17 Things I Wish I Knew When I Turned 17

17… it seems like the golden age. While you haven’t quite reached the age of majority, you’re definitely getting close.

Although many teens could feel disappointed about not being old enough to “be their own person,” that could actually be more freeing than it initially seems. This is the time to think about your big plans in life, such as high school graduation, college, voting, and eventually, leaving your home. At this age, you don’t necessarily need to worry about paying bills and actually living on your own just yet.

17 is a great age to be, and it’s way more important in a person’s life than most realize. As now is the time for you to make mistakes, learn from them, and grow, here are seventeen lessons I wish I’d learned before turning seventeen that will surely help you make the year count!

1. Cherish every moment with your family (it never comes back)

Although it may sometimes seem as if your younger siblings are the most irritating people on the planet, they’re actually some of the best ones you’ll ever know. Because you most likely live with them 24/7, you can count on the fact that they know you pretty well- maybe even better than most of your friends ever will.

While having four siblings has meant that I can never attend a school wherein a sister isn’t already a student and that my friends know a sibling could follow me whenever I go out, it also means I have my “people” to talk about hard days with. Ah yes, family includes parents too. Although at times it feels that your mom or dad does not understand you, they try.

Being an older teen means that you feel more like distancing yourself from your parents. While in some respects, this is healthy; a little bit of wriggle room to explore is good for building inner strength. However, your parents still care about you. Think about things from their perspective: potentially letting go of a child that they have taken care of for years. Letting go is hard; we all know that. Make things easier for them by spending time with them as much as you can.

2. Take your faith seriously

While there may be some of you that don’t embrace a certain religion, for those who do, this period can be fruitful in developing your faith. Make the best use of your time by finding groups of people who practice your faith and are set on helping you thrive, working on your maturity, and establishing good religious habits!

3. Be grateful for your parents’ guidance

While some parents may be excessively and unnecessarily strict or difficult, this doesn’t always mean that all of their advice is horrible. All good parents just want what’s best for their kids, so consider giving your parents’ words some consideration and you may just find some value in what they’re saying!

4. Siblings really are your lifelong best friends

I’m 100% not lying here. Imagine being able to discuss your life issues with someone who lives just in the next room! Your siblings may seem obnoxious now, but they will surely mature someday. When they do, you’ll wish you were closer.

I know my sisters aren’t perfect; we’ve gotten in a few spats before. However, I also know that they’ve seen me at my best and at my worst. They’ve stood with me all throughout and it’s impossible to regard them as anything less than my best friends.

One thing you will gain by making an effort to establish a good relationship with your siblings is that you will always have someone there for you. Even though everyone’s relationship with their siblings is unique and I could never possibly understand the things that may complicate it, in my personal opinion, trying your best to connect with them will always be so worth it!

5. Save money (it will benefit you later)

Ah, yes: the difficulty of saving money. Believe me, I get it! Money may seem to flow out of your hands just as quickly as sand or water would. I often find myself spending much more than I earn while working- a habit I’m sure I share with millions out there. From my experience, there are two ways to help yourself spend wisely.

First, record your expenses. Yep- perform the tedious task of keeping track of how much you spend during shopping trips. Your banking app will most likely help you track what you spend using your credit or debit card, but cash isn’t as easy to trace. That’s why keeping a simple account could help you plan things out properly and recognize when spending will be unnecessary.

Second, set a budget. This budget should include what you spend in each area of your life, limited to reasonable amounts. It’s difficult to exaggerate how helpful this is, as it always does the trick in cutting down my spending. Aim to save at least half of your earned income. While this may seem high right now, you’ll later have a mindset that keeps expendable income in your pocket.

Even if that super cute pair of sandals, that flashy skateboard, or that new phone seems like something you couldn’t possibly resist buying, think about what the saved money could do for you later!

6. Make exercising a habit

Unfortunately, this may be bad news for my fellow non-athletes. Believe me, I never considered myself one to participate in cross-country. I was confident that I would run and develop healthy habits on my own. The reality is that I never would have actually gotten up and worked out. The pressure of my team relying on me to do my part was definitely the motivation I needed to stay healthy.

Exercise is an amazing way to spend your time, and the great thing about it is that it comes in so many different forms to suit any kind of person. Set an appropriate time and length to exercise, whether it be walking, biking, dancing, swimming, or even running a good four miles like I do! Don’t forget to stretch before and after.

Once you establish the daily habit of exercising, you’ll be able to concentrate better on schoolwork, feel great, and discipline yourself. It’s definitely worth the struggle!

7. Develop a healthy diet

Put away the chips and soda and take out the apples and carrots, because now’s the time to eat healthily! Don’t get me wrong- I could definitely eat a whole bag of salt-and-vinegar chips in one sitting. However, I do know what’s good and bad for me. Eating nutritious meals, moderating sugar intake, and staying hydrated are key!

If you’re like me and hate eating food like zucchini and passion fruit, finding alternatives that are just as good for you is always an option. Healthy food is for everyone!

8. Pay attention in class and study!

You are so close to completing high school- don’t let your grades slip now! I know academics may not seem important at this point, but down the road, they really are. Being well-educated is one of the greatest things you can pursue, and having the knowledge to make informed decisions is crucial in becoming a mature person who is ready to face the real world.

9. Don’t follow trends…but stay in style.

This was personally the hardest piece of advice for me to come to terms with and place on this list, as the fashion industry does produce some pretty cute trends. However, not everything needs to be purchased. Trends that were all over TikTok last summer, like ripped jeans, mini bags, tie-dye, and neon, are now all considered “so last year.”

Think of these three tips when it comes to shopping for stylish clothing:

1) Go for clothing that is more classic. Instead of buying something for a specific occasion, try to find a pair of pants that can be easily switched from a casual outing to a fancy dinner.

2) Don’t keep clothing that does not fit your sense of style. Although Charli D’Amelio may be wearing tie-dye, it may not look the same way since we are made differently. Instead of viewing this in a negative light, see it as a way to develop your own unique style. I personally prefer palazzo pants over skinny jeans. You may like bootcuts better or even love sweatpants. Embrace you!

3) Shop thrift stores. They often have hidden gems and the clothing can suit any type of occasion. Recently I found a pair of cargo pants that are perfect for cleaning days.

10. Wash your clothes regularly

Those of you who are athletes know the strong odor of socks after going unwashed for three days. Keeping your clothes clean is so simple, but it makes such a difference. So, get up and wash those jeans that haven’t seen the inside of a washing machine in weeks!

11. Life is not all about you

As much as we like to think it is, life really just isn’t. Social media can blow this concept into crazy proportions, rife with jealousy and the need to impress people you barely even know. I strongly encourage you to develop your self-worth and self-esteem apart from social media, rather than relying on external validation.

My personal experience with this lesson is when, recently, my parents told me I couldn’t go to a party, as my finals were the next morning. I knew how important these finals were in getting me into a good college, but I felt as if this party was a big opportunity to reconnect with a friend I hadn’t seen in a while. I selfishly believed that without me, nothing interesting would happen at the party, and so I found myself unpleasantly surprised the next day when my friends informed me that they’d had a good time. I desperately tried to fish for anything that indicated that I was sorely missed, but I soon had to come to terms with the fact that the party went smoothly and that this didn’t mean I didn’t matter, but only that the whole world does not revolve around me.

12. Live every day as if it were your last

Essentially, this piece of advice means that you shouldn’t put off doing what you could do today for another day. I used to do this more often than not, but as I grew older, I realized what it feels like to live with regrets. What if I had done this? What would have happened? Something about never knowing whether I could have made a difference in my own life or someone else’s made me want to pursue everything.

There are so many opportunities that arise when you try different things, and I put this belief into action when I tried out for the cross-country team, despite not being an excellent runner and never having been a part of a sports team before. Doing so gave me the push I needed to try out other activities I never would have considered, and so I encourage you to eat those unique foods, try that crazy new soda, and say hi to that new girl or guy! Of course, don’t forget to do these things with caution.

13. Take care of your personal appearance

There are many aspects of your personal appearance that you should take into consideration. You don’t need to be ready for the runway every day, but keeping up a basic personal hygiene routine is more important than I could ever express.

After wearing makeup, never forget to wash it off afterward! Develop a good showering habit by washing your body at least every two days and washing your hair about once a week, as doing so more often than that could remove skin buildup and destroy natural oils. To care for your skin, wash your face and apply moisturizer, targeting “trouble” spots like your nose and cheeks.

These are only some of the many personal hygiene tips out there, so don’t forget to do your research and see what works best for you!

14. There is nothing you can or cannot do

If you don’t want to throw a birthday party, don’t. Just because everyone tells you does not mean it is the best option for you. My parents grilled this concept into me until I could recite it in my sleep. They would tell me that “Just because someone else is doing ____ does not mean you need to”. No one cares if you decide not to do something. There is no obligation to please people outside your family.

15. What you do now matters down the road, so have fun responsibly.

No pressure on those who are reading this. However, what you do does affect what you plan to do in the future. Whether it is a new hair color or even a party, remember nothing is not remembered. Let me clarify that: nothing foolish or immature goes away completely. Employers do indeed check social media to see what kind of person you are. Do you really want your future boss seeing you being immature at a party? Always keep in mind that when you do anything at a recorded event, it can be found later. All this in view, have fun still. Don’t miss out on doing something fun; just do it responsibly.

16. Stretch

Although this point may seem out of place, you need to hear me out. I’m not just talking about physical stretching, but mental and emotional, too.

Physically, stretching helps with injuries that arise due to tight muscles. My cross-country coach always tells us that “pain is weakness leaving the body,” and so, even though some stretches may be exhausting or painful, keep in mind that it’s preventing you from even worse suffering in the future.

Mentally, you could stretch your mind by taking challenging subjects in school. I, for one, despise math, but this summer, I resolved to do a little bit of algebra work on a regular basis to prepare myself for the next school year.

Emotionally, do things that push you to contemplate your actions. Maybe it’s meditating, journaling, or setting aside time to reflect on your actions- whatever it is, stick to it and be patient with yourself. While you may not immediately see the results, consistency and dedication form the foundation of these practices and you’re sure to see the outcomes of your efforts in the long run!

17. It’s okay if you are not sure what you want to do professionally yet.

Not everyone has figured it out 100% of the time. When I was younger, I wanted to be a marine biologist, a ballerina and a politician. As time progressed, I leaned more towards where my strengths were: English, history and communication. Even now, with my aspiration of being a history professor, I still have the passion to do different things. Some people have “wandering souls” in that they are not sure what they enjoy the most.

If you do enjoy lunch the best, that may mean you have a culinary interest running through your veins. Also, not everyone has to attend college. No one is required to go immediately after they graduate. I have several friends who plan on going into the military after high school and some who want to attend trade school. Do what you love; circumstances will move and shape you into who you will be later.