The original selfie, Woolworths' photo booth, 1978
What was it like #Being13 in 1978? A few words come to mind including awkward, unpopular, pimple-faced and theatre-nerd. But, was it all that bad?
Certainly 13-year-olds today are feeling the same anxiety at not being part of the popular crowd, suffering mockery by the class bully, and exercising their individuality in the face of potential rejection. I know. I recently raised two 13-year-olds, a daughter and a son (now 16 and 14).
But, with the advent of the Internet, and our digital kids unprecedented access to influences via the omnipresent smartphone – with selfies, Snapchat and sexting - this generation of 13-year-olds are faced with a whole new array of angst-ridden challenges, including FOMO, “phubbing” (phone snubbing), cyber-bulling and getting enough “likes” on Instagram. They have grown a new appendage – a constant companion that connects them 24/7 and begs for their attention. Where we used to put combs in our back pockets, they put phones.
My memories of #Being13 are more than a bit foggy. Luckily I have two hand-crafted scrapbooks filled with photos that bring me back; all due to my sentimental dad who inspired me to chronicle my life using snapshots, glue and magic markers (and affirmed by Kodak's Times of Your Life commercial, “Do you remember baby, do you remember the times of your life?). The photos are fuzzy and the pages worn, but the memories live on – my first overnight school trip to Washington D.C. and visiting the Capitol, our family vacation to Hershey Park, my sister and I riding the Super Dooper Looper five times and gorging ourselves on chocolate, lots and lots of camp photos, and the National Honor Society Award ceremony (caption reads, “My most embarrassed look!”).
I even found photo strips of the original selfie. Remember going to the photo booth at Woolworths, cramming into the booth with friends, drawing that heavy grey curtain, and having mere seconds to come up with silly, and spectacular poses? We’d still be giggling when the photos would slide out, still wet from developing.
At 13, I asserted my individuality and my vanity. I got my ears pierced with gold hearts and convinced my parents to let me trade in my dorky tinted eyeglasses for contact lenses. I grew to be the tallest female in my family – not much of an accomplishment considering that my mother, my biggest competition, was a petite five-foot, one inch. But, at five feet, four and one-half inches, I was a veritable giant! My older sister, a perfect five-foot-even, said that my feet were just thicker. I stood out. So, I started slouching, rolling my shoulders in and hanging my head down. My mom would have none of that. She had me walking with books on my head, coaching me to keep my head high!
For time immemorial, #Being13 is scary and awkward, a time for firsts and for self-discovery. It was the year I fell madly in love – both with a celebrity heartthrob (John Travolta) and with a boy that was part of the unattainable, cool crowd (he’s my Facebook friend now, but I’ll never confess). It was the year that Grease came out in theatres. I saw it five times and identified with Sandy – the uncool, outsider who was maybe just a little too naïve – and I drooled over John Travolta, who was just too cool for school. A few years later, my high school performed Grease, and I played Jan, one of the "Pink Ladies."
For me, #Being13 was the time that my friends started smoking pot after school, dousing themselves in patchouli oil and wearing feather earrings. So, instead, I sought the safety of my bedroom, blasting the stereo and singing along to my favorite records – The Bay City Rollers, The Carpenters, The Bee Gees, The Who, Barry Manilow, and, of course, Olivia Newton John’s “Hopelessly Devoted To You” and Bonnie Tyler’s “It’s a Heartache.”
#Being13 is about experiencing firsts, finding your way, and sometimes choosing the security of your own home, your awesomely decorated bedroom (mine with magazine clippings of John Travolta, Broadway show posters and the famous cat poster advising, “Hang in there!”) and your parents’ care.
I’ve written a lot about raising kids in our digital culture. Examining and contrasting the changing times, and calling on fellow parents and friends to offer stories, as well as my "Digital Daughters," a group of teenagers from around the country who give me insight on what is like to growing up today, in our fast-paced, short-take society.
But, I have never really thought about what it was like for me #Being13…
Looking back at my old 1978 photo albums, my hair in ribbons, the shine across my heavy bangs, skinny and awkward, I do see my same self…no longer shy, but always ready for a laugh, and always trying to prove my worth, but now with more confidence and years of hard-won wisdom.
We are all like trees, each year of growth representing its own ring of experience. Thank you to CNN’s #Being13 campaign for inspiring me to call on my own 13-year-old ring – to reflect and remember – to appreciate what I was, and what I have become.