As a mom to a rising ninth grader, I want my son to know that the journey is his.

As a parenting journalist for more than 10 years, I have been a witness to the societal pressures our kids have faced and continue to face. Academic achievement pressure, mental health issues, along with social media has changed our children’s worlds.

Our teens’ worth, the essence of who they truly are has been marginalized by a culture that is fixed on accomplishments. What happened to growing, evolving, and enjoying these precious years?

As my son begins this next phase in his life, I want him to know I accept him as he is. I will continue to provide emotional security as he learns to find his own security inside. I will trust his choices. I will love him unconditionally and support him as he becomes exactly who he is supposed to be.

Dear Son,

It’s time to tee up for your journey through high school. WOW. 

I want you to know the excitement I feel to watch you continue to unfold as only you uniquely can. You are a powerful, beautiful, and creative soul with a true zeal for life. You have so many interests. You are so very curious. Stay curious and follow what God is calling you toward. 

As fall sets in, enjoy going out to high school football games with your friends, grow stronger bonds with those friends and be open to new friendships. Be a kind friend. Enjoy class trips and school events. Play the sport you love the most, golf. Goof off like only high schoolers do, but when situations don’t feel right, go to your inner being and you will know what to do. There will be mistakes made, but you can always come to me. I know you know this.

Remember as you start ninth grade, your goals need no clear endpoint, you make the rules, there is no perfect path, and no prize at graduation unless YOU deem it to be. Know this son, the way our culture has set up success is not your north. It is not your path. Your course is all yours- claim it.

Straight A’s, perfection in any realm, or what others may judge you to be is not the measure of who you are inside. Perfection is not the goal. Perfection does not allow for true self-acceptance, self-love, or growth. Still, I know you… and you want to excel, your actions have demonstrated this, so strive for excellence, sweetheart. What is excellence? Excellence is or can be defined as setting goals and working toward objectives that, although high, are attainable. And you can only be in excellence, true excellence, if you are setting the goals that speak to you. Give yourself opportunities that bring you JOY. You already know how to do this. Just keep on the joyful path.

Stretch yourself, do not stress yourself. This is your time to learn and develop this lifelong skill. Know when you need to push yourself- feel it inside and trust yourself. I certainly trust you. But know this too, I am here to help you with anything you might need. It’s natural for you to pull away from dad and me during this period of life, but we all need love and support, no matter our stage in life. I will listen. I will listen with compassion. 

Take care of you. Take care of your mental health. Feel all of your emotions and know the impermanence of them. Breathe deep and take breaks when necessary. Keep your spirituality top of mind as one of your tools toward self-compassion. When you are healthy inside, you are capable of creating the world you desire. 

Finally, some applicable advice (my golfing fanatic) from the great Sergio Garcia, “I always think under par. You have to believe in yourself.” So, honey, go for it, it’s your course to enjoy.