A year ago I wrote in shock as my oldest daughter became a bat mitzvah, at the age of twelve. As overwhelming as that was, at the time she still looked more like a girl than a woman, and I was still taller than her. No longer. As my daughter now reaches her thirteenth birthday—officially making me the mother of a teenager—all has changed.

My daughter now stands an inch taller, with quite a few more to grow before she is done. Her features are more pronounced, and people assume she is sixteen, not days from thirteen. This scares me. Terrifies me, actually.

I really don’t want to live through it againWe have been blessed with a beautiful daughter, inside and out, with passion, intelligence, creativity, drive, determination and character. And yet, along with being a teenager comes a whole lot of peer pressure, insecurity and immaturity. I remember, when I was this age, thinking my mother didn’t understand and couldn’t relate to me. It was as if she never went through it and had no idea what I was dealing with. My problem is the opposite. I remember it too well. It is too fresh. And I really, really don’t want to live through it again.

Yesterday I took my daughter and her friend to the mall. Amazingly enough, she is not embarrassed for me to walk beside her as she shops. (Okay, maybe she is, but she knows that this is her only option if she wants to go shopping.) We went from store to store with blasting music, clothes that were hard to tell if they were shirts, skirts or dresses, and tweens and teens hooked arm in arm swarming around (scary, now I sound like my mother).

The other kids did not have a parent in tow, and I watched them sway back and forth, laughing with their friends, head thrown back for effect, and a quick flick of the hair as they looked around, wondering if anyone noticed them. They wore a ridiculous amount of makeup and women’s clothes on girls’ bodies.

My daughter and her friend either didn’t seem to notice, or played it so I wouldn’t notice that they noticed. They did their thing. Bought a few shirts and seemed to enjoy the fun of just looking around. But they no longer have the luxury of just being on the looking end. They were noticed. Others looked at them. The downside of being beautiful is getting unwanted attention. And lots of it. My daughter was stopped by a modeling agency asking if she would consider being a model. Teen boys would turn their heads as we passed (and let me tell you how disappointed they were when my glare was the only reaction they got). And this time around, my daughter didn’t notice. But how long until she does?

Instilling a child with a sense of self, purpose, and a future-oriented frame of mind is quite the challenge. It is so hard to tell her not to worry about what people say or think now, but to focus on where she is heading and who she wants to be. In a way, I am telling her to ignore the present—which is virtually impossible.

. . . they no longer have the luxury of just being on the looking end. They were noticedI know that if she discovers I am writing this, you will actually never see it. But I know that if I write to her, she probably won’t really read it. So I am hoping that by writing to you, for her, even if she ignores this letter—maybe, just maybe, your teenager will read it.

Here are all the things I want to tell her, and to tell all those teenage girls out there (sorry, you have to wait til my son is older for my advice to teenage boys). Here are all the things I wished someone told me (they probably did, and I was too cool to pay attention). But either way, hoping this somehow penetrates:

1. When you are thirteen, adulthood seems so far away and boring. But you are at the age now where the decisions you make and the things you do will help set the direction you are headed. Look at the adults you know. The ones you respect, the ones you want to be like. And think about how you need to act in order to one day emulate them.

2. I know looks are important, but they are not who you are. Do not rely on your looks, ever, as a substitute for being the kind of person you need to be. And don’t ever judge another based solely on his or her looks. Speak to others in a way that shows them your soul, the amazing human being that you are, and do not allow them to just see you as another pretty face. This is why we say in Eishet Chayil, “Sheker hachein v’hevel hayofi, isha yir’at Hashem hi tithallal”—grace is false and beauty is nothing, but a woman who has awe of her Creator, she is to be praised.

3. Other kids can be mean. And while they appear so confident, it is really their insecurity that is driving their taunts and looks. You are better than that, and you need to know that your self-worth does not come from outside of yourself, but from within.

4. When someone bothers you, before you respond, look within. The Baal Shem Tov teaches us that what annoys or upsets us in another are often the very things that we are uncomfortable about within ourselves.

5. Even though you are “only” a teenager, you can impact the world around you. Every mitzvah you do, every person you help, makes a difference. Buying things for yourself can be fun, but giving to another will ultimately give you something you cannot ever buy. I want you to babysit and make money and buy things you love, but never forget that the first 10 percent from your earnings goes straight to tzedakah, to helping others.

6. It is hard being the oldest. It is not something you asked for, but something you have to deal with either way. Recognize and realize how much your younger siblings look up to you and admire you. I know they can drive you crazy, but the way you act, the things you say, set an example for them. And not just them, but their friends and your friends as well. Like it or not, you are a leader, and leaders have to think not just about themselves, but about the impact they have on others as well.

Never underestimate the power your friends will have in your life7. You are soon heading into high school. To a great extent, you are embarking on your last stage at home. After high school, you will most likely leave the house and go away to learn and further your growth into an independent adult. Don’t rush things. You have your whole life to be a grownup. Allow yourself to be a child for as long as you can.

8. As hard as this is to admit, the biggest influence will most likely be your friends. We can teach you the right things and create a healthy home environment, but never underestimate the power your friends will have in your life. Choose them wisely and for the right reasons. A real friend is one who will support you and be there for you regardless of what you do or don’t do, wear or don’t wear. A real friend is the one around whom you are comfortable being the real you. In life we make lots of acquaintances, and many we can be friendly with, but make sure, before you invest your feelings with a friend, that this is the type of person you want in your life for a very long time.

9. While I can tell you all I want that I am always here for you if you want or need to talk, I know you may not want to come to me. But please, go to someone if you need to talk. Now is the time to choose a mashpia, someone you admire and look up to and respect. Find someone you feel comfortable with and can speak to if things get tough or if you just want another perspective. Of course I would love it if you would come to me, but I get it, I am your mom, and being that I hold punishing rights, I guess that doesn’t make me too objective.

10. Finally, know that you are loved and beloved to so many. I remember feeling alone, at times hating myself and not thinking I was really worthy of love. You are never alone. You have a mother and father and sisters and brother and grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins and friends who think the world of you. And for me and your father, you are the one who made us parents. You are the one who made our parents grandparents. When you came into this world, you changed our lives forever. And you continue to impact the world through the tremendous things you do and the tremendous things you are capable of. I just hope and pray for you that one day, soon, you will see in yourself what we already see in you. Thank you for being you, and know that you make us so very proud. We are so blessed to have you in our lives.

Happy Birthday!