Columnist

Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski is the founder and director of the Washington Health System Teen Outreach. She responds to 6–8 questions from young people daily and has written 'Ask Mary Jo' since 2005.

Q. I know everyone is different and all but I think I will never be like the other guys in my class. Everyone got taller over the summer. A couple of guys are growing beards. OK, not exactly beards, but facial hair. I got nothing. School was awkward because of how short I still am but I have a great personality – and I’m modest (haha) – so I can get by. Masks cover my chin, it’s cool. When this COVID-19 mess is over and we can go maskless, I’ll still look like a fifth grader. Can I make it grow?

Almost 13

Q. I am absolutely sick of being the tallest person in my class. I tower over everyone – girls and boys and even one of my teachers – well, she is kind of short. If I was a guy it wouldn’t be so bad, but I look at the tops of just about every boy’s head. Even the one I like! I know there’s nothing to do. Just wanted to vent. Thanks for listening.

13-year-old

Q. Some people think it’s cute for a girl to be small and skinny. Well, it is not cute. Can you imagine what it’s like to go to Kennywood with friends and be the only person too short to ride the big coasters? I have to sit and stare at my feet while my friends ride and hope they still want me to hangout with them after the ride is over. I need to grow by summer.

13-year-old

Mary Jo’s Response: All your questions are about growing up. I will respond to all of you as a group, then talk with each of you individually.

I started teaching classes about growing up in 1984. I can share most people your parents’ age felt just as you do when they were young. Talk with your parents. They will tell you this will pass, and your body will grow into adulthood.

From my heart:

  • You are worthy. Your body right now is worthy, even if it frustrates you or you are not growing the way you wish.
  • Your feelings are real. I hear you. I get you. You are not alone.
  • Think back to something you wanted to change. Worrying didn’t help, did it?
  • Your brain is growing and changing, too. If you are anxious a lot, your brain has a tough time learning. Everyone is anxious at times. If your anxiety is taking away joy, though, you should talk with a parent or trusted adult.
  • Try taking between two and three slow breaths when you feel anxious. Close your eyes – unless that freaks you out. Breathe in slowly through your nose. Breathe out slowly through your mouth. Stop and check on your feelings. Better? Do it again.
  • Try to accept your own beauty. Being unique is a wonderful thing.

To the first question writer, you’re wise. Yes, everyone grows differently. Most people your age do not grow beards. There is nothing you can do to grow facial hair, but you can continue your great personality. People will feel at ease with you and not notice your chin. If someone does notice; do you really want friends who are so shallow they would judge your sparkling personality based on hair?

To the writer of the second question, what you describe is challenging. It’s tough to be the tallest person in the room. The rest of your class will catch up in time, but right now this is awkward. I know this is hard. Be a good friend to others. Ask them about their lives – people love it when others listen. And this guy you like? Talk with him. He’s a person just like you.

To the writer of the third question, summer is a long way from now. I do hope you grow. As a young registered nurse at Children’s Hospital, I cared for children who were noticeably short. It was troubling when they went to an amusement park and were too short for a ride. We often talked about finding good friends who understood how they felt. Seek people who will ride with you. It sounds as if you are worried your friends will abandon you. Good friends do not leave a friend alone. Stay away from rides you can’t use right now and find other fun things to do in the park.

Good luck to all three of you. I wish you joy.

Have a question? Send it to Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski’s email podmj@healthyteens.com.

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