardly see past your front door. You explore, dream, even love in a way you didn't before.
HOLD UP. APPLY THE BRAKES. Don't go any further without seriously considering this warning: if you're not careful, very careful, the process of growing up and becoming an adult in this society will take back everything mentioned in the last paragraph, and more. Dandelion Wine will show you that, too. Another expression of this idea is in an obscure song called "In the Wind", which I heard only once, on television in 1970. One of the lines of the song says:
Apparently, the notion of "Growing up and giving in" is also used at the end of "Mr Chainsaw", an Alk3 (Alkaline Trio) song. The idea is developed much more fully, and darkly, in William Butler's 1961 novel The Butterfly Revolution. 13-year-old Winston Weyn, one of the central characters in the book, puts it this way:
Wherever the notion of "growing up means giving in" appears, I take it not as a "given", but as a warning: it doesn't have to be that way.
If I have only one goal in life -- all right, two goals -- they are to 1) make sure I never lose the light, the ability to explore, dream and love that I learned as a youth, and 2) make sure that I do something to help others keep theirs, too.
My term for this is "the spark of adolescence". It's more like gold, really.
A simile (that's SI-mi-lee, not smile) is like a metaphor. When I'm explaining things I often make comparisons with other things, to help people (including myself) understand what I mean. A statement that compares one thing to another is called a "simile". Here's an example: "My little sister eats like a bird. (Yeah, like a vulture.)" That gives you a picture of what you're saying, instead of just the basic information that "My little sister eats a lot."
A "metaphor" is a little more sophisticated, perhaps, and sometimes even more effective. This is when you don't use the words "like" or "as" to make a comparison, you just describe the person or thing in made-up way, and say it as if it's actual fact. It's not a lie, because most people can recognize a metaphor when they hear one. For example, if you're at an amusement park and haven't had any popcorn for an hour or so, you might say, "Let's eat, I'm starving". Everyone knows you're not starving and probably would survive several days longer, as long as you had some water, but they get the point and you go get hot dogs. That's a metaphor.
I like these devices because they make it easier for me to get my ideas across. Without them, my writing and conversations seem pretty dull, even to me, so I'll use them as we go along.
Latin and Greek I had the good fortune to study Latin in High School and College. I learned much more about English in my Latin classes than I ever learned in English class. For this reason, I sometimes throw in Latin terms, or even Greek words to explain what I'm trying to say. DON'T worry about learning these words. I'll explain them when I use them, and then you can just forget about them after that if you want. Same for technical terms from psychology and medicine. I don't always write to 11 year olds. A lot of what I write is for other psychologists and social scientists who are studying, or want to study, the same things I'm studying. I apologize in advance. I'm not trying to impress you with big words. I just can't help myself sometimes.
Movies and books. Sometimes the characters and scenes in movies, television shows or books are perfect examples of things we might want to talk about. If I'm trying to express how difficult, yet necessary, it is to go out in the world and find your way as you grow up, it helps to be able to suggest you watch Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999), where Anakin Skywalker, played by the actor Jake Lloyd, does just that. Anakin's home and the world he goes out into isn't the same as yours, of course, but his human feelings and reactions are very similar, and we can learn from that.
I will refer to scenes like this from films and books, and I will try to use examples that you should be able to find in libraries and video stores, or even on the internet. I can't promise to use only recent films and books -- I've been watching and reading since the early 1950s, and some of my favorite films were made even before I was born -- but I'll try not to stump you with books that only had 200 copies printed or films that only film historians know about.
Keep in mind, though, as I mentioned in the introduction above, while the characters in movies, television and books, and even video games, are fun to watch and seem like good examples of how people react and think, real humans are much better role-models, and you're doing yourself a favor if you get to know, trust and love actual people in your home and community.
Quotes from wise people. When I was working at a summer camp as a teenager, Wes, one of the camp directors, showed me a notebook of quotations that he had been collecting during his life. When he would find a passage in a book that meant something to him, or hear someone speak words that expressed an idea particularly well, he would copy the quote into his notebook and save it. I took his example, and started doing the same thing.
There's another set of selected quotations on my
"advice for 15-year-olds" page.
If you'd like to read those, click here
(Click "Back" on your browser window
when you want to continue reading this page.)
Maybe you could start collecting quotes, too. I encourage you to do that.
I want to thank that camp director for suggesting that I start my own collection of quotes. Whenever I go into my notebook and read them, I feel like I've really got a treasure of ideas to remind me of what's important.
Two sides, no waiting. Sometimes it's better for me to let you solve a problem than for me to tell you what I think the answer is. Even when I do tell you what I think, maybe that's not the way you would think about it, and you should always make up your own mind. When I say "problem", I mean that once we get going, you'll be reading about things that people do, or say, or think that not everyone agrees with. I'll even be throwing in some things that I don't agree with. This isn't school. The idea here is not for you to read what I say, and memorize it, and then have recess. That's Math or English or Science.
Here the idea is for you and I both to do some thinking. Little kids, say third-graders (8-year-olds), don't solve thinking problems in their heads very well, no matter how intelligent they are. On the other hand, you're old enough that you should be doing just fine figuring things out for yourself. Of course, you'll be wrong sometimes, but you can change your mind if you need to. Just remember that when you figure something out, or change your mind about something, you have reasons for making your decisions that you have given some thought to. Taking someone's word for something, without thinking about it yourself, isn't figuring it out. And changing your mind for the wrong reasons, like fear or trying to be like everyone else or because it just makes things easier, can be a big mistake.
So, what I'm saying is that I'm going to leave some questions unanswered, and trust that you'll figure them out for yourself. No rush. You should have plenty of time, and you should take your time.
Summaries. Since this is not a one-page essay, it might seem a little complicated sometimes. Again, as much for me as for you, I like to stop every now and then to summarize what I've been saying -- sort of boil it all down and give just the highlights. Let's try it. Here's the summary of this section that you've just read:
Suffering is not all bad. Walt Disney (1901-1966) has been quoted as saying, "All the adversity I've had in my life, all my troubles and obstacles, have strengthened me. You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you."
No-one wants to suffer, and no-one wants you to suffer. Strangely enough, though, the idea that suffering makes us better human beings comes up over and over again in people's life stories told by them (autobiographical) or others (biographical). Of course it's probably not so much the suffering itself that makes us better, but how we get through it and what we learn from it.
Suffering can make you feel like giving up. Don't let it do that to you. Lots of people have been beaten by a difficult life, and lots more have used their bad circumstances to their advantage, as motivation to get up and get past it. There is an old saying, which is both absurd and brilliant at the same time:
If you take it literally, it's absurd. What about tragic diseases like multiple sclerosis, or accidents or war that leaves you alive, but disabled? You're not stronger there.
But if you read it more like advice, and take it figuratively, it says that when you overcome obstacles that could defeat you, you're better prepared for the next challenge. It really does work that way.
Maybe the way Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961) put it in his book A Farewell to Arms (1929, Chapter 34) is a better way to say it:
(Of course, there's more to that quote, which you can see in my selection of quotations for this Web page. Or, you can always read Hemingway's book!)
The Russian author Alexander Solzhenitzyn (1918-2008) reportedly commented when he was released from 8 years imprisonment and exile, "A hard life improves the vision." (Of course, he probably said it in Russian!)
The "easy way out" might leave you outside. I'm tempted all the time to do things the easy way, and I often do. But sometimes, I realize that certain things in life deserve to be done right. That usually means the hard way. Once in a great while, I even decide to do some things the hard way, just to stay in practice. Some call that "stupidity", but those who know better call it "self-discipline".
Here's my comparison (analogy) to explain this a little better. It's really just a variation on the tale of "The Three Little Pigs". (There's a lot of good advice in fairy tales. That's why they exist, actually.)
Let's say you're going to build a street-luge racer, but you want to get it done quickly so you can spend most of the weekend doing something else. So, you get some boards from a trash dumpster in back of a construction site (if it's really trash, it's not stealing), and you buy some cheap wheels from Home Depot, and nail it together. Two weeks later, you use it for a day and a half, and it falls apart when you hit the curb the first time. (For God's sake, wear a helmet!).
Now consider doing it the hard way, and see what the difference might be. You get the same wood from the dumpster, and you sand it down smooth and make sure the boards fit snugly together. Then, when you go to Home Depot, you not only get some wheels, but you get some metal braces to screw into the bottom and some strong fabric to use as seat belts, and some kind of pads or rubber to attach as bumpers. Two weeks later, and six months later, you're still hitting the curb, but the vehicle stays together for the next ride. (Still, be sure you wear a helmet.)
This idea works for building stuff, and also for things like studying, making friends, painting (fences or portraits!), sports, and keeping your room clean.
Touch other people. This is difficult advice to give a boy, for several reasons. You hear a lot about not letting people touch you in ways, and in places on your body, that make you uncomfortable. That's good advice: if you don't like it, don't allow it! Besides that, boys often go through a stage when any touching, especially by men, makes them feel weird, like a sissy perhaps. "Big boys don't hug their dads." That kind of thing. When that attitude takes over, it's really unfortunate, and you're the one who loses out.
Human beings need and want and like to touch and to be touched, and this need stays with us throughout life. Orphanage workers in the early 20th Century were puzzled why some of their babies were dying for no apparent reason. They found out that it was because no-one was picking them up and holding them, like people would in a regular home. When nurses or other orphanage workers started picking the kids up, rocking them to sleep, talking and singing to them, they did fine. Many other studies have shown how important the touch of another human being is at any stage of life.
You might think you're too young to shake hands with people like the men and women in your community do. You're not. It's not a bad way of making contact -- literally -- with other people you don't know very well. When you get to know people better, and certainly with people in your family and good family friends that you like and trust, hugs and even kisses -- OK, on the cheek -- can make you feel very warm and happy, and probably even make your relationships with those people closer.
You hug and kiss all the time when you're a rugrat, and you most likely will again when you get to be a senior citizen -- at least I hope you will. Why not keep the appropriate hugging and kissing going throughout your life? You don't have to get sloppy about it, but you shouldn't stop completely, either, just because it feels a little weird once you start growing up.
Try this. If good friends of any age visit your home, or you visit them, and they want to hug or kiss you, or you want to hug or kiss them, go ahead and do it. And if you feel like hugging or kissing anyone in your family, just do it. But if your Auntie comes over for her annual visit and starts pinching your cheeks, that's another story.
Oh yes, one more thing. Don't go around hugging and kissing everybody. Some people like to be hugged, some don't, and some will let you know if they like it or don't like it, and some won't. You just have to "play it by ear" and figure it out. Safe bet: don't try to hug the bully at school, whether it's a girl or a boy.
Practice your deep voice. When your voice changes -- maybe it has already -- spend some time every now and then reading out loud, or otherwise speaking out loud, and make your voice sound as low as you can go. Try and sound like an announcer on television. It doesn't matter what you say, but you should probably do this out in the woods if you can, or in your room with the door closed. Other people who overhear might not understand.
The reason for doing this is to get some "resonance" in your voice. You wouldn't talk like this all the time, but it helps you find the fullest voice that you've got. I admit that this is one of those things I just have a hunch about. I don't know of anyone who's ever done any research on whether this helps, but I truly believe it helped me. When I was about 30, I joined a community singing group, and developed my singing voice. After a few years, I noticed that people began to pay more attention to what I said at work and in my social life. I think it was because there was a difference, just a little, in my speaking voice that made me sound a little smoother and fuller -- or maybe just a little less squeaky!
Look at it this way. It couldn't hurt.
Move gracefully. People seem to believe that kids entering puberty are uncoordinated, klutzy, falling all over themselves. Sometimes you are. But sometimes you can be graceful, like a colt in an open field. When I see kids skateboarding, for example, they are nearly always smooth, graceful, powerful and elegant.
Anyone at any age who is healthy can move gracefully, or can be uncoordinated. In most situations, it's up to you. Moving smoothly and gracefully can help you in a lot of ways. Smooth walking or running, for example, probably means you're more in control of yourself, which probably means you are less likely to fall, or run into a post, or twist your ankle.
Smooth and graceful body movements can be practiced. There are exercise you can do, you can try yoga, you can learn to dance, and you can choose a graceful sport -- in addition to any other sport you like -- such as ice skating, swimming, diving. To me, basketball is one of the most graceful team sports there is. See what you think.
If you want to see examples of boys about your age being graceful and moving smooth, they pop up all the time in television shows and movies. For basketball, there's Li'l Bow Wow (later he changed his name to Bow Wow, and his real name is Shad Gregory Lamar Moss) in Like Mike (2002). For dancing -- not the kind they do in clubs, but "serious" dancing, the kind people do for a career in movies or ballet or on "Dancing With the Stars" -- there's Jamie Bell in Billy Elliot (2000). And for skateboarding, you can check out Lords of Dogtown (2005). (These are just some films I'm aware of. You can always find others, maybe more recent, by doing a Web search.)
Exert yourself. Every day, at least once, do something that gets you "out of breath". Running, lifting and carrying heavy boxes, situps, whatever. Even walking fast, or climbing stairs more quickly than usual. This is even more important as you get older. If I'm the only one who has ever told you this, you will thank me often, because you will feel good. My High School Physical Education teachers were the ones who taught me this lesson, and even now, 50 years later, I am grateful to them.
Go beyond shorthand to elegance. This suggestion is similar to the one above about doing things the hard way sometimes. It seems like there is always pressure for us to do things, say things, write things in shorter form, more quickly, more efficiently. The goal, apparently, is to save time. The price is that we lose the elegance of the original form.
Now what do I mean by that? What we say and what we write is called "communication". The words and phrases that we use to communicate have meanings that most of us agree on, and that's how we understand each other. Besides basic meaning, there is also another part of communication called "structure". This is what makes it possible for some communication to go beyond basic information, and become beautiful, or, one of my favorite words, "elegant". Recipes (usually) are basic information. Poetry is beautiful. The telephone book is basic information. A story by Ray Bradbury, or any great writer, is elegant.
How can this apply to you? As you express yourself, speaking or writing, or even moving through your daily activities, you can use shortcuts and abbreviations to save time -- or at least make it seem like it's going faster -- or you can use the original, long ways sometimes. And what will this do for you? You will probably express yourself better, and sometimes other people will be impressed when they see that you don't always cut corners, or do just enough to "get by". Even if no-one else notices, you may just feel good knowing that you can write or speak using original, complete words and phrases just like some people whose living depends on writing and speaking elegantly, like television news reporters, novelists, religious leaders or teachers.
Examples. I started easy. I decided years ago that when I was addressing a letter, or writing an eMail, I would not use abbreviations, but instead spell things out. So, instead of 158 N. Beecher St., I would write on the envelope 158 North Beecher Street. Instead of eMailing someone, "pls. let me know; thx." I would write, "Please let me know; Thanks." I may be wrong, but I think it's easier for the reader not to have to figure out the abbreviations; seeing the real words makes them have to think less about what you're trying to say, and whether they realize it or not, I think they like it better. When you use abbreviations all the time, those who read your letters and eMails may even feel that you don't care much about them, and just want to get it over with. If you spell things out and spend a little time making your communications elegant, maybe the person getting your letter or reading your eMail will get the impression that you think they're special.
As for speaking, I know from experience that you can really make a good impression on people by adding a little extra to the basics of your everyday speech. These are simple things, but may need some practice if you already have different habits. Let's say you're in the park, and one of your parents' friends walks by and recognizes you. She says hello, and asks you how your dog is doing after his minor accident. You say, "Fine." She goes on her way. OK, that was polite. But think of the different impression you would make if you simply said, "Fine, thank you for asking." This friend of your parents would be talking about that for days, how pleasant and polite you were in the park that day.
Proper speaking as a foreign language. I'm not one of those who will tell you that you must always speak proper English. There is a time and place for everything, even Hip-Hop. I use that as an example of a form of communication that hardly ever uses "proper English", and that's the point of it. It's not a bad thing to play with words, even to use them wrong on purpose just for fun or variety. The music group Barenaked Ladies are not Ladies, and in public (at least so far), they are never bare naked. Their group's name is just a fun, attention-getting way to use words, and that's great.
What's not great is to mangle and abuse the language so much and so often that it becomes a habit, and then becomes the only way you can talk. There are times in everyone's life, even at age 11, but certainly as you get older, where using your language properly is a huge advantage. Sometimes this is referred to as being "well-spoken". Of course, like everything in life, you can go too far and then people see you as pretentious or conceited.
The idea here is to make sure that you don't lose the ability to speak good, solid English when you need to or want to. I remember listening to a radio call-in program where people with personal problems call a psychologist, and she tells them what she thinks is wrong. A young woman in her late teens called, and began to describe her problem, and nearly every other word she used was "like". I would bet that you do this sometimes, and I know for sure you have friends who do. It's a very lazy way to speak, not to mention repetitive, and the word "like" used in this way doesn't add anything of meaning to what you're saying. The psychologist told the young woman that her repetitive use of "like" was distracting, and asked her to try and tell her story without using that word. The caller couldn't do it. She kept slipping back into the habit, then apologized, then said it again. She ended up not being able to tell her story at all.
This is just one example of many habits we pick up as we grow and gain experience in the world. Even bad habits like lazy speaking and avoiding exercise once in a while aren't totally bad, as long as you still know how to do it right when you need to. But mark my words, if you don't stay in practice, you may lose the ability to call up those good methods when you need them.
Be critical -- in the good sense of the word. Like a lot of English words, "critical" has a number of different meanings. ":Being critical" can mean that you tear other people down by finding and pointing out their faults, usually with sadistic pleasure. I don't recommend this. It can also mean that you look deeper than usual at the world around you, and decide for yourself what's good and what's not so good. I do recommend this. Being critical with what the world presents to you gives you a much better way of making decisions. It takes some practice, like anything worthwhile.
New knowledge always helps you as you decide what's good and bad in the world around you. You'll see that I think exploring your neighborhood, your town, you world, is a good way to learn more. Reading is also a terrific way to learn, and you can read books, newspapers, Web pages, magazines, even road signs when you're on vacation. Movies and television programs also give you a lot to think about and learn. As usual, my advice is that you not depend on any one of these sources of information. None of these, or any single source of information, is ever enough, and can easily get boring.
Thinking about what you see and learn and experience is the way you make the world part of yourself, the way you can carry with you what otherwise might be lost. This is something you can definitely practice, and get better at. It's one of the things you're supposed to learn at school, but don't depend on them to teach you how to think. Do it on your own, every chance you get, until it becomes an automatic part of your response to everything you come in contact with. What is thinking? Well, it's not easy to write about. What do you think?
For some people, thinking is imagining what an experience would be like if things were different from what they are. For example, you're riding a horse. What would that be like if it were raining? If you had two people, instead of just you, on the horse? Would it be good to run the horse for an hour, then put her in a corral where there's no water?
For other people, critical thinking is part of their job or their life's work. Researchers looking for a cure for AIDS use critical thinking every day, as they test new chemicals and study how HIV behaves in their various tests. They set in their minds what they think will happen, then they do their tests, look at the results, and compare what they see with what they thought they'd see. This means that they will change their minds a lot, but that's what critical thinking needs -- an open mind.
Your own critical thinking will start simple, and if you practice, you'll get better at it. There is another way to help you get better at it: discussion. Talk things over with people you trust, and who you think are wise. Adults, of course, but also kids your age and -- surprise -- maybe even younger kids. The conversation starts with, "What do you think about . . .", and where it goes from there usually leads you to better understanding.
Be suspicious. You'll see this theme coming back again and again in the stuff that I write for you. Whenever the opportunity arises to do, or read, or eat or hear something that is provided for you by the other people in the world, think before you consume. You've probably heard the term "consumer" before. If you eat breakfast cereal from a box, buy a CD, go to an amusement park, take vitamins or painkillers, or get a skateboard for your birthday, you're a consumer. You're spending your money (or someone is spending it for you sometimes) to get stuff that someone else hopes you will buy. People try to get you to buy and do things like this by using advertising.
You must be suspicious of advertising, because it is never straightforward honesty. There is always some level of manipulation, which we can also call trickery. Do you ever see a billboard that simply says, "You can buy oatmeal at any grocery store in the city."? Of course not. That doesn't mean you can, or should, ignore advertising. It can be helpful. But be sure you are using the advertising, and not letting the advertising jerk you around.
You also need to be suspicious when it comes to medication. I'm not talking about illegal drugs here. Those can, and will, destroy you. What I'm referring to here are over-the-counter remedies and prescription drugs. Sometimes we need them. Quite often, however, we just want them, and can become dependent on using them. This is just another one of those things that we need to think about before plunging ahead. If you have a headache, sure, take a painkiller that your parents have bought from the drugstore. But think about this: a headache usually happens because something is temporarily wrong with your body. Could you fix what's wrong, like stress or poor diet or not enough exercise, instead of taking the pills? Maybe. It's worth a try.
One more thing to be suspicious about. The internet. The World Wide Web. What a stupendous tool it is, making life so different than it was even just a couple of decades ago. It gives us ten thousand times more information per day than we had access to when I was 11. One problem with the internet, though, is that anyone with a computer server can post anything on a Web site, whether it's wrong or right, good or bad, healthy or dangerous, silly or serious. That's OK, as long as you learn right now to question every site you visit, every word you read, every picture that appears, and be suspicious that what you're looking at and hearing might not be what it seems to be.
Teachers and librarians warn us all the time about how important it is to view Web content "critically". Yes, this is pretty much the same as the "critical thinking" that I wrote about before. Being critical in this way about the things you read and hear has always been important, but in the ten thousand years of human history before the internet, by the time some information got to normal people like you and me, it had to jump through a lot of hoops, so to speak. Books and newspapers have editors who would help screen out mistakes. Librarians and teachers would decide which publications were the most accurate and complete to make available to the public. Now, the internet goes beyond all that. Be suspicious, critical, and selective every time you surf for information.
Disconnect yourself sometimes. Dependence on anything outside your own body is always something to think twice about. With some things, we will nearly always have to agree that we need them. Clothes, for example. I don't have to say much more about that, except that even something as basic as clothes still gives you some room to ask, "Why?"
Life in the 21st Century provides us a huge number of gadgets and tools that are sometimes very useful, sometimes fun, and often both. Beware of coming to the point where you think things like cell phones, video games, text messaging and whatever is coming next is necessary, something that you shouldn't live without. Even if you never suffer hardship, always have enough money to buy what you want, and live in a mansion all your life, it is still a big mistake at any stage of life to depend completely on anything that is not provided in nature. Using technology is fine. It's depending totally on it that is the bad thing, even if it's never taken away from you.
Take cell phones. They're not only convenient, but can be fun to use. Talking with friends, after all, is a great thing to do. But you wouldn't want to be physically together with your friends 24 hours a day, even if you could. Using up most of your time talking to other people on a cell phone is just as bad. You need time to yourself, to think without being disturbed, to look around you and see, not just talk and listen. Also some friends and family can use your cell phone as a way of controlling you, of keeping you dependent on them. You cannot let this happen.
Make sure everyone who has your number knows that your phone will not always be on, and that you carry it mainly so that you can call out when you need to, not so that anyone who wants to take up your time can call you any time they like. Always remember that the cell phone, and any electronic gaming or communication device, is a convenience, not a permanent addition to your hand or ear. The way I remind myself of this important idea is to imagine myself living at a time when there were no electronic gadgets, say in the 1870s in Kansas. It wasn't that long ago in human history, and people then were pretty much the same as people now in terms of eating, breathing, growing, getting sunburned, laughing, crying and sweating. I try to live today in such a way that, if I had to, I could survive and be happy with nothing more than what they had in Kansas in 1870.
Why bother? It's pretty obvious that we will always have cell phones and Nintendo and high-def television, and more inventions are on the way. The problem is all in one word: dependence. Even when a gadget or device is here to stay, if it's not a natural thing like vegetables, or sunlight, or water, depending on it makes you less human, less natural. Add to this the fact that gadgets are sold and marketed through advertising, and you have a huge danger that the people who want to sell you the things will do everything in their considerable power to change you into the kind of person that chooses their product. I'll have a lot more to say about this later.
Spend time away from your usual surroundings. The world, as you've already noticed I'm sure, is a VERY big place, and the part you live in probably seems to be getting smaller and smaller. That's normal, and that's good. As a little kid, we don't even think about it: we assume that our homes and neighborhoods are the whole world. Then we go to school and it gets a little bigger. Then our teachers take us on field trips and it gets even bigger. Maybe we go on vacations that take us hundreds or thousands of miles from home, and that really opens our eyes. And all along, television and other media show us faraway places and a huge variety of different people, animals, plants and buildings that we never see in our own neighborhoods.
Part of the process of getting to know this bigger world is up to you. Unfortunately, there are other forces at work trying to keep you in your place, to make it less likely that you will encounter new people, places and things. Some of these forces are for your own good. There's nothing wrong with the adults in your life wanting you to be safe. To do this sometimes they put limits on where you can go, or how long you can stay out. That's fine. There's nothing wrong with your school wanting you to focus on your classwork. To do this, they make rules that you can't leave the school grounds. Good. But what about the woods down by the river? What about the playground at the park across town, over by your grandparent's house? What about the city bus that can take you to a library for a dollar or two, or your bike that can take you (or you can take it) to an open field where you can eat a sandwich and look at birds?
I'm not going to suggest that you break any rules (but you'd probably like that, right? Sorry). As important as this is, it is more important to try and work with the regulations that are set up for you. You'll be trying to work with regulations like this all your life, so you might as well practice now. What I will suggest, though, is that whenever you get the chance, go out into the world, as far as you're allowed to go, alone or with one or two buddies, and explore. You must not live your whole childhood and teen years going from your house to the car to the mall to school and home again. You must not miss any chance to look at all sides of a tree, or dig in the earth for crawly things, or -- if you're really lucky, probably just once -- to skinny-dip in an ice-cold lake.
How can you not be racing your motor, just waiting for every chance you get to explore the unbelievable variety in the world outside yours? You will only have eight or nine decades to do your exploring, and you will find out very soon if you haven't already, there is at least a thousand years' worth of exploring just waiting for you. You won't have enough time for all of it, so get out there and get dirty.
Smell natural and clean. I've just suggested that you get dirty, and now I'm going to talk about getting clean. But this is not going to be your usual advice about bathing and brushing your teeth. I'm going to talk about how you smell, and I'm going to suggest that you shouldn't deny the world a chance to smell you.
This looks like the silliest thing I've ever written, and if I left it there, it probably would be, so let me tell you what I mean. Human beings like you have been living and growing for thousands of years. During that time our species has developed some responses to the things around us. These responses are called "instincts", because they don't have to be learned -- they're just there when they're needed. If you're sitting under a tree and all of a sudden a spider the size of a Cadillac jumps in front of your face, you're probably going to jump away. If you are camping, and you hear a bear growl ten feet from your ear, you're probably going to know the meaning of fear, at least at first. These are instincts.
Many of the more subtle (less obvious) things that happen inside our bodies are triggered by smells or, more precisely, "pheromones", which are parts of smells, just like yellow is a part of your television picture or middle-C is a part of a symphony concert. Pheromones often can't be detected on their own, even when the smell that carries them is obvious to your nose. Think of the way your body responds to certain smells. Pumpkin pie? Maybe you notice more saliva in your mouth. Dog crap? Well, maybe at least your feet will lead you around it -- if you notice it in time. Some people can't help throwing up when they smell the vomit from someone else who has just hurled. (Boy, I tell you, I can really paint word pictures, can't I?)
I don't remember reading about this anywhere, but my hunch is that the pheromones coming off your own body and re-entering through your sense of smell might even affect your own feelings and moods. If you mask that too much, maybe you'll be denying yourself a full human experience.
Scientists don't all agree on just how this works, but they do seem to agree that the pheromones contained in people's sweat affect how other people react to them. This is true even when you can't see any sweat, and there's no sweaty smell. Think about this for a minute. If humans have been making friends and eating together and sleeping together and avoiding those people they don't like and in some cases making babies with people they are attracted to for thousands of years, then smells, or at least pheromones, must play a part in all that interaction. Just like we've learned to (automatically) make a low humming sound when we bite into a rich chocolate candy, we've probably also learned to respond to other people in certain ways based (at least in part) on the pheromones coming off their bodies.
As usual, I've taken the long way around this explanation, so let me try to bring it together now. Deodorant. Why do we use it? So we won't stink, and other people will like us. OK, that's not a bad reason at all. Not stinking is good, other people liking us is also good. But what if the deodorant also covers up the pheromones that attracts other people to us, or makes them feel comfortable around us? Then we can use perfume, right, to drive them wild and make ourselves irresistible. Fine, except that it isn't natural, and probably won't work like you expect anyway. Some people are allergic to perfume.
Consider this. Deodorant as a store-bought product didn't exist until well into the 20th Century. Bathing wasn't nearly as common an activity even a hundred years ago as it is today. Yes, most people bathed, but it was more like once a week or even less often, while today it is unusual to find a person in our society who doesn't bathe nearly every day. Were people any less friendly in former times? Did they avoid social situations, dates, marriage, falling in love, or friendships just because deodorants hadn't been invented yet? If they did, you wouldn't be reading this right now.
Also consider this. You probably have an idea of how some people can smell when they don't bathe, or wear the same clothes for a year at a time. Do you know what your body, or other people's bodies, smell like when they're relatively clean? Most people who do know don't think it's a particularly bad smell. As you go through puberty toward being an adult, you'll most likely notice that your own body has completely new smells coming out of it. Don't assume they're bad, just because they're different and new to you. As long as you're not a pig who bathes only on New Year's Day, if you take care to stay clean, how can you say that a smell your body produces half an hour after a shower is a bad thing? That's like saying, if I grow hair on my chest, I'll have to wear a shirt all the time, because everyone likes smooth skin better.
My suggestion here is to get used to how your body smells when you're clean. Use deodorant? Of course, if you're going to be in a close situation with other people, like school or a job, or just because you like the way it makes you feel. Don't overdo it, and don't just assume that you have to use it all the time, every day, in every situation. Give other people in your life a chance to experience your pheromones. Yours may be especially good, you never know.
Here's the summary of this sections that you've just read:
First, the environment, especially your own room.
Do it your way. Find out how much control you have -- maybe you share the room, or maybe your parents or guardians have certain rules -- then start using your imagination. Decide what you want on the walls, on the bed, on the windows, even on the floor. Decorate, be creative, try new things -- and if you make mistakes, feel free to change your mind. You might also be able to make suggestions about how to decorate or arrange other parts of your house and outside space. Take pride in your home, particularly your room, and don't worry too much if it's not always neat. If you have pride, you'll clean it up often enough.
Now, about the people in your home and community.
My best advice to you here is that your home and, more and more as you grow older, your community provide you a great opportunity to grow and develop faster and better than you ever could on your own or by depending only on your same-age friends. Older people have all been your age already, and can give you the benefit of their experience as you find your way into adulthood. All you have to do is reach out to them, as long as you're careful to think about what they say and do, and decide for yourself what's good or not so good about what they have to offer. This kind of contact between the generations is helpful for older people, too. It can keep them from getting too old too fast.
Of course, you have to make sure older people don't take advantage of you. What this means is that some older people, parents included, may feel like they own you and all they're really doing is controlling you, getting you to act in a certain way just to make them (the adult) feel better or be able to show you off like a prize pet. It's difficult to tell the difference between a real two-way friendship -- yes, you can have friendships with adults, too! -- and one where you're just being used. As you get better at telling the difference, you can gradually move away from the useless people, and spend more time and energy with those who are really willing to get to know you and treat you like an important person.
Spending "quality time" with older people in your home and community is like good nutrition, in a way. WIthout it you can probably survive, but it would be like not getting the right vitamins in what you eat.
You may have heard the idea that "respect for your elders" is important. Old sayings like this are really our society speaking in "code". "Respect for elders" is really another way of saying that you, as a young person, can get a huge benefit from spending time in your home and community getting to know and appreciate older people who treat you with the same respect that they want from you.
If you follow a certain religion or faith, let that inspire you and not limit you. You may not -- cannot, must not -- come to the point where you believe your faith is better than any other, especially if you have not studied all the teachings and beliefs of all other world religions and belief systems. In fact, strangely enough, if you do study other religions in depth, talking with their members and leaders, participating in their worship with them, you will probably come to a point where you are not able to consider your own faith as better than others. You may well still believe that it is the best for you, but you will realize that the others are just as valuable to the world as yours.
No matter how accomplished, how educated, how sophisticated you become in your life, you will always be, basically, a human being. What does that mean? You're an animal organism with primary needs for food, water, defense from disease and some protection from the elements such as extreme cold or heat. Most of the rest of what you think you need is secondary.
It is very easy to forget about these basics, these primary needs, since for most of us, they are relatively easy to obtain and be confident about. Even so, it is very useful to remind ourselves every now and then 1) just how lucky we are, and 2) that we are really just animals trying to survive.
In my memory -- and maybe still today, I hope -- there existed programs, usually for teens, to introduce them to their basic existence as a human being. The programs were referred to as "wilderness survival", or something similar, and involved a certain amount of training and preparation, followed by a period of time in which the individual, or small groups of young people, would be left completely on their own to survive on the food they could find, in the shelters they could build for themselves. It was sort of like the "Survivor" series of television shows, except that this was for real, not for "reality TV".
It may not be necessary, or possible for everyone, to have a "wilderness survival" experience, but it is possible in our everyday lives to remind ourselves periodically to rely on our basic animal resources, and not to rely on modern conveniences. This includes television, iPods and cell phones, but also includes certain types of fancy foods, designer clothing, and even medications.
I will probably mention this more than once in these pages: I think it is useful to evaluate the things we use, eat, drink, wear and "take" (such as medicines) by asking ourselves, "How did people a hundred or two hundred years ago get along?" If people in former times did not have anti-depressants or athletic shoes, or computers, and they still had fulfilling and productive lives, how did they do it? Then, you can ask yourself whether a particular modern convenience is really necessary for you to live as a human being. Sometimes the answer will be "No", and at that moment you will have preserved a bit of your freedom, a bit of your true self.
Gender is what most people call one's "sex", that is whether someone is a girl or a boy, a man or a woman. In most people, their gender (sex) is clear and obvious, and those people feel comfortable with the way people see them or categorize them. In a few people the gender (sex) is not obvious, or they feel that the way their families or society have "assigned" them isn't right for them.
A very small percentage of babies are born with what doctors call "ambiguous genitalia". What this means is that they don't just have a vagina or a penis, but they have parts or forms of both. A common term for people like this is "hermaphrodites", a word originally in Greek which is a combination of the names of the gods Hermes (man) and Aphrodite (woman). You can read more about hermaphrodites and ambiguous genitalia in an encyclopedia or on the Internet.
Another variation found in a relatively small percentage of people occurs when someone, as they are growing up through adolescence and into adulthood, feel that the sex of their body doesn't match their inner feelings about what their sex is. People who have these feelings are called "transgender". For example, a person with a penis might feel that she is really a female, or a person with a vagina might feel that he is really a male. (You probably noticed that I used the words "she" and "he" backwards from what you might expect.)
Society in most Western countries (for example, America or Britain) has come to the point where we respect a person's feelings about her or his gender (sex). A person with a vagina who feels he is a male is called "he", a person with a penis who feels she is a female is called "she". In the past this might have been done with a snicker or a rude comment, but more and more people today simply accept transgender peoples' decision to live the way they want to, the way they feel most comfortable.
The vast majority of boys and girls have inner feelings that match their genitals. In other words, most human beings born with a vagina are comfortable living as females, and most human beings born with a penis are comfortable living as males. All this refers to their physical sexuality, their anatomical gender. Sexual behavior, however, is a very different story. In general, any discussion of sexual behavior deals with a person's sexual partners and the things they do with those partners. It is possible, of course, to engage in sexual behavior by yourself. This is called masturbation.
As you grow through puberty and into adulthood, you will have chances to make many choices about your own sexual behavior. In most cases, your choices will reflect your preferences for what types of people and what kinds of behavior (activity) make you feel good and comfortable. This is called your sexual orientation. Generally speaking, and using common terms, females attracted to males and males attracted to females are called "straight". Males attracted to other males are called "gay", and females attracted to other females are called "gay" or, more appropriately, "lesbian".
The reason I said that sexual behavior is a "very different story" from physical sexuality (anatomical gender) is that sexual behavior variations are much more common than physical sexuality (anatomical gender) variations. Another way to say this is that while almost all people are comfortable with a gender (sex) that matches their genitalia (vagina or penis), the number of people who are gay or lesbian or bisexual (someone who enjoys sexual behavior with both sexes) is not a tiny percentage.
In most psychological studies done in the past 70 years, researchers have found that roughly 90% of adults in our society are "straight" and the other 10% are "lesbian" or "gay". Some people believe that sexual orientation is a choice that people make when they begin to reach adulthood. Other people believe that sexual orientation is something that you are either born with -- like blue eyes, or nappy hair -- or that you get very early in your childhood before you even think about making any choices about it. The usual example people give is to say it's like being left-handed. It's not better or worse, just different and there's not a lot you can do to change it. Yes, left-handed people sometimes can write with their right hand, but they're still left-handed. (No, all left-handed people aren't gay, and all gay and lesbian people aren't left-handed. It's just a comparison!) Most psychological research agrees with those who think sexual orientation is either inborn or established very early. Very few people believe that sexual orientation can be changed once a person begins to understand it and accept it in their teens and adulthood.
What about you? Well, for many reasons it's way too early for you to have to think about your own sexual orientation. If you do think about it, that's OK, but if you don't that's OK too, and most kids your age (I'm writing this advice for 11-year-olds, remember) don't need to think about it. Whether you are going to be homosexual or heterosexual (gay/lesbian or straight) is not something you need to be concerned about at your age. It's something people deal with in their later teens, and as adults. It's just not an issue for most 11-year-olds. Either way, you will still go to school, you will still be able to make friends with both girls and boys, you can still eat the foods you like, and wear comfortable clothes. As you go through puberty, your body will tell you when you're ready, though you'll need to be careful, since the society you (we) live in has a lot of rules about sexual behavior that everyone has to follow, especially kids.
You can find out about society's rules, and the rules within your own family or community, by talking with your parents or other trusted older people, but choose them carefully and talk to more than one person about these things. Even older, experienced people sometimes have wrong or prejudiced ideas about sexual behavior, so you may have to question what some of them say to you and check out and compare what several people think or say on the subject. (This is like saying when you go to the doctor, "I want a second opinion".)
One thing I do want to emphasize here, and warn you about, is the tremendous pressure that you will feel from society -- "the world" -- to think and act in what some people regard as the "right" way. Even though society generally accepts alternatives like homosexuality (lesbians and gays), there is still enormous pressure for everyone to be "straight". You will see this message, this pressure, in advertising, in popular music, in people saying things like, "When you grow up and get married . . .". All you really need in order to counteract this pressure is just to be aware that it's happening. Don't think that every lyric in songs sung by people your own age (or anyone else) is a description of the way things have to be. (In fact, it is perfectly fair for anyone who is gay or lesbian to re-interpret song lyrics that sound "straight" to apply to them, too.) Don't be fooled when you see only heterosexual couples in television commercials or magazine ads, that everyone has to be heterosexual.
Whether you're part of the majority of kids who grow up straight, or the significant minority who are gay or lesbian, the pressure of society that I'm talking about here leads to a very bad condition -- it's actually like a disease -- that can affect everyone of any sexual orientation. That disease is called homophobia. The Greek word φοβος ("phobos") means "fear", and homophobia means "fear of homosexuality". Most people think it means that you are afraid of, or hate, homosexuality in others, but it also refers to the fear that you, yourself might be homosexual.
Let's be clear: a fear or hatred of homosexuality is harmful to everyone who is gay or lesbian -- and a fear or hatred of homosexuality is harmful to everyone who is straight. Being afraid of people who are gay and lesbian may sound silly to a lot of young people today, and that's good, because being afraid of someone for those reasons is pointless. You're afraid of a masked robber with a knife because you could be killed. You're afraid of the school bully because 1) you want to keep your lunch money, and 2) you don't like visiting the school nurse twice a week. But what can lesbian or gay people do to you without your permission? Nothing. It's different if someone tries to hurt you or force or trick you into doing something you don't want to do. At that point, they're no longer gay, straight, or lesbian -- they're now an attacker and, by the way, a criminal. Being afraid of homosexuals only because they are (or may be) homosexual is just as silly as being afraid of Asian people just because they are Asian, or professional wrestlers just because they are professional wrestlers.
Homophobia serves no purpose except hatred. It is like hating Jews, or blacks, or disabled people, or any ethnic group, or people who have religious views different from yours. Hatred of this type is a defensive approach to life. The constructive, healthy approach is to realize that homosexuality happens, and heterosexuality happens, and that some people eat broccoli and others prefer hamburgers. I hope you find it easy to shrug off the homophobia that society often still teaches to young people. Maybe by the time you or your friends are old enough to have children, those kids won't even have to think about homophobia.
Let's be clear on one more thing, and I'm sorry if this goes against what you've been taught: any religion that promotes the fear or hatred of homosexuality is wrong; any adult -- including a parent -- who promotes homophobia is practising a form of child abuse. Again, homophobia is harmful to straight people as well as gay or lesbian people. It must be resisted, like any disease. It may never go away, but by becoming aware of its existence and its harmfulness, you can minimize how it affects you.
I want to talk about one more thing, and this is related to society's pressure for everyone to be straight, even though the same society in general is more and more willing to accept people who are gay or lesbian. It's the myth that every boy in his teen years -- and sometimes even before that -- is "girl-crazy". Stupid people who don't know what they're talking about often repeat the lie when they say things like, "That's the age when the hormones are racing, and they don't know what they're doing."
"Girl-craziness" has not always been a feature of boys' development, and has not always been an obsession of societies in the past. Dr Jeffery P. Dennis, a sociologist at Wright State University, has studied the history of "girl-craziness", and found that before the 20th Century, and even in the first few decades of the 20th Century, it basically didn't exist. Most boys and young men liked girls, of course, and dated them, and married them, but they weren't obsessed with girls and talking about girls and making sure eveyone knew that they were crazy about girls.
Where does it come from, then? Why did it suddenly appear in the years between World War I and II? There are many reasons why "girl-craziness" entered our culture, and one important one is advertising. Before the World Wars, worldwide communication through television and the Internet were not possible. Most of the information people got -- more to the point, most of the help and advice that kids like you got when they were growing up -- came from people in their families and communities. That help and advice tended to be sensible, practical, and personal. In other words, it was "tailored" to fit each individual. In today's culture of instant, world-wide communication through television, movies, and the Internet, the easiest way for advertisers, filmmakers and others to sell things is to use "normal" people in "normal" situations to present their products to the public. Kids -- especially boys -- look to action figures and superheroes, not fathers, uncles, mothers, teachers, priests or rabbis or school counselors, to find out how they should become men. The people selling the movies, comic books and other products naturally try to appeal to the majority of people who buy things by portraying the same majority in their stories and advertising. How many people would buy cupcakes if the advertiser showed overweight, badly-dressed people stuffing them into their mouths?
The cupcake example is extreme, of course, but think about it. Aren't most of the people shown in commercials and acting in movies very attractive, clean, and well-behaved, not to mention heterosexual and at least middle-class (that is, not obviously poor)? Have you ever seen two women walking down the street holding hands in a commercial for shoes or designer jeans? Ever seen two guys kissing in a mouthwash ad? Have you ever seen a person in ragged clothing and no shoes in an advertisement for a fast-food restaurant?
If advertising and the media in general are the places you're getting your information, you're getting the clear message that everyone who matters is straight, wealthy, thin and has perfect hair and makeup. You're also getting the message that men are mostly absent from family life (women buy food and household products, so the ads feature women almost exclusively), and that men are never supposed to be teachers or child-care workers -- in virtually all situations these days where teachers or babysitters or medical professionals are shown with children, it is always women who are doing these jobs. That ain't the real world, and if you buy that myth, you're going to be in big trouble when you find out that you don't fit into the image -- it's called a stereotype; I'm sure you've heard that word before.
One last comment on "girl-craziness", and this applies to most of the mass-culture stereotyped messages that come your way: Like most things in society that don't actually kill or injure you physically, the best way to deal with these negative influences is to be aware that they're happening and, as you go through your life day to day, just decide how you want to do things, and then go your own way, do your own thing. You may go down the same path as most of the people you see in advertisements, but if you want or need to take a different path sometimes, you'll be able to.
Girl-craziness doesn't do a thing for anybody. If you find that you like girls in romantic ways, then go out with them, date them, get to know them, spend time with them. But the minute you feel like you must be with girls all the time, stop and think, and take the advice of generations of boys before you: forgetting about close friendships with other guys will be a missed opportunity that you'll regret one day. Your personality will be one-sided, when it could have been well-rounded and full. To understand this, imagine the opposite: suppose you only associated with boys and completely ignored girls. (This applies to guys who turn out straight as well as those who are gay when they grow up.) Unless you're a monk or a hermit, you'd be giving up the vast richness that a world full of diverse and interesting people can offer you.
William Butler. The Butterfly Revolution.
New York: Ballantine, 1961/1967.
this novel was made into a mediocre film called Summer Camp Nightmare (1987)