Q: I am in charge of 12 year old girls at my church and am always looking for words of wisdom for the little loves. (That sounded a little sarcastic, I'm afraid---I want you to know that we have a very solid mutual admiration society going here. I'm crazy about them!) My question is: If you could give any advice to your twelve-year-old selves, what would it be?

I think it would be good to get the perspective of girls your ages since it's probably not outside their imagination's ability to see themselves at your ages, whereas I'm afraid that I'm kind of getting up there...!

One (Old Fogey): Ahhh. So much to say... Be kind. Practice your piano. Read good books. Be patient with others. Be patient with yourself. Your mom might be completely crazy and determined to destroy your life. But she's probably not. You really will be happier if you do the right thing. And it is *so* much easier to do the right thing if you're happy and confident about who you are. So try to figure out how you really enjoy spending your time and don't waste energy on stuff that feels vaguely lame, even if everyone else does. Trust me: you'll never look back and wish you'd gone to more church dances.

Two (She's awesome, not cool.): Don't try to be cool; try to be happy, good and successful. If you get one of those three things, you'll be way cooler than most people.

Three (Fugly Duckling): First the quick fixes-- Cut your hair, do your math homework (if it seems easy then move on to the next lesson/grade), stop biting your nails, and DO NOT get the gold braces (unless you tell everyone you like them because they're "crunk").

Now for the serious stuff. A few months ago amid a rash of suicides among gay teenagers, a man named Dan Savage started the It Gets Better Project. While the project has distinct audience--LGBT youth being bullied for their sexual orientation--the messages recorded by everyone from world leaders to the lady next door can speak to anyone going through a hard time. Adolescence can be hard, BUT it does indeed get better. Knowing who you are today--let alone who you want to be in 10, or 20, or 75 years--is confusing, but if you're hoping things get better, TAKE ACTION!
Invest in yourself, because you're stuck with yourself. BE NICE. Kids can be mean, and it doesn't feel good to be on either side when that happens. Finally, "It Get's Better" isn't about vengeance, or Karma, or retribution, it's about growth. The world is a glorious place with infinite opportunities, so grow, and prepare yourself to take your place in it!

Four (I was born in the 90s too!): Focus on things that really matter (read: trying to be a good person and trying to learn everything you can). Challenge yourself. Read the classics (they're called that for a reason). Even if they seem confusing at first, they'll make sense eventually and the lessons you learn from them will help shape you into the kind of person you really want to be. Form good habits. When your mom tells you to practice your piano because "it will make you a happier person in the future", she's telling the truth! Be nice. Go out of your way to befriend those who look lonely or left out. You'll never regret it--and it's an easy thing that you can do to make the world a better place. In the same vein, smile! It will make you--and everyone around you--happier.

P.S. Don't be self conscious. You're pretty great. Don't worry about being completely divorced from pop culture. It Does Not Matter At All. Never try to be someone you're not. Don't worry about boys. Until you get *much* older, they're a complete waste of time! Finally, make your sisters your best friends because they are the best friends you'll ever have and will always be there for you.

Five (Recovering Adolescent):
Say what you think is right and don't do what you know is wrong. People won't think that you're lame or annoying (unless you're anal about it -- stay chill), and they'll often respect you more for it. Also, most things really aren't that big of a deal. It may seem HUGE at the time, but within a week, a month, or even a year, it will be nothing.* In conclusion, you're rad awesome, 12-year-old Five. I'm confident that you'll turn out. . . pretty epically great.

*On that note, as long as you don't die, some of the worst situations make the best stories (I have a hilarious one about stowing away in a Hungarian cattle car, but it was freaking terrifying at the time).