Taylor Swift was just 16 when she brought out her first album, Taylor Swift, at which point she’d been writing songs for four years #teengoals.

Before she was singing about moving to New York and possibly going out with Harry Styles, Swift bottled up the ultimate teenage experience and poured it all out while strumming on a guitar. Her earlier albums contain a lot of solace for anybody trying to work out dilemmas at school, with friends and, yes, with boys.

So, to celebrate one of our fave singers (and perhaps hopefully a new album this year), here are the best lyrics to live your teenage life by – and the songs they come from.

1. Life is bigger than kissing the person you fancy

A valid lesson for life, not just adolescence, and yet one that can always fade peskily into the background when hormones are really doing their thing.

Swift, who has built a career on singing about kissing the person you fancy, included this nugget of wisdom in Fifteen, a cautionary ballad from her second album, Fearless. In it she captures everything from the first day of school to first dates, kisses, and heartbreaks and includes the sage advice: “But in your life you’ll do things greater than dating the boy on the football team”. And you will.

2. Whatever you’ve done, you can pick yourself up and start again

Bizarrely, Swift’s introspective Speak Now album track Innocent is said to be written about Kanye West, who famously interrupted her while she was collecting a gong at the 2009 MTV VMA ceremony. In it, she tells him that it’s ok, we’ve all done bad things, it’s never too late to start again. Swift called the song an “open letter” to “someone I forgive for what he said in front of the whole world”.

Granted, not many of us have been publicly shamed by famous rappers on a world stage, but the essence of Innocent works both ways: firstly, be the bigger person and forgive that fool who’s hurt you. Secondly, you can always overcome your demons. As Swift sings in the song: “You’ll have new Septembers, every one of us has messed up too.”

3. Accept your fears, but be brave and do it anyway

Fearless is the most Swiftian of Taylor Swift love songs. There are the essential bingo cards of wet pavements, best dresses and late night drives, but really the imagery of this swooning country number pales in comparison to its message: we’re all scared of stuff, but doing things regardless can be wonderful.

Swift was 16 when she wrote Fearless, and hadn’t really even been on a proper first date. But that didn’t stop her from thinking about what love might look like.

She also explained the true message of Fearless, which is something people of any age can understand: “Fearless doesn’t mean you’re completely unafraid and it doesn’t mean that you’re bulletproof. It means that you have a lot of fears, but you jump anyway.”

4. Know when to stand up for yourself

Listen, this is where artistic license comes in: I’m not suggesting you hire a crack squad of assassins to go and lick your ex-boyfriend’s forks. Obviously. But there is something to be said for Swift’s furious country rock song Picture to Burn, which hints at the possibilities of her vengeance when she’s been wronged.

Sometimes people will do bad things to hurt you, and there’s nothing wrong in asserting yourself – even if that’s in the form of a quiet chat, rather than a pyrotechnic music video. As Swift frequently explained this song on stage: “I really do try to be a nice person… but if you break my heart, hurt my feelings, or are really mean to me, I’m going to write a song about you.” 

5. Everybody feels like an outsider sometimes

The Outside is not one of Swift’s best songs, or her most fun. But it is the first she ever wrote, at 12, about the fear and loneliness she felt going to school – which she claims was far greater than anything she’s felt since.

The good news is that, had she not felt that way, she wouldn’t have written songs, channelled her energy into music and given We Are Never, Ever Getting Back Together to the world. But it just goes to show that even international pop stars can feel sad and small at 12, just like the rest of us mere mortals. And maybe your school days aren’t the best of your life?

As Swift said in an interview: “[I was] a complete outcast at school. Some days I woke up not knowing if anyone was going to talk to me that day. People always ask, How did you have the courage to walk up to record labels when you were 12 or 13? It’s because I could never feel the kind of rejection in the music industry that I felt in middle school.”

6. It’s okay if your mum is your best friend

We know, she’s annoying. But your mum’s also been through a lot of this stuff before and knows you probably better than your mates do. Swift had a really good relationship with her mum, especially when she felt lonely at school, so she surprised her for Christmas in 2011 with The Best Day, and a montage of home video clips (sob).

As she explained a few months later, she wrote the song while “remembering all the times that we had when she was my only friend when I was 13 and I couldn’t understand why my friends were being so mean to me. She would just take me on these adventures and we would drive around and go to towns we’d never seen before.”

7. Appreciate you have a lot to learn, and it’s going to be fun to find it all out

Ok so 22 may seem like a long way off at the moment – and that’s because it is – but Swift’s infectious song about a transformative year of her life was written as a celebration of accepting the journey you have ahead of you.

As she told Billboard: “I like all the possibilities of how you’re still learning, but you know enough. You still know nothing, but you know that you know nothing. You’re old enough to start planning your life, but you’re young enough to know there are so many unanswered questions. That brings about a carefree feeling that is sort of based on indecision and fear and at the same time letting loose.”

While right now your options of having “breakfast at midnight” might be more sleepover-based than frolicking around New York, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take joy in all of the exciting things ahead. As Swift sings: “We’re happy, free, confused, and lonely at the same time. It’s miserable and magical.”

8. Don’t forget it’s ok to be a kid sometimes

We know it’s tough right now. Adulthood: either it feels like you’re getting there too quickly, or not quite quickly enough. Swift was barely an adult when she wrote Never Grow Up, but she did so for the younger girls in the crowd at her shows while exploring her own confusing feelings about growing up.

The song is fairly self-explanatory in that way, but her simple advice tugs on the heartstrings at any age. While you’re busy trying to do all that stuff actual adults get to do, don’t forget that there’s a lot of really wonderful things about being younger too: “Take pictures in your mind of your childhood room, memorise what it sounded like when your dad gets home”.

9. Those school bullies will never be as cool as you

It is a truth universally known to those who survive and leave school that the class bullies wind up kind of loser-y, while the nice, smart, kind people get to go and do cool things. Swift realised that, whatever she did, there would be people talking trash about her. Then she wrote a heel-kicking country kiss-off about how little she cared.

Learn the words to Mean. Sing them loudly, because victory shall be yours – one day, at least: “Someday I’ll be big enough so you can’t hit me / And all you’re ever gonna be is mean.”

10. Just keep doing your own thing

Shake It Off signalled Swift’s official move from country to pop music in 2014, and while the video met with controversy, it quickly became a giant dancefloor (and YouTube lipsync) hit. In it, she tackles all the accusations thrown at her by critics and the media – going on too many dates, having nothing in her brain, etc – and tells them that she couldn’t care less, and will continue to bang her own drum regardless.

If you can manage to do the same thing during your teens, you’ll be absolutely fine.

@alice_emily

Image: Getty/Katie Edmunds

The first time I ever fancied someone I was four years old.

Let’s be honest, that’s premature. And a bit weird. So you can imagine my surprise – and disappointment – when, first secondary school disco in full swing, I found myself in the girl’s toilets, totally consumed with fear at the thought of the night ending in my being someone’s girlfriend.

It wasn’t like Scar from The Lion King was even there (plot twist: I no longer fancy cartoon lions, but still love a black hair/ green eye combo). Or that anyone was showing the slightest whiff of interest in the glitter hair mascara fringe I was debuting that evening.

But, despite the sassy four-year-old inside me who was so desperate to be wifeyed back in 1994, the mere thought of anyone trying to snog, dance or really do anything beyond offering me their seat so I could rest my inexperienced platform-heeled feet was enough to make me fake illness and call my Dad to come take me home. Ah, home. I could eat Indian takeaway and watch Friends there, I could have a bubble bath, I could listen to The Killers and imagine what it would be like to be in a relationship without the scary reality of actually having to go through with it.

Needless to say, after that first school disco, it was obvious: casual intimacy intimidated me. And I ended up spending my entire teenage years single.

It wasn’t because I’d suddenly stopped fancying anyone – quite the contrary. I fancied everyone. At least it felt that way; but as I quickly learnt, my feelings were fickle. The second anyone paid any interested in me I was onto the next one, before they had a chance to fish out the alleged eyelash from my heavily kohl-lined socket.

On several occasions I was accused of being a tease or a flirt, but I was pretty sure I wasn’t doing anything wrong. I was interested in being in the relationships I formed in my mind – it’s just the reality brought so much pressure, and I was yet to meet anyone with the maturity and patience to match my timid curiosity. I wanted fun from a relationship and, from the looks of things, the real-life kind involved heartbreak, school gossip and the risk of everyone knowing the private things I only wanted special people to know.

It took me longer than I wish it had to realise that I wasn’t a tease, and I wasn’t frigid. I just didn’t want to be in a relationship with anyone who didn’t love me. It was as simple as that.

Of course I felt embarrassed about being what from the outside probably looked like a ‘late bloomer’. When you aren’t in love it always feels like everyone else is – but, honestly, this is just imagination talking. I have friends who lost their virginity aged 14 and friends who had their first kiss aged 22, there is no finish line when it comes to intimacy. There just isn’t. Adult life doesn’t begin with your first kiss. If you’re interested in that stuff then life will be littered with it, and you’ll have times when it’s happening a lot and times when it isn’t happening at all.

I’m a bit older now, and I’ve had a serious relationship. We made it work for three years, which doesn’t sound like long but considering the fact that we were broke, lazy students who wore the same Dominoes-stained joggers every day (him) and believed that jarred pesto counted as one of your 5 a day (me), it was a triumph against bad odds. That relationship had everything I’d thought up in my Killers bubble baths. He was loving and hilarious with a gorgeous face, and the first time we kissed I remember being surprised because I wasn’t thinking about when it would be over like all the regretful snogs before him.

It’s important to say here that I think prolific ‘relationship people’ – the types that seem to have loved a hundred times before they’re even legally allowed to drink – are sensational. In my experience they tend to be super open, to both rejection and love, because they come as a pair. Emotional gamblers, pursuing subtle flirtation with the conviction of some sort of intimacy gladiator. But, unless that comes naturally to you, you can’t force it.  As with everything in life, but especially your emotions, you’ve got to consider what you’re comfortable with.

A few days ago a friend asked when I was going to get round to dating someone seriously again and I felt that familiar pang of embarrassment – like FOMO with a sprinkling of shame. The truth is, I just really like being single. Not because I’m frigid, or want a different person every night, or have low self-esteem, or think I’m too good for that bloke who asked me out. I simply love being single because there is so much to love about it.

I don’t have to share anything; my money, my time, my bed, my pizza. I’ve got to know myself in incredible depth, because I’ve had to. I plan my weekends depending on what I want to do, I go to places I want to visit on holiday, I cook what I love for dinner every night. I know exactly what I’m lacking, and what a potential partner could give to make me a better person, but I also know that I’m enough. It’s a strong and sentimental statement, but it’s true. And I like to think this relationship with myself started during those relationship-less teenage years. I’m not scared of being single.

Ultimately relationships can be crazy, fun, sad, beautiful life experiences. But they’ve got to happen on your own terms. My advice would be: take the time to understand exactly what you feel comfortable with.

Because in the end, the only person you have to live with forever is yourself.

 Image: Getty

I’ve never been very good at fancying people.

The awkwardness of really wanting your crush to know that you like them so you can actually be together, while at the same time being absolutely terrified of them finding out, is a struggle. And although I’ve always considered myself a total pro at advising my friends on this sort of thing, I’ve always been pretty bad at dealing with my own heartache.

The guy I fell hardest for took up a good year and a half of my secondary school existence, which, as we all know, feels like about five gazillion years when you’re 13 and convinced you’re in love.  

Don’t get me wrong, I did my best to live the rom-com cliché. I doodled our names in big fat hearts on the inside cover of my maths book. I found out his star sign and searched a bunch of astrology websites until I found one that said we were compatible.

Once he hugged me for a really long time at a party and then held my hand for a bit, which was pretty huge. I happened to be wearing brand new knickers that day and came to the conclusion that from that moment on, those very knickers would be known as my magical lucky knickers and that I’d obviously have to wear them on any occasion that could result in further one-on-one time with the crush boy.

(FYI – the effort of doing that much washing for the sake of a potential snog really isn’t worth the daily questioning you’ll definitely get from whoever presides over the household laundry basket.)

I had butterflies and googly eyes whenever he was within a 100-metre radius and I even bought an album by his favourite band and pretended to like their music so we’d have more to talk about. You know, if ever I managed to form actual sentences in his presence rather than the standard uncomfortable smile and really enthusiastic nod, that is.

Now, you’re probably thinking one of two things: ‘you’re really tragic and you weren’t lying about not being good at fancying people’ or ‘OMG, you have literally described my life’.

This crush business is a minefield, you guys. On top of all that, of course, there’s the stress of not knowing whether or not they fancy you back.

Unfortunately, even after all of my best efforts, it turned out that he did not fancy me back. And no, it wasn’t because he found out about the weird magic pants situation. It was because he fancied one of my best mates. Awks.

I noticed that he started to hang around with my group of friends more and naturally I assumed it was because I was an exceptionally good hand-holder. But then one day he got his friend to ask me if my BFF was interested in him.

A word of advice on how to handle this sort of situation: do not, I repeat, do NOT pretend to fancy your crush’s friend.

Somewhere between feeling really rubbish about crush boy not liking me and having to pretend to be happy for my best mate, I made the awful decision to then try and prove that I was completely fine with it all. I pretended that in fact I never liked him anyway, thanks, and actually it was his friend I fancied all along.

Word of my false love interest got around pretty quickly, which in the end resulted in two broken hearts and a whole lot of resentment towards our respective best mates who then started going out with each other.

I’d love to say that after that disaster, I was suddenly completely over Crush Boy and powered through the rest of school without so much of a fluttery heartbeat. I’d love to say that… but it’s never that easy, is it?

What I did learn over the years though, is that the process of having a crush isn’t always bad news.

Sure, it’s mega cringeworthy at times and you might go through periods when it feels like there is not a single human on earth who could possibly be as beautifully perfect as whoever it is you happen to be into – but once you come out the other side still standing, you realise that even though crushes are hard work, they’re also pretty great. Fancying people is quite exciting. And whether it works out or not, at the very least they make for really good group WhatsApp chats with your mates.

Just think twice before committing to the same pair of pants forever. Apparently it doesn’t work very well…

@JazKopotsha

Image: Manjit Thapp

You and your friends have talked about nothing else for weeks. You’ve got everything planned, from your eyeshadow all the way down to your shoes. But there are some things you can’t plan for. Trust us, even near-perfect prom nights tend to have a few wobbly bits.

Here are some of our most embarrassing prom stories. No judgement.

“I went to my prom in what I now realise was actually a wedding dress, and my boyfriend literally hid so he wouldn’t have to dance with me.”

“I wore a gold, strapless 80s dress that was twice as wide as most doorways and crimped hair. It was 2006.”

“I got burnt AF the day before and had to have an intense emergency spray tan to blend me out in my strapless dress. I ended up deep orange just to cover everything.”

“My prom team tried for a “Hollywood Glamour” theme. This being high school, nobody cared. All except me who had just discovered Hollywood musicals and was, to say the least, a little obsessed. Most people, sensible: “I am scared of the social embarrassment of a try-hard, and will go in a suit and tie. Maybe an ill-fitting rented tux”. Me, carefree, unaware, joyous: “Imma spend all my money on being the spitting image of Don Lockwood from Broadway Melody/Singin in the Rain!” Somewhere in my loft there is a photo of me and the head of the prom committee, the only people in the whole year who stuck to the theme. It remains one of my proudest, yet most cringeworthy high school memories.”

“I almost got kicked out of my prom for taking my shoes off on the dancefloor, I tried to reason with the security guard (that always goes well) that I had enormous blisters that were preventing me from pulling my best moves before putting my shoes back on and proceeding to make out with my ex boyfriend, my ex girlfriend and another guy I had a crush on. I woke up by myself on a trampoline still in my prom dress.”

“I was donated a vintage dress from a family friend who competed in dancing competitions at Blackpool ballroom back in the day and wore it with my gladiator sandals coz I DON’T WEAR HEELS MUM.”

“What didn’t go wrong for me at my prom? For starters, my dress wouldn’t do up. A combination of the corset zip being super stiff, me being sweaty, and having bought the dress in February and eaten a lot of exam season biscuits since then, meant that while all my best friends laughed and got ready together in my bedroom, I ended up trapped in my bathroom with my mum, crying and desperately trying to get my zip up. Eventually, thank god, it did. But then I put my heel through the skirt as I got into our prom car and ripped a huge hole in the hem, which flapped about all night. Then we arrived and I discovered that not one but two other girls had my dress. Neither had a hole in theirs, of course, so at least I was still original.”

Image: Absolutely Balloony

I am a champion grudge holder. It’s not something to be proud of, but I hold onto feelings of anger and resentment like vertigo sufferers hold onto the safety bars on rollercoasters.

Years ago, one friend asked me why I’m always a bit chippy and weird with a mutual acquaintance. “Because she got really flirty with your boyfriend in 2006, remember? She tried to snog him!” My friend had forgotten this incident and couldn’t even remember going out with the boy in question. But I stewed, and struggled to forget something that happened 10 years ago – something that didn’t even directly involve me.

So it’s embarrassing, but not surprising, to admit that I only just ‘forgave’ my ex best friend for being mean to me, even though we haven’t spoken since we were taking our GCSEs, over half my lifetime ago.

When I started secondary school, Kirsty* (*not her real name) was one of my new classmates and I desperately wanted to be her friend. She wasn’t one of the loudest girls, and she didn’t brag about how trendy she was – she was just dry and wickedly funny, supplying punchlines and sometimes reducing me to breathless fits of giggles with a raised eyebrow. She had an encyclopaedic knowledge of Friends, a programme that my parents wouldn’t let me watch. She’d actually been to New York with her Mum. She was cool and clever and grown up, and had a perspective on life that seemed different from anyone else’s. Other people were happy to accept what they were told, but she challenged them. She seemed to know that there was life outside sleepy Dorset, and I wanted her to tell me all about it.

Kirsty was immediately commandeered by Charlotte* a girl I knew from primary school, a friend who was good at blowing hot and cold with me, and was confident in her coolness. I became Kirsty’s stand-in BFF – I was the pal version of a supply teacher, and I used to look forward to flu season because I’d get a full week of Kirsty’s undivided attention.

Then, one summer, Kirsty and I started hanging out together all the time. I felt as though I’d won a competition. She’d bitch about Charlotte and I’d join in, thrilled. I’m not proud of how good it made me feel to be ‘promoted’, but when we returned to school in the Autumn, it was just the two of us. Charlotte was out in the cold.

I lasted a term. For a few months, we told each other everything and spent every spare second together, and after Christmas Kirsty started blanking me. “Nothing is wrong! Why are you being weird?” she’d mutter, as I tearfully tailed her down school corridors demanding to know what had happened and what I’d done. It was as if I’d been dumped. I suppose I had.

For months and years afterwards, I thought of Kirsty as the person who had hurt me the hardest, the girl who wronged me, and the person who had seen something so awful and unfixable inside me that she couldn’t bear to be seen with me any more. It’s only now I realise that what happened probably had nothing to do with me at all.

Before the break up, Kirsty had told me about her parents’ divorce, and how she felt that her family was alternately suffocating and abandoning her. She’d gained weight quickly and then lost it even more quickly, and she was suffering from a severe eating disorder. Like me, she was dealing with the difficulties of just being in her teens, surviving school and dealing with the enormous amount of academic pressure that was facing her.

At the time, I think it made sense for me to experience sadness, anger and confusion. I wish I’d known that then, it was just too hard for her to be a good friend to anyone. She needed to draw people close and reject them, because it was a way for her to show she was in control. I don’t think she did it on purpose, and I’m sure she didn’t mean to actively cause me pain.

Hurt people hurt people, and our teenage years are a traumatic time. In some ways we’re at our angriest – we lash out, yet we’re incredibly vulnerable to the sadness and fury of others. Years later, I can finally see that we reject each other for all kinds of reasons, and most of them don’t have anything to do with the person being rejected.

I wish I hadn’t made Kirsty’s pain all about me. But I’ve finally realised that what happened wasn’t my fault, and I think that makes me a better friend now.

@NotRollergirl

Image: Hailey Hamilton

STEM is a little word, with big importance. It stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and it’s used to group together all those subjects that look at the physical, technical way that the world works. We all start off studying them in their simplest forms, though loads of us give up STEM along the way for more flowery subjects – and by ‘us’, we mean girls.

But perhaps more of us need to give STEM a second thought. And a third, and a fourth. Here’s why.

…because STEM subjects are fascinating

STEM can take you from the depths of the ocean to the furthest known galaxy – and everywhere in between. You can study the power of the sun, the movement of the planets, the algorithms of love, the beating of the heart, the ways in which prosthetics can replace limbs and organs, or the real secrets behind the most popular Instagram posts. Yes, really: that’s maths for you.

microscope

“Physics was always a subject that I enjoyed – but when we got onto the more advanced subjects, everything opened up and became so much more interesting. I also realised that I loved the applied maths and the experimental side of physics,” says physicist Dr Charlotte Buckley.

“I loved my degree. Studying everything from quantum mechanics or the behaviour of light, up to the formation of stars, galaxies and the universe was incredibly rewarding.”

…because they make the world go round. Literally.

We don’t need to tell you how big a role technology has these days. Google, Facebook, Apple and Twitter basically own us – and if you can’t beat them, work for them. Or at least understand how they work.

Mathematics is, basically, problem solving. It’s the foundation of spaceships, of hydrology (that’s all things water, the reason you can have a shower each day), of architecture, accountancy – even democracy. What is voting but a numbers game? Scientists find cures for disease, contribute toward the making of everything from food to shampoo to cleaning products, and explore the universe.

space

Engineering, meanwhile, is not just building bridges or working on oil rigs. “It can often have connotations of greasy overalls and spanners, but in fact [engineering] is a huge world of professions influencing the world that we live in,” says Vicki Greenwood, a chartered civil engineer and a construction project manager.

Engineering graduate Milly Belcher designed a simulated human jaw at Bristol uni to test new, chewable medicines; then, interning at Dyson, she found herself “designing, testing and evaluating products that, stereotypically, are used by women” – though ironically, the majority of her the workforce were male. Sigh. 

…because they need more women

Dyson is no exception. The numbers are scary, especially when you consider how important STEM subjects are to everything we do every day. Only 9% of the engineering workforce is female. Just 20% of A Level physics students are female, and only 14.4% of the science, tech, engineering and maths (STEM) workforce in the UK is female.

“Women represent half the workforce,” Vicki continues. “STEM subjects lead to careers that have a direct influence on our world. The world is losing a lot of innovative thinkers by not factoring in the female population.” And it has a real cost: “A balanced team will usually be more creative and have a more enjoyable and caring working environment, in my experience,” says Vicki, and indeed companies are shown to be 15% more likely to perform better if they are gender diverse.

goggles

At school and at university, girls studying STEM are “in the minority,” says Milly. “You stand out.” Indeed, at her all-girls school, engineering was not even discussed as a possibility. “My friend and I were the first people from school to study Engineering at university, so application and career advice were limited. Later, at Dyson, she noticed her male colleagues struggle with making products like hairdryers user-friendly – “for example getting a feel for something like the weight of the product: it is difficult for men to contextualise what it feels like for a woman to use. I think that women can sometimes provide an insight that men may not have even considered.” 

…because studying STEM subjects does not make you a nerd

On the contrary, says Milly, “the majority of girls I met on my course were the opposite. They chose engineering because they enjoyed science and maths, but wanted to see a more practical, more creative side to those subjects. Outside of their studies they were heavily involved in sports, charity, etc – and had rich social lives.”

geeky

“There is a very classic image of a woman physicist, which just isn’t true,” Charlotte agrees. “I have heard inspirational lectures from incredible women who have had to fight tooth and nail to get to the top of their profession.” The idea that everyone is super nerdy and can’t socialise is, she says (and I can second it, having seen her on a dance floor) totally not true.

…because they are NOT ‘men’s subjects’

Why do so few women go into STEM subjects? “Maybe young men are more confident in themselves and don’t mind taking on such ‘risky’ subjects, whereas girls are more likely to choose something they feel confident in,” Charlotte suggests.

i-believe-in-science

Of course there’s a perception that they are super hard – and we’re not saying it isn’t true. But that doesn’t make them ‘male’ any more than, er, cooking a soufflé is a female domain.

“There was one eccentric maths teacher who used to say ‘Girls should be in home economics’,” Charlotte laughs, “but I don’t think he was serious, and the three girls in the class would then get the best marks!” As she continued through university, “it became obvious that each person had different strengths in different areas, both technical and theoretical… I can’t really think of anything during my degree which I thought of as ‘male’ traits and ‘female’ traits.

…and it’s empowering stuff to know

After all, as the name suggests, everything starts with STEM.

science-everything

Check out STEMnet to find out more about the cool opportunities out there.

@finney_clare

Image: Hailey Hamilton

I always felt like a bit of a chameleon when I was growing up.

I had lots of different groups of friends and I felt really happy moving between them. I could be arty and into speaking about paints and new projects with one group. I could talk about music and boys and shopping and clothes with another. I could talk about dyeing my hair and getting a nose piercing and listening to lots of loud music with some others. And my friends who loved poetry and losing themselves in the library made me feel calm when the whirlwind of first crushes, so much homework and a changing body made me feel quite scared.

But when we hit 14 things began to change. It didn’t seem so easy to move from one group to another. I was listening to rock music and wanted to wear baggy clothes, but one group called me names. I decided I really wanted to fit in, so I dressed more like them. I listened to the music they listened to. And I spent a lot of time talking about boys, parties and clothes. I wasn’t part of lots of groups anymore. I was part of one.

At first, it felt good to be part of one group. We were all very close, they invited me everywhere and we did everything together. I didn’t speak to my other friends much anymore.

But soon I realised that I didn’t really fit into this group as much as I thought I did. I was hiding the music I listened to at home. I was getting all my homework done when they weren’t. I still wanted to audition for the school play and they wanted to go sit in the park on a night instead.

One day they told me I couldn’t come to lunch with them anymore. “…Why?” I asked, assuming it was some kind of joke. “Because if you love homework so much, you have all of ours to do as well,” one of them answered.

So, I did. I sat all lunch time doing six different sets of history homework. I didn’t have my other groups of friends. I didn’t have this group anymore. And I’d never felt so alone.

That weekend they invited me to a house party. I’d never been to a house party before. I felt scared, but also excited. And happy that they’d invited me to something. Maybe I wouldn’t have to do their homework for them again?

I arrived at the party and met my friends outside. They didn’t seem to want me there, but I followed them in anyway. We sat in the front room of the house, loads of boys that were much older than us sat around us. I felt really uncomfortable. Suddenly my friends got up and ran out. “You stay here,” they said. I waited a few minutes and then decided I just had to get out of there. I tried to move and knocked a lamp over. Everyone in the room laughed.

I ran outside to see my friends talking to a bunch of older boys. They were all smoking. “Oh here she is, Little Miss Geek,” one of them said. “Little Miss Goody Two Shoes Goth!” said the other. I looked at them both and turned away to walk back home. I felt sad. I felt lonely.

But I also felt free.

The next day, I went to audition for the latest school play. I thought I might have missed the last chance, but my favourite drama teacher let me give it a go. A lot of my old friends were there and I felt shy around them. Luckily, they invited me over when they could see I was on my own. We all auditioned and I felt happy to stand on stage. To speak loudly. To do something I loved and to see people who didn’t need me to be someone I wasn’t.

Over the next few weeks I spent a lot of time with the drama group. We all got brilliant parts in the play. We all bonded over old, sticky stage makeup and big, billowing costumes and dancing about behind-the-scenes before rehearsals. I didn’t feel scared about being part of a group this time, because I knew this group appreciated a big bit of me.

And I never had to do anyone else’s homework ever again.

@BeccaCaddy

Image: Hailey Hamilton

1. You promise to message and meet up all the time.

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2. You judge each other’s uniform.

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3. They quickly find new friends and you get protective. How dare they.

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4. You stalk everyone involved in any second of your spare time.

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5. You debate joining a sports team just so you can go to their school and fight the new friends.

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6. Your best friend starts to change and you don’t like it. At all. You agreed Snapchat filters were overrated and now look! She’s wearing a flower crown!

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7. The “Do you mind if so-and-so comes?” texts start to roll in and encroach on your BFF time.

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8. Your parents start to ask why you haven’t mentioned your best friend in ages.

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9. But then, suddenly, they turn up in your Facebook messages when something goes wrong. They need you and only you.

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10. And you realise that no matter where you are, how you’ve changed, and what you’re doing, that’s just life and you’ll always be each other’s number one.

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10a. (Fine, and the new friends are actually ok…)

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@louisejonesetc

The start of the school year always brings new things. New shoes, maybe a school bag, and definitely loads of stationery. But it can also bring a new school – and if you’re joining at any point other than the very start, then you’re the ‘new girl.’

Once upon a time, I was the new girl. I joined my school late after returning from living in Australia. I had a funny accent, weird clothes, and no idea which classroom I was meant to be in. Everyone else, meanwhile, knew everything – each other, how to find the lunch hall, and a lot more French.

As my accent and I learned, it’s not easy being the new girl. I did a particularly bad job of it – especially when a game of ‘piggy in the middle’ with my notebook led to it flying out the window and landing in a puddle right by the headmistress’s window. I was promptly taken to see her and told that my lack of respect for the school was unacceptable, and if any of my belongings ended up in places they shouldn’t again then I’d be looking for another new school. Sure, because that’s fair.

Thankfully, the rest of my books stayed where they were meant to and I didn’t get into too much more trouble. Mostly. But it took me a while to find my place, and I sometimes found it tough.

I hear from other former new girls, though, that getting to know a whole new bunch of people can actually be fun. So, if you’re the new one this year, here are a few tips to help you on your way:

1. Don’t feel like you have to cling to the first person who shows interest.

When you first turn up there’s likely to be one person who’s really keen to befriend you – they might just be really lovely, they might be a bit lonely, or they might think you look like someone they’d like to be friends with. And that’s great. But don’t feel like you have to cling onto them and not get to know the rest of your new classmates. It’s worth taking the time to find the people who will be your new BFFs for reasons other than they got there first.

2. Sometimes first impressions can be wrong.

When you’re in a new class there are lots of people to get to know all at once, so it’s easy to stick with first impressions. But it’s not always wise – some people might be having a bad day, or aren’t sure what to ask you, or are a bit shy. Give them a chance, and get to know them a bit. And don’t worry too much about what impression you make. I’ve been told that the first thing most people thought about me was the I had a really weird fringe, but thankfully they moved past my odd hair and got to know me. And then told me my fringe looked stupid.

3. Be ready to answer the same questions a lot.

Where have you come from? Why have you moved? Is there some dark secret about why you’ve turned up late? It can’t be as simple as your family just moving house, or this seeming like a better school for you. Nope, you must have done something so appalling at your old school that you’ve had to change schools. And maybe your name.

Obviously it’s tempting to make a story up (both my parents are SPIES!), but keeping up with your own lies gets tiring. Just stick with the truth instead.

4. Got a talent? Use it.

One of the easiest ways to make friends is through clubs and teams. Or so I hear – I’ve always been so appallingly terrible at sport that the chances of my making it onto a team were slim-to-none. I did try to play tennis one lunch, but swiftly got banished from the courts when it became apparent that I couldn’t even hit the ball. My sister-in-law, meanwhile, has been blessed with the gift of coordination, and after changing schools at 14 found some of her best friends in the hockey and netball teams. So if the thought of someone hitting or throwing a ball at you doesn’t make you want to hide or cry, then go try out.

5. Be yourself.

It can be tempting to try and act like someone else if you think that’ll get people to like you, but it’s just not worth it. Keeping up that pretence is exhausting. I’m speaking from experience here – it was only when I stopped pretending to like boybands, dyed my hair black and wore of a lot of angry band t-shirts that I became friends with the girls I still love to this day (they invited me to join their band, because I had the right look. Never mind that I couldn’t really play guitar.)

There are bound to be people there who’ll like you for you. After all, if people liked me when I was a strange goth with a weird fringe, there really is a place for everyone.

@JackiBadger

Image: Hailey Hamilton

You know when you wait ages for a bus and then three come along all at once? Well, that’s how becoming a teen felt for me.

I had found primary school easy. I had lots of friends, exams were a breeze and I never really thought about how I looked. But then lots of things came along all at once.

My parents had never got on well, but suddenly they were fighting so much more. I had my first crush, but he didn’t like me back. I started my period, but had a lot of painful cramps. My friends were arguing and taking time off school to go to the park. And to top it all off, I was finding it really difficult that everyone else in my class — not to mention everyone else on the planet — seemed to have big boobs and mine felt tiny in comparison.

So much had happened in one go that I didn’t know how to deal with it. It’s easy to pick up one or two Maltesers when they’ve fallen out of the packet, isn’t it? But what about when the whole packet falls on the floor? Well, you either start picking them up… or you don’t pick them up at all.

That’s what I did. Instead of coping with one thing at a time, I felt really overwhelmed. It was like a big, sad cloud was following me around and raining on me all of the time. I tried to hide it and pretend my parents breaking up wasn’t a big deal really or I didn’t even want to have boobs and look like the girls in the magazines. But deep down I was overwhelmed. And the worst part was that I thought other people could tell. This meant I did less and less. I didn’t want to socialise with my friends or get dressed up because I thought I was just a quiet, sad girl to them.

I didn’t really know where these feelings were coming from, either. I thought everyone else was dealing with things a lot better than me — and that I should be happy. After all, I got good grades, I had friends, I had a mum who was just absolutely ace. All I really needed at the time was someone to tell me that it’s ok to feel sad and confused sometimes when you hit your teens. Worrying about your body when it’s going through puberty and changing so much is really natural. Getting sad about your parents arguing would probably even make Beyoncé want a good cry. And feeling unsettled when friends were falling out and crushes wouldn’t text back? Well, that was something everyone was going through too.

But it felt like just me.

One day I remember feeling so trapped and sad that I just ran outside to get away from everything. As simple as that. I ran and I kept running. And suddenly my heart was beating faster, I could feel the wind against my face, I was breathing normally, I was holding my head up high, I wasn’t caring about how my body looked. I felt free.

More importantly, I felt happy.

Happy that I could make a decision to get outside when it felt like life was too much, that I could make my body work for me, that I could feel a surge of happy exercise endorphins in my blood and that I could breathe free and easy rather than feeling panicky and nervous.

I’d always loved to exercise when I was growing up. But PE lessons had sucked all of the fun out of running and climbing and dancing around — all of the things I loved when I was young. Team sports felt so boring and fake to me. But discovering running for myself felt like I had opened up a brand new world.

From then on, anytime a sad or nervous or “I’m rubbish!” feeling came along, I’d decide not to let it take over. Instead, I put on my trainers and went outside. Taking some time out of each day to do something for me, how I wanted to do it, in the way I wanted to do it felt really good. It didn’t stop the sad feelings, it didn’t make my parents get back together or magically grow me a huge pair of boobs to make all of the other girls in my class jealous. But it made things feel easier, happier and somehow just a little bit lighter. Because I was proving to myself that I was stronger than my sad thoughts.

It doesn’t always work, though. Sometimes I don’t go running. Sometimes I still sit inside and forget how nice it feels. Sometimes lots of sad feelings still come along. But that’s a natural part of being me.

And years later, I still run and it’s still the best medicine for when I’m feeling sad and when things get too overwhelming. I’ve not trained for a marathon, I don’t spend a lot of my money on fancy running clothes or run a lot of races for charity. But I do feel like I have a secret weapon for whenever life gets a bit too much.

@BeccaCaddy

Image: Manjit Thapp