Michael at something called “boy auction,” a charity event

Get Happiness (And Other Advice From a Teenage Boy)

When you type “Teenagers are” into Google, the first four autofill suggestions are “stupid,” “idiots,” “like cats,” and straight-up “evil.” So, I guess we should assume that most seventeen-year-olds are dumb and lazy sociopaths, right?

Wrong! Seventeen-year-olds are superhuman. They’ve hit their growth spurt and learned their manners, but are bigger hearted than the rest of us, because they haven’t gone through the soul-crushing banalities of adult life that make you world-weary and distrustful (e.g., getting fired from a job you had previously considered long-term and stable; going on a date with a guy who ended up being eleven inches shorter than was advertised in his OKCupid profile).

In fact, you’d think we’d constantly be turning to teenagers for tips on how to be more bright-eyed. But when you Google “Advice from seventeen-year-olds,” you get thousands of links to bad advice for seventeen-year-olds. As best-selling young adult novelist John Green has said, “I’m tired of adults telling teenagers that they aren’t smart, that they can’t read critically, that they aren’t thoughtful.” Me too, John Green! Teenagers are magical creatures — like unicorns, if unicorns took the SATs — and I think we should be asking them for life advice, not patronizing them from atop our high horses, sad and sour horses, at that. Horses with hooves full of should-haves, would-haves, and could-haves.

So, I had my twentysomething friends write in with questions, which I then posed to my seventeen-year-old brother, over the phone, after a rousing conversation about his sports injuries. And what qualifications does Michael have, exactly? Well, he is handsome, smart, socially adept, sensitive, and a really good teammate and friend. He has absolutely no other qualifications.

Here’s the advice he gave me:


Kathleen: What are your thoughts on MFA programs?

Michael: On what??

K: MFA programs?


K: It’s like — okay, so you graduate from college. And then you want to do something artistic, like write, or act, or paint, or make films. So you pay a lot of money, usually — like forty to sixty thousand dollars — to get taught how to do that better. Sometimes you get a scholarship, but even then, you usually need loans to live. It takes one to three years, and there’s a chance that when you graduate you could get an agent, or a book deal, or maybe a show, or a role, or something. But most people end up with a few stories or poems in a literary magazine, or a student art show on their résumés, and lots of debt. Afterward, you usually can teach composition or acting, or something in line with what you studied, but that’s not guaranteed.

M: Okay. What are my thoughts on that? I think it’s a good idea for people who aren’t sure what they want to do, and who don’t care about the money. But if you don’t know what you’re going to do by that point, then you might be in trouble. Because if that [the MFA program] doesn’t work, then you’re fucked.


K: What does it say about you if you go to your high school’s ten-year reunion?

M: Like, if you just show up? Or…I don’t understand.

K: Is it cooler to go or not to go?

M: Oh! Okay. I think that it’s cool to go, because it’s important to remember the first eighteen years of your life and what happened and how it affected you — and really just to, like, remember and have those memories and stuff. And those will come back to you when you see those people you haven’t seen in ten years.


K: Should couples move in together if the main purpose is to save money on rent?

M: Like a boyfriend and girlfriend?

K: Uh-huh.

M: Um. I think that it depends. But I think in most cases it’s not a big deal, because people are so social and not awkward. So, it probably won’t be weird for them to live together because, like, it’s not the olden days. So I don’t think it’s a bad idea. You have to do what you have to do just to get out of your parents’ house and not be a bum.


K: What’s the right age to get married?

M: Twenty-eight and a half.

K: Should a woman take a man’s name when she gets married?

M: Yes.


K: How much debt is too much debt?

M: Debt? Umm [makes a funny noise]. I think you can go into debt until you’re questioning whether you can pay it back — not necessarily the point when you start to go over [budget], but the point when you start to worry. I’m not knowledgeable, but that’s what I would think.


K: Should you keep waiting for your dream job after you’ve been unemployed for a while or at a certain point should you take the first thing you can get?

M: Umm [makes a funny noise again]. If it were going to end their [dream job] search, then they should keep looking. If you really, really want some dream job that bad, then you can work at it and eventually find what’s meant for you. The purpose of taking a random job in the meantime is learning the responsibility of doing something you don’t want to do, but still being able to “keep up” or however you want to phrase that. Keep up, get enough to get by. Like, get rent, get happiness.