It wasn’t until I was 17 or 18 that I started to look my age. Before that, my curls and chubby cheeks made it simple for most people treat me like a baby. It didn’t help that I was the youngest person in my class, all the way through high school—that just sealed my fate as The Baby in any social situation, a role that can be pretty prohibiting. You can never be the sexy one or the super cool one or the incredibly interesting one if you are placed in the baby box.

There is, however, one big advantage to being The Baby—if you act the slightest bit smart or mature, you get to be one of those kids that adults call precocious. I used that impression to my advantage growing up.

Before you reach legal adulthood, acting like a miniature grownup is the key to getting what you want in life, at least in my experience. That’s how I got to sell my handmade cards and headbands in stores when I was 12, got paying design jobs at 13, and snagged a fundraising internship when I was 15. Many adults set the bar low for teenagers: if you prove that you don’t fall into the unfortunately common stereotypes of lazy, disaffected, and unreliable Youth of Today, opportunities can arise. It’s always super satisfying to trump someone’s expectations of you, anyways. If you can prove that you don’t fit the preconceptions of kidlike irresponsibility or impatience or whatever old people despise about kids, then you’re officially precocious. Adults will think you’re GREAT. However, you can’t just be an old in a young body—you have to charm them with your youthful enthusiasm and charisma while you surprise them with your old-soul wisdom. It’s a delicate balance.

By the time I turned 18, I guess some combination of my looks changing a little bit (even though I still have blond curls and full cheeks) and my attitude maturing somewhat, too, made people start treating me my age. A lot of people I meet are even surprised that I’m not old enough to drink legally. Mostly I welcomed this change—I’m not automatically assigned the Baby role in every social group anymore—but it puts me on unfamiliar ground. I know how to play The Baby—it’s been my whole life. I knew what strings to pull to get what I wanted. But as far as being the CRAZY SEXY COOL ADULT PERSON OVER HERE, I don’t know how to pull it off. I’m not really that person yet. I don’t know what to do! No one will buy precocious from a soon-to-be-20-year-old. Adults are going to need reasons to love me as a fellow adult. I gotta learn a whole new arsenal of charming behaviors.

How do adults get what they want, anyway? ♦