Look to your right. Look to your left. One of the internet people you’ve imagined looking at has been ruined by movies. Probably two of them. And probably you, too. We have been absolutely shaped by the movies, music, books and television shows we grew up loving—sometimes for the better and sometimes for worse. For the worst lessons the movies of my youth used to destroy me, check back tomorrow. But today is a day of sunshine and joy and wisdom. With that, here are the best lessons ’90s teen movies gave us.
1. People you admire will probably let you down at some point.
Just like poor pill-addled Corey had to learn in Empire Records, meeting your heroes can be a real bummer. In the age of social media, this is a hard lesson for all of us. We may not actually meet people we look up to, but there are many more opportunities for them to say or do something that disappoints us. Sometimes the disappointment is momentary and situational, and sometimes it completely changes our opinions forevermore. Either way, be prepared for idols to fall. And at least be happy if you’re not in your underwear when it happens.
2. If you get what you wish for, don’t let it turn you into a total dick.
Teen-dom is a weird time. We’re our most vulnerable and our most physically awkward, all while we’re surrounded by hundreds of other people just like us but who we assume are having a better time with it. But, eventually, you grow up. Braces come off, eyebrows become less mysterious to deal with, and eventually you get jobs or generally figure yourself out. You become who you wish you’d been able to be in high school and sometimes that turns you into kind of an asshole. So when your scars magically disappear and you become super hot and confident like Neve Campbell in The Craft, try to be cool about it and try not to murder your friends with snakes.
3. First impressions aren’t everything.
Like the dreamy but dangerous Patrick in 10 Things I Hate about You, people aren’t always what they seem.
4. But sometimes first impressions are totally accurate.
Like the hot, but dumb and douchey Joey in 10 Things I Hate about You, some people are exactly what they seem to be. You will not fix them.
5. Parents are human and therefore imperfect.
High school is the time when parents go from being heroes to humans. They may make unfair rules, like Kat and Bianca’s dad in 10 Things, or want a life for you that you don’t want for yourself, like the dad in Varsity Blues. Parents are people. For better or worse.
6. Sex isn’t that big of a deal.
So many movies, like American Pie, are so obsessed with the concept of losing one’s virginity. And it’s not like it’s no big deal at all, but it’s also not the life-changing magical experience it’s built up to be. That’s why it’s kind of nice when things go south (so to speak). The band girl rides you like a terrified bronco. Sex with Tara Reid is awkward and disconnected. That’s real, that’s life. The first time isn’t fireworks and wonder—it’s pretty painful and at best a decent story for later in life (I lost mine on a mini-trampoline at the home of a local radio celebrity). Ultimately, having it, not having it, how often you have it and with who, it doesn’t change you. It’s not scary or dirty—it just…is. It’s not that big a deal.
7. But it’s also still kind of a big deal, so be careful who you do it with.
Because if you have sex with Andrew Keegan or Rex Manning or Skeet Ulrich, things will not end well for you. At best, your attitude and self-worth might be impacted, and at worst, he might try to murder you and all your friends. So, like, be a little picky about it.
9. Just be with someone who’s nice to you.
Hey, “Nice Guys.” I’m not talking to you. Calm down. But the sweet, genuine people who are there for you and care about you and don’t expect anything in return, they’re a good bet. The hot asshole? The most popular monster? Psh. I’m definitely not saying choose Duckie—but definitely choose Cameron. Sigh.
10. For the Jennifer Love of Hewitt, BE HONEST WITH PEOPLE.
One thing all teen movies have in common: LIES. Everyone LIES. Whether they’re lying about their true intentions for courting someone, lying about who they truly are, or lying to send their love interest away like the goddamn Yearling, everyone is a lying liar who lies. And it literally never works out. Now, in real life, tragically, a lot of people get away with lying. But someone suffers—if not the liar, then the lie-ee. So, just don’t do it. Have the conversation. “Look, Lainey/Kat/Anette, girl, real talk, I was NOT into your whole situation when we started up, but now I am FOR IT. HUNDRED PERCENT.” There. Easy. “Hey. Michael Vartan teacher man, I am straight up undercover with the Sun-Times and totes legal and we can bang-bang like Nicki, Jessie and Ari.” DONE. Honesty. Do it. Be you. Be yourself. You’re totally great and good enough.
Unless you’re Joey from 10 Things. Don’t be Joey.