Last week I turned 16. I’d finally made it – but how did I feel? Surprisingly, indifferent. My parents on the other hand were ecstatic, overjoyed and overwhelmingly proud. My birthdays have always been big – it's something my parents insist on and a part of family life – but this year I wanted a change.
My dad had originally suggested a party but I knew that wasn’t what I wanted. For a while though, I went along with it, but something just didn’t feel right. You might think that something like that isn't a big deal – but for many including myself it is. I’m not particularly shy but upon reflection I realised that I’m somewhat reserved and I have a small group of friends.
Finding and making friends has always been an interesting experience for me. Making friends comes naturally to me but long-lasting friendships are more difficult to find. At first, I thought this was just a personal experience, but now I’m certain that it's universal. Looking around I can see that people constantly change friendship groups and having trouble with friends is just another part of life:
In primary school I had many close friends who I did everything with. We’d spend lunchtimes together, walk to school together, play together, hang out on the weekends together, ride our bikes together - the list goes on. We were convinced that things would stay that way forever, however soon after leaving and joining different secondary schools, I quickly fell out of contact with most of them. Some are still friends, others are not - the point here is that as we grow and change, so do the people around us. Sometimes we simply grow out of friendships and that’s okay.
The size of my friendship circle, or number of contacts in my phone book has never been something that I pay much attention to. That was until my dad suggested a party. At that point, it dawned upon me that I didn’t actually know enough people to have a party like the one he was describing. No matter how much I tried to explain this he just couldn’t understand.
I decided that I wanted a small gathering rather than a lavish party – I wanted to invite a group of my close friends to spend some quality time with me and my parents. I wanted to feel comfortable. It was important to respect myself and what I wanted. In doing so I ensured that I fully enjoyed my day and respected my boundaries.
All too often we end up doing things to please other people. That could be trying to get the perfect grades to please your parents, or spending hours working away at your appearance to impress others. I feel like the pressure put on teenage girls from society, parents, friends and schools is often misunderstood and underrepresented. The effects of this pressure are devastating but we tend to overlook it or underplay our emotions and how we feel.
Why is this?
I believe that it could be a result of being at the precipice of adulthood. So many things in our lives are changing and trying to deal with them, and trying to adapt to “growing up” isn’t easy. Things that were simple become more complicated. We start to care about what others think, how they perceive us and as we mature we think more about the consequences of our actions. Perhaps, both as a result of learning and developing into a more independent person and beginning to form more opinions and views and concerns for others we are at a vulnerable stage where the needs of others can often replace our own. If this is taken too far these feelings can persist into adulthood, and that can be quite compromising.
Turning 16 didn’t remind me of this. I’ve known this for a while. I’ve felt it and lived it. I am a teenage girl. But what it did do is remind me of my duty, my responsibility to stand up for myself. Because if I don't, no one will. So, as I said before, a birthday party may seem small and insignificant but it is the simple things that matter. The moment you take control of the smaller aspects of your life, the better equipped you’ll be to handle the larger, more complicated aspects of life. After reflecting on the past year, I realised that I was doing many things for others that I didn’t really want to do. All in the name of trying to be helpful or sometimes without a reason - I just felt compelled to. Once I realised this, I decided that I wanted to change. Seeing people who respect their boundaries and respect others such as my mum, really encouraged me to make more of a conscious effort to prioritise my feelings. After all, I’m the one living my life and I’m the one who gets to determine what I do and how I feel.
By making sure that you try to act with integrity, assertiveness, confidence and kindness you’re setting yourself up to be respected and have your opinions heard. So next time someone asks you to do something that you’d rather not be doing, try saying no.
Tiffany Igharoro is a student in Y11 preparing to take her GCSE's next year. One of her favourite pastimes is writing as it helps her organise her thoughts creatively and dynamically. She has won awards and prizes for poetry, academic and scientific writing and short stories. Recently, she won a nationwide historical essay competition that opened her eyes to the importance of how things are told, and the impact ordinary people have on the world. She is studying art GCSE and believes there is something incredible about finding links between drama, art and maths.
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