Do you remember what it was like to be thirteen? This week at school is Academic Break Week for the middle and high school students, so I have had the opportunity to spend a lot of time with thirteen (actually 11 to 15) year olds. They are an incredible bunch of kids and I have so enjoyed hanging out with them, and it brings up a few things that I see over and over again with young teenagers. First of all, they are all struggling in some way. Even the straight "A" students with lots of friends and great extra-curricular activities are struggling with adolescence, even if from the outside their life looks perfect. Second, in order to navigate puberty everyone needs a few crucial things, like unconditional love and support from their parents and teachers. Though they sometimes act like adults, adolescents need us now more than ever. But they also need space. If you haven't had a teenager in your house yet here is a tip: when they slam their bedroom door in your face, walk away! (Trust me on this one). They also need to be challenged early and often. Chores, a heavy load of relevant academic work, and the responsibility to practice their instrument or sport keeps them busy doing positive things so that they don't have much time to dwell on the negative. I got an email from a friend yesterday whose child is in 7th grade at a local public school. She complained of gangs, drugs, and an almost exclusive focus on dating. In contrast, yesterday our kids baked cookies and walked down to a park to play soccer together, and the day before that we rode the bus to the Grove Park Inn to see the gingerbread houses. The teens at my school don't have perfect lives. They stress about school work and dabble in dating, they get their feelings hurt, make mistakes, get angry, and make bad choices. But they are in an environment of empathy and support, where they call their teachers and principal by their first names (and maybe even follow her blog :). When I was thirteen my parents were divorcing, and I relied almost exclusively on my friends for support. Thirty years later they are still my best friends. I hope these kids know that no matter what happens in their lives they can count on us, because no matter what, it is tough to be thirteen.