On Being a Bad Teenager

A few weeks ago I had coffee with my sister and a friend and my sister recalled that I was once a wild teenager and not a good person. I sometimes forget about that time of my life because it was so long ago and because I’ve grown and changed immensely. However, now that I’m a mom, I often look into my childhood to remember what it was like so I can make good decisions for my kids.

I can see that my daughter has the same wildly adventurous spirit and loves to be around people as much as I did. I get nervous because those two traits are some of the reasons I was such a bad kid. I hope that somehow I can help her to satisfy those aspects of her personality without having to do all the wrong things I ended up doing.

So why was I such a bad teenager? What led me to make all the wrong choices while my 3 older sisters, who grew up in the same family as I did, ended being good studious kids. Personality is probably a huge factor, but there are some events, situations, and influences in my life, not to mention my own bad choices that led me to the wrong place.

Here’s what I remember:

I was influenced greatly by my older siblings. One of my older sisters, who is 5 years older than me, had a best friend whom she would go to parties with. She would often tell me about the different boys that they liked.

I also had a best friend who I’ll call Kathy. Inspired by my sister’s stories, I convinced Kathy to go with me to a park nearby to meet some boys. We put on makeup and got dressed up and went to the park. We weren’t successful the first few times but eventually, we started to meet boys our age. I was 11 years old and Kathy was 10. But Kathy had hit maturity early and was very pretty. She was also outgoing and was the popular girl in school so we very quickly starting making a number of boy friends.

Kathy’s older sister worked at the dollar cinema, so we moved from the boys at the park to the cinema. At the cinema, we met an even wider group of boys. With these boys, we were able to satisfy our socializing needs. These boys would invite us on various group dates such as seeing movies, going out to eat at restaurants, walks at different parks and more. Along with socializing, these dates gave me the adventure I craved since my parents didn’t have money and were too busy to take us out much.

Sometimes the boys had older brothers or friends who would pick us up and drive us around. Many times though, we would ride the bus or just walk for miles to meet up.

Middle School Adventures

Around the same time that Kathy and I were meeting boys, my brother and his best friend transferred from Kunsimiller Middle School to the middle school I was in named Rishel. My brother and his best friend had learned how to ditch school with some friends at Kunsimiller and decided to show Kathy and me how to ditch. We would usually leave right after our parents dropped us off in the mornings or during lunch, as these were the times when there was a rush of students and it was harder to catch us leaving in the crowd.

Ditching middle school.

Ditching gave me a thrill because not only were we able to have adventures beyond school, but we felt special because we were out exploring the city while everyone else was sitting in, what I felt at the time was a boring classroom.

Yes, school seemed boring to me then. I loved elementary school and was delighted by everything we learned. But middle school was no longer interesting. I was in a public school where classrooms were filled with between 30 – 40 rowdy students and much of my time was spent staring out the window daydreaming while the teachers tried to take control of the class. I had been a straight-A student but once I started ditching, my grades plummeted. 8th grade was difficult and I almost thought I wouldn’t graduate to high school.

The Start and End of High School

My first year of high school was tough. I started with such high hopes of making new friends and getting good grades. Once I got in though, I found that I couldn’t relate to my classmates. There was a particular group of girls that were friendly to me and I wanted to get to know them. But one day, a teacher had us talk about what our parents did for a living and these girls all came from good upper-middle-class families. I felt embarrassed because my dad just did maintenance work and my mom worked odd labor jobs. I stopped going to that class after that particular lesson.

There was also a time before I stopped going to class where those girls were talking about buying makeup. One girl mentioned that her mom had given her $200 for makeup. Because of this, I felt that I wouldn’t be able to really be friends and hang out with those girls as there was no way I would ever ask my parents for money for makeup. Any time I asked my parents for money, they would get stressed because they didn’t have any. Makeup was hardly important enough to make them stress over how to provide for me.

Yet I did have make-up. I had a ton of make-up and beauty supplies. How did I get them? They were all stolen. In keeping up with meeting all the boys we were meeting, Kathy and I started stealing make-up from the local K-mart. Make-up wasn’t the only thing we stole. We also stole books, movies, clothing, and food.

My freshman year in high school was one of the worst years for me but it was also a turning point. After my hopes of making new friends were crushed, I turned back to my old friends and ditching.

Gang Influences

Kathy and I had previously made some girlfriends outside of school. One of our friends, I’ll call her Ty, had brothers that were gang members. Through their example, we started emulating being in a gang. This included having an initiation where we beat each other up as well as having each one of us get in a fight with someone at school.

We started other bad habits that we learned from the brothers who were gang members such as smoking, doing drugs, drinking, theft, and other unlawful activities. We started sneaking out at night to hang out with other boys. Soon we were ditching school every day and had racked up a number of shoplifting and curfew violation tickets.

14 years old with a fresh scar from a gang initiation burn on my arm.

One day, Kathy told Ty and me that she was having problems with her mom. We had become such bad kids that she and her mom were constantly fighting. She told us that she wanted to run away from home. So Kathy, Ty and I began plotting how we would all run away from home.

I felt sad about running away from home. I knew that even though my parents were unhappy with me that they loved me. But I also felt like I was riding a snowball and that things were just getting more and more wild and there was nothing I could do about it.

So we did it. We ran away. I was 14 years old. I remember the day I packed a backpack of stuff and left the house. I turned to look at the house and thought, “Well mom and dad, this is what you get for not paying attention to me.” It was a hurtful, selfish, and mean thing for me to say and do.

I was gone for a month. We stayed at various homes of boys that we had met. I met my first boyfriend during this time and stayed at his home for most of the month. He was two years older than me. Kathy and Ty stayed with some older boys who had an apartment nearby.

After a couple of weeks of staying with my new boyfriend, he starting asking me what I was going to do with my life. Was I going to just be a runaway forever? What about high school? College? A job? I’d never thought about that. He told me I should go home.

So one day, I called home. My dad picked up the phone. I told him I was ready to come home.

Coming Home

My boyfriend walked me to the bus stop and I left for good.

After that, I decided to stop hanging out with my friends as my dad insisted and be a good student. It was certainly hard for me. I went through a depression that lasted until my senior year of high school. It wasn’t easy, but I knew it was all for the better.

Senior picture. Not happy yet but in a much better place.

My dad tells this story about when I ran away: he said that he was so distressed and desperate that he felt that he needed to figure out how to hire the police or someone with a helicopter to look for me. He was going to take out any loan or borrow money from all his friends and family so that he could pay for it. He had reached the bottom of his desperation and he didn’t know what else he could do. But then he heard a voice, whom he believed was God, that told him to just wait one more day. So he waited. And the next day, I called.

Because of this, my dad became very religious. He spoke about God to everyone he could. He suddenly became an avid believer. I used to think it was odd, but since I’ve had my own conversion, I now understand what it feels like. How once you know his voice and taste of his mercy, you never want to turn away.

Thank you God for saving me.

I know I hurt a lot of people through my reckless actions. I can see how immature and self-absorbed I was then and realize that I was just not a good person. I’m sorry to all the people I hurt especially my family, friends, and anyone else that I hurt through my actions. It’s been many years since I was a bad teenager and although I’m not perfect, I know that I’m not the same person I used to be because of God’s grace.

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