I feel trapped in my own house. I spend most of my time alone in my room, rewatching Dazed and Confused and feeling jealous that my life is not like that. So my question is, how does a 16-year-old girl who doesn’t know a lot of people and doesn’t have a car get out of the house? How can I do stuff on my own so I can meet people and experience cool stuff? It’s my last high school summer, and I DEFINITELY want some independence (which I’ve never really had before). —Lily, 16, Los Angeles

High school was super underwhelming for me, and the fact that I obsessively watched teen movies from decades gone by didn’t make it feel much better. (Also, if it’s of any comfort to you, I just checked Wikipedia, and it turns out that mostly everyone in Dazed and Confused was over 20 when that film was made.)

I’m 20 now, and I can tell you that my life becomes increasingly more fun the farther I get from high school. You’re probably like, Yeah, no duh, thanks for enlightening me, Gabby. Stop rubbing your grown-up, cosmopolitan lifestyle in my face! But what I mean is that, even though high school mostly sucks right now, it’s because you’re ambitious and excited to be independent, and your current environment is not ready for that. Again, I’m probably just confirming what you know!

In the meantime, a cool way to meet people who share similar interests with you is finding a job or volunteering somewhere related to your interests. When I was 16, I got an apprenticeship at a textile museum in Philadelphia. I didn’t have a car (or even my license), but I was able to get there by walking to the train station after school a few days a week. (But if you need to bum a ride from your parents to get to work, they probably won’t mind, since you’re doing it in the name of HARD WORK.) I didn’t make a ton of friends at my job, but I learned a lot about textile art and, more important, how to travel by myself. Getting a job is great, because you get to be on your own and make some money! And there are few things that scratch your itch for independence better than being able to pay for things yourself.

If you have access to public transportation, take yourself on small outings to explore new areas or museums or to see a movie. If public transportation isn’t an option, again, beg your parents to drive you to shows and/or readings, this time in the name of CULTURE. If you can drag a friend along with you, even better. (As always, be careful when you’re hanging out alone in a public place. Read this piece for some guidance on that.)

There are, however, also ways to make the most of your surroundings while you’re stuck at home. Go for walks in your neighborhood and try to look at it in a new way. Write a whole bunch, or make weird art in the solitude of your room. Even though living away from my family is as fun as I ever could have hoped on all of those high school weekends when I was holed up at home, there are still times when I miss the quiet and comfort of creating things in my childhood bedroom. Relish that while you can! —Gabby

I have a friend who is severely depressed. She has even attempted suicide once. Luckily, she has a good group of friends who support her, and she’s getting professional help and support from her parents. However, she has been posting intensely personal details about her depression, her self-harm, and her suicidal thoughts on Tumblr. She posts a LOT. Even though I’m pretty sure she’s not in immediate danger, I don’t know what to do when I see these posts. I don’t want to minimize her pain by saying, like, “You’ll get through this” or whatever, but I don’t feel OK pretending it isn’t happening, either. What else can I do? —Izzy, 17, Sydney

First, some business: Despite your close friendship and your lovely big heart, you are not responsible for anyone else’s wellbeing. If you are actively concerned for your friend’s immediate wellbeing or if she is posting about current self-harm, make sure that your friend’s parents are aware of her Tumblr, so they can figure out the best course of action to take with the mental health professionals who are caring for her. Do not keep that information to yourself. That’s too much for any one friend to carry, so I am glad that your friend has a good support system.

In one sense, it’s good thing that your friend has decided to share her darkest thoughts in a place where you can read them, so you won’t have to speculate about what’s going on in her head and constantly check in with her. But, as you’re learning right now, it’s also challenging to know how to respond. I can’t speak for your friend, but my guess is that her posts are less about wanting a reaction and more about getting this stuff out of her head and somewhere concrete. For me, complicated, upsetting emotions always seem a little less scary when I can physically see them in front of me, in the form of art or disjointed sentences typed out on a screen. 

What is more important than your verbalized response to this girl is your willingness to be there for her while she struggles. “Being there for her” doesn’t mean that you always know the right things to say, or that you can make the pain go away. It just means that you are present. It sounds like your friend has been through a lot, and is still going through a lot, and she may very well feel like she’s going through it alone, despite her support system. Letting her know that you’re there, and that you care, is a real gift.

Because I’m a big believer in small gestures that represent something bigger, I would reach out to your friend and let her know that you’d like to develop a code that means “I’ve read this, I care about you, and if you need more than just my eyes on this, I’m here.” It could be that you text an emoji of a lollipop every time you see a post of hers. It could be that you leave a cryptic comment on each post that only she and you understand. Honestly, the more random, the better. Then, whenever you see a post that seems intense, you can easily let her know that you are a witness to her ongoing journey to emotional health without worrying that you’re saying the “right” or “wrong” thing. And, again, if ever her Tumblr seems to be suggesting she’s going to hurt herself, let someone know immediately.

Lots of love to both of you. —Emily ♦

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