At 17, she could pass for 21. Her wild brown curly hair is streaked with turquoise highlights. A cluster of freckles sprinkle the bridge of her pierced nose. Abby wears a 1920s-inspired emerald-green tropical-print bikini. Her nails are painted glittery gold. She is outgoing, confident, and a tad insensitive. Abby sits on a paisley beach blanket in the center of a semicircle made up of her and three of her closest girlfriends — Lily, Jessie, and Kate (not their real names). When she talks, the other girls give her all their attention.
During the short time I spend with the foursome, the group receives a fair share of unsolicited attention from male beachgoers. One man, far too old to be talking to high-school girls, asks, “Where’s the party at, ladies?” He continues on his way after Abby shoots him a disgusted withering glance.
“We’re used to that,” says Abby with an shrug. She pushes a wayward curl behind her ear before continuing, “We spend most of our time at the beach. I’m at the ocean at least five days a week. I wake up in the morning, shower, and come here or Solana Beach, Carlsbad, Oceanside, or sometimes La Jolla. It depends on how much gas is in my car.”
The girls are beginning their senior year of high school in a few weeks at a North County public school they’d rather not to name.
“It’s a bit stressful that we are almost done with high school. Soon we are going to have to deal with the real world and, you know, go our separate ways. I stress out about college constantly,” says Kate, whose beauty rivals Abby’s but in an understated, less wild-child, kind of way. Kate is petite with a feminine pixie-cut. She wears a nautical-themed Marc Jacobs bikini. She looks like a young Halle Berry.
“Kate’s the smartest person I know. The most annoying thing is that she is good at everything. She could be a professional athlete or an artist or a lawyer. She is disgustingly talented,” says Lily of her best friend.
Kate’s dream is to get into an Ivy League college.
“My parents met at Penn. I want to go to Brown. I don’t know what I’ll do if I don’t get in. I will spiral into depression, probably, and live in a mental hospital.”
Lily rolls her eyes and says, “You’ll get in.”
Abby interrupts, “If only her tits were as big as her brains.”
Everyone laughs except Kate, who forms her mouth into a small tight smile.
I ask the girls about their parents. Neither Abby nor Jessie’s parents are married.
“My parents got divorced when I was five,” says Abby. “I live with my mom and my older brother. We don’t spend much time with my dad. He buys me stuff. I guess that’s cool. My mom and I, we aren’t very close. She is always disappointed in me.” Abby then turns to Jessie and asks, “Were your parents ever even married? I don’t think I have ever seen your dad before.”
“Nope,” is Jessie’s quiet response.
“My parents are still together, same with Kate’s. But most of our friends have divorced parents. I think most kids in general have divorced parents. My mom stays at home and does some accounting work. My dad is a contractor,” says Lily.
The girls say an average weekend for them consists of the beach during the day and parties at night.
“We drink, not like alcoholics, just like normal kids on the weekends. I don’t smoke weed, but most of our friends do. I don’t like the way it makes me feel like everything is in super slow motion. I am mellow enough that I don’t need something to make me more mellow,” says Lily, who reminds me of a Precious Moments figurine with her big blue saucer-like eyes and chin-length blond hair. She wears a basic black bikini. Most of her fingers host colorful, chunky rings. A gold butterfly necklace and a longer feather necklace are layered around her thin neck.
“Lily likes the speedy stuff,” says Abby coyly.
Lily slaps Abby’s leg and with a sigh explains, “I’ve tried coke a few times. I loved it, like, a lot. Maybe a little too much, so I try not to hang out with the kids that are into that. I’m sticking with these stoners.”
Abby responds, “I wouldn’t say we are stoners. I only smoke on the weekends.”
Lily interrupts, “Yeah, and before and after school.”
Abby shrugs and then lists all the drugs that she has tried.
“I’ve done mushrooms, acid, Ritalin, ecstasy, Jessie’s prescription Zoloft, which was a total waste of time, Vicodin stolen from a friend’s mom’s medicine cabinet, which was another waste of time, coke a few times, and weed. I prefer weed.”
“Tell her about that time you took acid at school. It’s my favorite Lily story,” says Jessie scooping her long brown hair off her shoulders and into a fat bun at the top of her head while adjusting the straps of her bikini top.
Lily’s pale complexion turns a bright shade of red.
“Tell her,” taunts Abby.
Lily smiles sheepishly and says, “You guys are making me sound, like, really bad.”
Lowering her voice, she continues, “Sophomore year, my friend Beth and I decided to eat some acid that we got from her cousin. We took it at school. It was stupid. We didn’t think it would kick in because we took it at the end of the day during lunch. Halfway through my last class I started feeling it. I have huge eyes. I don’t know how my teacher didn’t notice how big my pupils were. When I walked down the halls after school all the kids looked like Tim Burton characters. The walls had moving patterns. It was crazy. When I found Beth, she was in the hallway walking up to people and hugging them. When she saw me we behaved like two people that had been separated by, like, war or oceans or something. We were seriously fucked up. My older sister picked us up from school that day. She drove us to Abby’s house. I had to try to act normal but she definitely knew I was on something.”
Adds Abby, “Lily kept sticking her hand out the car window and talking about how she could feel the air and how amazing it felt. It was so funny! Lily’s sister thinks we are crazy.”
Continues Lily, “Beth and I sat in a corner in Abby’s room for, like, five hours straight and just stared at the walls. When I got home that night, my dog kept drinking out of the toilet and I was positive that he was going to drown in there. I would never do it again and wouldn’t recommend it. It was like being trapped in a horror movie for hours.”
“They should make that story into a movie for middle-schoolers on the dangers of drug abuse. You should launch an anti-acid campaign,” adds Jessie, laughing so hard that she nearly chokes on her Mountain Dew.
“My life is a cautionary tale,” Lily says with a smile that reveals a row of tiny, perfect teeth. “We have lots of those kinds of stories. We have the tendency to make bad decisions...well, most of us do. Not Kate.”
“But Kate likes assholes,” blurts Abby.
In retaliation, Kate hisses, “And Abby always has a boyfriend. Always. I don’t think she knows how to survive without having some guy following her around telling her how hot she is.”
There is a long awkward silence before Jessie breaks the icy silence by blurting, “I have never had a boyfriend. We don’t have quality guys at our school. I’m the only virgin in our group. But, I think the whole idea that guys pressure girls is a myth. We are equally horny.”
“I disagree,” Lily says, shaking her head. “Guys want it all the time. They, like, beg.”
Abby nods her head, “Guys just assume you’ll do it. I was 16 the first time I did it. It wasn’t a big deal. Kate, weren’t you, like, 14?” she asks, raising a perfectly manicured eyebrow.
“Fifteen! I was a sophomore. I had the same boyfriend for a year. My little sister knows 13-year-old kids at her school that are fucking!”
Abby looks at Lily and adds, “Lily’s virginity story is the worst!”
Beach blanket banter
A couple of San Diego teenagers talk about their use of technology and media, body image, and money.
Kate lets out an angry sigh, “God, Abby, shut up!”
“It’s fine,” Lily shrugs, scooping up a handful of sand and sifting it through her fingers. “It wasn’t magical.”
Abby pauses for a second and looks at Lily to make sure it’s okay to continue before explaining, “Lily was so drunk when it happened that she could barely stand, let alone make decisions. Her parents were in Palm Springs so we had a party. He took advantage. He hasn’t even talked to her since and...”
Before Abby can get another word in, Kate angrily repeats, “Shut up!”
After a short silence, Jessie adds, “We got him back a few weeks later. We TP’d his house. We destroyed it. We wrote asshole in shaving cream all over his driveway.”
Lily chuckles and adds, “I have never felt so loved in my whole life.”
Before I get the chance to ask them anything else, they are greeted by two guys. Abby stands up and hugs a scruffy-looking shirtless boy holding a skateboard. The group stares at me awkwardly for a second. I take my cue to leave.
“Don’t forget to change our names!” Abby calls after me.
Social media — I don’t like it
In Ocean Beach, soon-to-be freshmen Violet, Brandon, Julia, and another Julia, sit on beach towels near lifeguard tower three waiting for the rest of their friends to join them.
“I have never drank before. I have tasted it, at, like, church,” says Julia, a bubbly 14-year-old redhead wearing a tropical print bikini. “I think in high school I’ll try drinking, maybe once, but I’ll probably get really sick and hungover and never do it again because it will suck.”
“I won’t try it,” chimes in Brandon, who is clean cut and wears a Hawaiian-style T-shirt and black athletic shorts.
“Me either,” concurs the other Julia, who has a mouth full of braces and long brown curly hair with sun-streaked pieces of blond in it. “I don’t think I will feel pressure to drink. I am not easily persuaded.”
“We all come from private schools. None of the kids at our schools drink. They were all super sheltered,” adds Violet, the only blonde in the group. She wears a broad-brimmed straw hat and a fluorescent pink-and-white bikini.
Redheaded Julia adds, “The kids at my school were all immature and awkward. That is why we have no social life.”
The foursome met through brown-haired Julia.
“Violet and I know each other from soccer. Julia and I met at volleyball camp through Our Lady of Peace. Brandon and I have gone to school together since first grade,” she explains.
Julia and Julia are headed off to Our Lady of Peace. Brandon will attend St. Augustine. Violet will start at Westview High, a public school in Carmel Valley.
“Our parents didn’t want us to go to Point Loma High School; they’ve heard bad stuff,” says brunette Julia.
Adds Violet, “There’s drugs — a lot of weed.”
“I mean, there are drugs everywhere, but Point Loma High School is the worst,” brunette Julia elaborates.
When asked if they are nervous about starting high school, all four teens shrug.
Brunette Julia says, “I’m not nervous, I just don’t want to start because I want to hang out at the beach. Right now my life consists of walking to the beach, eating açaí bowls, and jumping off the Punch Bowl,” a nearby cliff that juts out over the ocean.
“If school started at, like, 10:30 and I didn’t have homework, I would be down with going back,” adds redhead Julia. “I stress out about college and my future the most, because it’s really hard to get into college now. Not only do you have to have over a 4.0, but you also have to have all the other stuff going for you, too, like community service and sports. You have to be perfect.”
When asked where they see themselves going to college, Brandon is the first to answer, “I know where I want to go to school — the Naval Academy.”
The girls laugh.
“What?” he says, looking at them. “Don’t hate. It’s a hard school to get into.”
“I want to go to UCSD for soccer or go to college in Hawaii. I like to surf and I like islands and the ocean and summer weather,” pipes in the brunette Julia.
“I wanted to go to North Carolina University because they won the soccer championship for NCAA two years ago, but I gave up on that because I will never be that good. Pepperdine would be cool,” adds the other Julia.
Violet admits, “I have no idea — no clue where I want to go.”
As for what they envision for their lives after school, redhead Julia is less than optimistic about her future.
“In ten years, I will probably live alone in a really bad house in a super crappy neighborhood and work somewhere like Target. I will be really poor. My twin brother will be doing really well. He’ll be super rich and move to Bangladesh or something. I think I will have a really good education, but I don’t know what I will do with it. I think I will have a boyfriend or I could have 20 cats.”
The other kids laugh.
Says brunette Julia, “I’ll be playing soccer professionally. I will be married with four kids.”
“Wow, Julia! Four kids! When you’re 24?” the other Julia says in shock.
“Well, two, at least,” she responds.
Violet says, “I will be playing professional soccer. I think I will have a long-term boyfriend.”
Brandon says, “I’ll be in the military and — ”
“Maybe I can be in the military!” redhead Julia interrupts. “But I can’t do a push-up, so that won’t work.”
The foursome all have parents who are still married.
Both Julias have stay-at-home moms and fathers that own their own companies. Violet’s mom works for a jewelry store and her dad for the airport. Brandon’s mom is a teacher and his dad works at the landfill on Camp Pendleton testing soil.
Other than redhead Julia, none are allowed to date.
“My parents are really strict about that,” says brunette Julia.
“I’m not allowed to have a girlfriend, and if I did my parents would be really mad,” says Brandon.
“I’ve had a boyfriend for, like, two months. My mom has met him. She is fine with it,” adds redhead Julia.
I ask if they believe that being a teenager in 2014 is easier than it was during their parents’ generation. All four shake their heads.
“I don’t think it’s easier — if anything, it’s worse. Social media — I don’t like it. It sucks,” redhead Julia says.
Adds Brandon, “It ruins friendships.”
“It takes over lives,” brunette Julia adds.
Violet: “It’s easier to get hurt because of [social media] if you see someone else is hanging out with someone and not you. If we didn’t have social media we wouldn’t have to even know about it.”
“Or if someone is mad at you, they can tweet all this mean stuff about you,” brunette Julia says, “I wish we didn’t have it.”
To lie to your parents constantly
Thirty minutes away, on a pristine Carlsbad beach, 16-year-old Karen (fake name) lies on her stomach with her elbows in the sand. She is reading a dog-eared copy of Fifty Shades of Grey. She wears a black peasant top and Abercrombie jeans rolled up at the bottom to avoid the sand. Her long dark-brown hair falls to her shoulders. Next to her is Hannah (fake name), whose blond hair is tied back into a sloppy bun. She wears a tie-dyed tee and black shorts. It looks like she has just rolled out of bed and walked down to the beach.
Both girls live in Carlsbad and will be juniors at High Tech High San Marcos when school starts up again.
“I’d say about 80 percent of our school smokes weed,” estimates Hannah.
Karen nods, “We have a school dealer.”
“It’s rare that I ever pay for it. Since I’m a girl, guys at parties will just give it to you, but sometimes I will pitch in if my friends buy, like, a lot of it,” adds Hannah.
Karen doesn’t smoke weed — just Hannah. As a matter of fact, Karen doesn’t like hanging out with Hannah on weekend evenings.
“She goes to parties, and that’s just not my thing. It’s a bunch of kids doing stuff they are too young to do,” says Karen.
Hannah shrugs. “My friends and I usually find a party to go to on Friday and Saturday nights. If a party gets rolled [cops come] we’ll find another one. Usually it’s a house party when someone’s parents are gone, sometimes there are bonfires at Oceanside or at Black’s Beach. Or, the group of guys I know will rent out a hotel room for the night and we’ll party there. On the weekends I usually don’t get home until four or five in the morning.”
Adds Karen with a severe eye-roll, “and then they’ll post the photos all over their Snapchat stories.”
When asked how her mom feels about her getting home during the early-morning hours, Hannah says, “She doesn’t know. Sometimes I sneak out.”
Karen interrupts in a judgmental tone, “They tell their moms that they are sleeping at each other’s houses.”
Explains Hannah, “If I come home at, like, 6:00 a.m., I will say that who’s ever house I was supposed to be sleeping at, their mom had an appointment or they went up north or had to go to church early.”
Karen responds, “I’m judgmental about it. I feel like she could do better things with her time.”
“I am glad I have Karen. It’s a good thing to have a friend outside of your main group. Sometimes I just want to relax and see a movie and not party, so I hang out with Karen.”
It’s clear that Karen’s feelings are slightly hurt by the comment. She responds, “I am her backup.”
Explains Hannah, “It’s not like that. You know that.”
Hannah started going to parties during the end of her sophomore year.
“Before that, we would go to my friend’s house and smoke hookah in his garage. We would smoke and talk and listen to music or go TP someone’s house. We liked to fuck things up like teenagers do. The middle of tenth-grade year was the first time I drank with my friends. When I drink I don’t get super-duper drunk, I just have a buzz.”
Karen raises an eyebrow, “Uhh…”
“Shut the fuck up, Karen. I just have a little buzz. Okay, so a few times I’ve blacked out a little and didn’t remember everything from the night.”
I ask Hannah if she’s ever been caught by her parents sneaking out or coming home drunk.
“No. My mom would kill me. She would send me away to, like, China if she found out. She divorced my dad because he used to do hardcore drugs. My mom always says, ‘I am not here to be your friend; I am here to be your mom.’ To be honest, it’s hard to hide it from her.”
“That’s why I don’t go to parties,” Karen says. “I just think of those kids, Why are you doing that? You are too young, and you have to lie to your parents constantly.”
The girls agree that other schools are much worse in the drug department than High Tech San Marcos.
“At our school we don’t do as many drugs as La Costa Canyon. Everyone there does cocaine. It’s known for that. At our school we smoke weed. Some of the party kids do cocaine and acid and other trippy drugs,” says Hannah.
I ask the girls if there are cliques at their school.
“Sure, like the whores and the partiers. She hangs out with the whores,” Karen says with a snicker, looking at Hannah.
Hannah rolls her eyes, “My group isn’t like Karen’s group.”
“They are, like, the turn-ups,” says Karen.
Noticing that I have no idea what that means, Karen explains, “‘Turn-up,’ you know, going to parties and getting wasted and hooking up everywhere.”
Hannah laughs in agreement, “My friends, they are, like, total sluts. None of them are virgins...like, Karen and I are virgins. They are a little crazier than me, but I am still, like, really good friends with them.”
“Our school has other groups, like the skate group. We have a group of golfer-fishers — weird, right? They golf and fish. They’re multi-taskers,” Karen laughs.
“Now they are Christians, too. They are golfer-fisher-Christians,” says Hannah, cracking up.
“Yeah, only to pick up Christian women!” Karen adds.
“There’s the girls that wear high-waisted shorts, Converse, and crop-tops,” says Hannah.
Karen makes a face and says, “Everything they wear is from Brandy Melville. Brandy Melville can go burn.”
I ask about boyfriends.
“Ninth-grade year I had a boyfriend,” says Hannah.
“No, you didn’t,” interrupts Karen.
Annoyed, Hannah responds, “You didn’t even know me that well back then!”
“I know, but I have heard the stories.”
Hannah clarifies, “Well it wasn’t like an Oh my god, we are dating thing. It wasn’t serious.”
Karen adds, “The thing with our school is that the guys don’t try.”
Hannah agrees. “And the ones that do, I’m, like, Who are you? Why do you think you could go for me?”
“All the good-looking ones are in the year below us. I had a thing with a guy younger than me,” says Karen.
Hannah heaves a heavy sigh, “He was a 100 percent asshole to her.”
Karen quickly responds, “He was nice to me, but all the stories she heard were bad.”
Hannah says, “Everyone knew they had a thing but he would be too embarrassed to tell his friends that he was hanging out with her.”
Karen shrugs. “He’s been in Europe all summer so I have had a lot of time to not be with him.”
Continues Hannah, “A few of the guys at our school are pretty respectful; they aren’t always, like ‘pussy, pussy, pussy’ all the time.”
Karen cracks up and adds, “I think at a certain point in relationships, high-school boys expect you to have sex.”
Adds Hannah, “Karen and I have standards. We aren’t going to lose our virginity after a month of dating; we want to lose it to someone we actually like and it’s meaningful.”
Karen: “I would say 50 percent of the kids in our grade are virgins. If you asked someone from Carlsbad High, that percentage would be a lot lower.”
When asked what the biggest stressors are in their lives, Karen and Hannah have very different answers.
“I want to go to college on the East Coast,” Karen says, “but my ACT score was really low. I had a personal tutor for them but I read really slow so I didn’t answer every question. But, I mean, I get good grades and do stuff outside of school, so it should be okay.”
Hannah’s stress is family-related.
“I’m thinking about leaving my house and moving in with my dad. I have been having problems at home with my brothers and sisters. I have a twin sister and we don’t get along. So, I want to move in with my dad, but my mom is, like, ‘You can’t leave or else you are going to be all on your own.’ She says, ‘You’re out of the family if you move out.’ My dad isn’t as financially secure as she is.”
About their futures...
“In ten years, well, if I follow the track of being a surgeon,” says Karen, “I will just be finishing med school. Or I’ll be a photographer for National Geographic. I will be traveling to super-nice places like Greece and also third world countries. I want to go to either Fordham in New York or Boston College. I won’t be married or have kids. I don’t see myself with children. I don’t like kids. I’ll be married at 33.”
Hannah interrupts, “Thirty three! Isn’t that kind of old?”
Says Hannah about her future, “I want to get into the criminal justice and law field. I want to study sociology. I don’t know if I want to study criminal minds or the NCIS thing or focus more on the sociology to find out why someone is killing. I don’t know what school I want to go to. I want to stay local. In ten years I will be married. I want to have between two and four kids.”
We are the weird in-betweens
Sixteen-year-olds Gillian Wedge and Alex Ruffer drove all the way from the eastern tip of El Cajon to sunbathe near Belmont Park in Mission Beach. The two girls are juniors at Granite Hills High School. They’re so close that they have the tendency to finish each other’s sentence. They have known each other since they were babies and have been best friends since first grade.
“A typical summer day for me includes beach volleyball and doing some summer homework,” says Gillian, a petite blonde.
“The biggest stress in our lives is school. We have boy drama, too. Both of us just broke up with our boyfriends recently. But mostly we stress about school,” adds Alex, whose wavy brown hair falls a few inches past her shoulders.
Adds Gillian, “It’s a lot of pressure because, you know, if we want a good future, we have to keep our GPA really good. To get into college we also have to do so many extracurricular activities, because that’s what they like. Right now we are studying for ACT/SAT.”
“We are straight-A students. Our parents don’t pressure us to do well. We put more stress on ourselves,” Alex says, brushing sand off her shoulders.
“I spend five or six hours a day on homework — I mean, there are certain days when you don’t have homework, but there is always something to work on. I do homework even on the weekends,” says Gillian.
“We have insane classes,” adds Alex.
Says Gillian, “At our school, people just party but we don’t — ”
“We focus on school,” finishes Alex.
The girls explain the different cliques at their school.
“There’s people who do drugs, people who drink a lot, people that do sports, and people that are good at school,” explains Gillian.
Alex says, “We are the weird in-betweens, I mean, we still have fun, we hang out with some people who just party and do those things, but we get good grades and we do sports.”
As for boys, their parents allow them to date as long as the parents have met the boys they go out with first.
“We both started talking to boys at the same time, the beginning of our sophomore year. How it goes is: you are friends with a guy, then you talk to them, then you date. My mom was very confused by that,” says Alex.
“It was hard for our parents to let us go to something like the drive-ins. They trust us, but they don’t trust the boys,” Gillian explains.
So far, the girls haven’t been impressed by high-school boys.
“There is a group of guys at our school that are so terrible to each other,” says Gillian with a laugh.
Alex nods her head, “Once one boy talks to you, all of sudden all their friends like you, too, and want to talk to you.”
“We would never do that to each other,” says Gillian.
As for their futures, both girls are optimistic.
“In ten years, I see myself very successful because I have worked so hard for everything in my life. I think I will have a lot of friends and be very job-orientated. I have no idea what I will be doing. I am keeping my options open,” says Gillian.
Chimes in Alex, “I see myself getting my first real job in ten years. I don’t see myself married with kids yet. I want to have a lot of money saved and to have traveled before I settle down. I think I will be happy. I think it will be a fun part of my life. I think I will have a good social life.”
The girls acknowledge that they are different from most kids their age.
“We are kind of weird,” says Gillian.
“I think what makes us such good kids is that we have really good relationships with our moms. We are able to talk to them and get good advice,” says Alex.
Gillian nods her head in agreement and adds, “Some parents are so strict that kids can’t talk to them. I tell my mom everything.”