‘Being 13’ by Matilda Burke

Our 21st century world through the eyes of a 13 year old girl

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Hello I’m Matilda, but people call me Tilly! I am 13 years old and home schooled. I live in the Lake district with my mum (Camilla, who is a writer and editor for ‘A Life Loved’) my dad Matt and two sisters Freyja who is 17 and Rowan who is 11. We have two dogs and a cat. I have a keen interest in fashion and design and would love to work in this industry when I’m older. I can often be seen in dungarees and high-top vans and I enjoy listening to music – I love film soundtracks, in particular work by Thomas Newman and Michael Giacchino.

I really love taking my dogs (Oscar and Nell) out on walks. I find being outside in the fresh air gives me a sense of freedom. I also really enjoy doing calligraphy and lettering, and knitting.

– Me on a walk with my mum –

I thought that I could talk about some of the positive aspects and the challenges that I face being a teen in the 21st century…

Technology & Social Media

As you probably know most kids these days around the age of 11 or over own a smart phone. This is usually to keep in contact with parents, friends, and use social media – such as Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook. To me and I’m sure to everyone else, having a mobile phone is considered to be ‘normal’, but is it really the best use of our time, sitting and scrolling through endless comments and filtered photos? I try my best to limit my phone use in the day, as it can be rather addictive! How long do you spend on your phone?

I would rather not eat for a week than get my phone taken away. It’s really bad. I literally feel like I’m going to die.

– Gia aged 13 – taken from CNN Health –

Having constant access to social media presents its own set of obstacles. Do I look ok in this photo? What will people think of me? How many likes have I got? Why have they got more likes than me?  As much as these questions may sound petty, they are the things that young people think about, and can contribute to us worrying about self- image and social acceptance. This can make it really difficult to be yourself as it is easy to feel overcome by the pressures to ‘fit in’. So are smart phones really that beneficial?

Even though there is a lot to be said for phones having a negative impact, there are many positives of having such easy access to such advanced technology. We can research, use a map, play music and have instant contact with people all over the world!

Sometimes I ask myself the question, ‘If I had the choice to have or not have access to technology and smart phones throughout my childhood, what would I choose?’

Some might say I do have a choice, but surviving the teenage years can be hard enough without going out of your way to be different to everyone else.

– Me on the left with my sisters –

I have spoken to my parents about this and they said they spent more time outside playing, riding their bikes and hanging out with friends, not worrying too much about what others thought, and generally having what sounds like a happy, care-free childhood.  My sisters and I have spoken about this too and agreed that life could be much more enjoyable without having that constant pull to your phone. Waking up knowing that you can just ‘be’, without having to live a second life online or feel the pressure to always respond to messages immediately for fear of someone being offended if you don’t. My older sister Freyja recently deleted Snapchat – she says she feels so much better for doing it and has more time on her hands to do real things with actual people, rather than feeling obliged to document every aspect of her day on her Snapchat ‘story’.

School Pressure

I have been home schooled since May 2017, and that was definitely the best decision for me. Here are a few things I experienced in high school during the time I was there. I remember not feeling part of the ‘in’ crowd. I just did what I had to do and got on with it. I felt a lot of negative pressures being around lots of other kids my own age; being stared at if you didn’t have the newest rucksack or trainers or made fun of if you didn’t have your hair a certain way, or the newest phone. Crowds of older kids were intimidating.

I never felt like I fit in at school, as I am an introvert. I don’t like being around big crowds, and felt sick and nervous every day entering the world of high school.

They would hang around by the doorways and kick you in the shins when you passed by. This would often mean that I would take the longer route to get to where I needed to be, which was quite stressful when rushing between lessons. Queueing for lunch was a horrible experience. There would always be someone who kicked off with a teacher and the noise and general atmosphere was unpleasant. It just never felt like the safe, nurturing space that a school is meant to be.

I never felt like I fit in at school, as I am an introvert. I don’t like being around big crowds, and felt sick and nervous every day entering the world of high school.  Overall school for me was a pit I felt I couldn’t escape from. What may seem easy to some, such as standing up on stage, or presenting in front of the class, felt nearly impossible for me. Now this doesn’t mean I didn’t work hard, whenever these situations came up I tried to the best of my ability, but somehow I never felt good enough. The education system today has a mould which may work well for extroverts but makes anyone who is anxious and quiet feel as though they are doing something wrong.

– Me enjoying a walk and the scenery in the Lake District where we live –

As  you can probably tell, school didn’t work out for me, and my parents and I came to the conclusion homeschooling would be a better option. A typical day – during the time mum works (9am – 11am and 4pm – 6pm) I do my own independent learning such as researching online, reading, practicing calligraphy, exercising or completing a set task, amongst other things.

I feel more myself then ever as I can focus on the things I love and that interest and inspire me aswell as paying attention to my own well being.

During mum’s free hours we study English, Psychology, Art and Design and anything that might take our interest (such as History or German). I see a maths tutor once a week for 2 hours. Usually a dog walk is in there somewhere too! I feel more myself then ever as I can focus on the things I love and that interest and inspire me, as well as being able to pay attention to my own well being.


I’ve never had a vast group of friends; I am happy with a few, who I really love! When I informed everyone I was leaving to be homeschooled, the pressing question that I was asked was ‘how will I socialise?’ Even the time that I was at school I didn’t socialise to a great extent, as I’m generally a quiet person. So just because I am at school surrounded by hundreds of other children does that mean I’m socialising, even though I’m only interacting with a few of them? I still meet up with my friends regularly, go to the cinema, have a sleepover, or just hang out!  That works for me

I think it’s important to have close friends at this age as it’s a time in life where everything can feel a bit wobbly and so having others around who are experiencing the same things makes all the difference.

5 best things about being 13:

  • Having a smart phone to contact my friends/parents.
  • Having few responsibilities.
  • Having time to consider your future – exciting!
  • This is specific to me, but being homeschooled is a great part of my life. No homework!
  • Discovering who I really am, in terms of views, interests and beliefs.

5 worst things about being 13:

  • Not having freedom from electronics (pressure from peers to constantly use social media).
  • More pressure to look and be a certain way (how we dress/what we eat etc).
  • Feeling nervous/paranoid about being independent due to the news always reporting stories of abuse and murder.
  • Some adults not listening to you because you are young, even though you have valid opinions.
  • Puberty!

– Me on the right with my sisters at a music festival –

Thank you for reading this. I’d love to hear your thoughts about what it was like when you were 13? How has the world changed since then? What were the best and worst bits? Or if you are a 13 year old reading this, tell me what your life is like?

Lots of love from

Tilly x

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  • Hi Tilly
    Such an interesting read – thank you. I remember 13-years-old vividly and what a nerve-wracking time it was at school. There was so much pressure to fit in and to be popular. There was also a pressure to be desirable and have all the boys ask you out – stressful for sure! It sounds like technology has added to the pressure on young people although much of what you say sounds familiar to my own experience in the 1980s. I would have LOVED access to the internet at that age especially as we lived in a village which felt quite disconnected to the wider world. So glad that home schooling is working out for you – you sound so smart and mature – so able to motivate yourself to learn, it is great that you and your family have come to that decision. Wishing you all the best. Lisa xx

    • Hi Lisa, interesting to here your view on being 13, thanks so much for the support regarding home school – Love Tilly X

  • What a great read, Tilly. Thank you for being so open and honest about your life. In some ways things are no different from when I was 13 (25 years ago) but in others it’s unrecognisable. I can’t even imagine how further changed things will be in ten years when my daughter is your age.

    Sometimes it can be really hard for teenagers and adults to really understand each other’s perspectives, so I find your contribution here really valuable.

    I’m sorry to hear you had a tough time at school. It sounds as though you’ve handled it well and have a great attitude. Your parents must be super proud.

    • Thankyou Philippa, I also find it interesting talking to people from different generations. I hope things will be less complicated for your daughter by the time she is 13 – Love Tilly X

  • Tilly – this was lovely to read! I, too, am an introvert and found high school noisy, overstimulsting, and difficult. I started homeschool when I was 14. I still did my normal exams and went to university and am happily married and working in a field I love, and some of my best friends are those I had when I was 14! Keep learning and working hard at things that interest you, and I’m sure you will do amazing things. Well done on a beautifully written post!

    • Hi Nina, it sounds as though we are similar people! It’s so lovely to hear other successful homeschooling experiences, it helps me stay motivated!- Love Tilly X

  • Love this Tilly!

    I was quite poorly when I was 13 so I think that skews my memories of that age. I probably wouldn’t choose to have a smartphone and as much internet-focus as a teenager as there is now… I still remember my childhood best friend’s home phone number cos I dialled it more than any other!

    I guess what I wanted to say is that pressure to “conform” will always be there, regardless of age. Try and embrace the wonderful young lady you are cos the happier you are in your own skin, the easier it is to ignore that pressure.

    Hope you’ll write some more for the blog. And ps. your calligraphy is great!

    • Hi Harriet, I’m sorry to hear that you were ill at my age, I hope things are better for you now. I think your right there will always be pressure through life, I guess you just learn to deal with it better as an adult! Thank you for being kind about my calligraphy, I really enjoy doing it! – Love Tilly X

  • What an incredibly mature and insightful person you are Tilly. I really enjoyed reading this and very much identified with the way you felt whilst at High School. I don’t have very many happy memories of my time at a Comprehensive School at all. I was bullied quite a lot and the teachers were the weirdest lot imaginable!

    If I’d have had the opportunity to be educated at home I would have jumped at it but my parents weren’t educated and it would have been impossible.

    Being 13 was hard and I definitely felt the pressure to act and look like an adult. I don’t think this kind of pressure has particularly changed. Social media most definitely adds to the pressure for young people and I am so relieved I didn’t have access to it.

    I have three children (31, 29 and 26) and the internet and social media wasn’t the massive deal for them when they were in their formative years. Of course it’s a great window onto the world but it’s also a pandora’s box for young people. It’s important to use it wisely and sadly not all teenagers are as level headed as you appear to be.

    I loved this post and will share it on my Twitter feed! I look forward to reading future posts by you. You have such wonderful and inspiring parents by the way!

    • Hi Diane, yes I think technology has effected this generation. I’ve learn’t to be wiser online over the years, but it is a tricky place to navigate! Thank you for all the lovely compliments, and support! – Love Tilly X

  • Dear Tilly
    This is a terrific article, well done. For 13 years you are exceptional. Sending much love, Grandma xx

  • Hi Tilly. I met you once at Lads and Girls club when you first started to home ed and it is lovely to read your work to hear how you have been getting on. I am an extrovert so it was really helpful to hear your perspective, as one of my children is quite shy and it is lovely to understand how he may experience the world a bit more from your description of how you feel sometimes. I am so happy for you that home ed is working for you. All the best on your beautiful journey and hope to see you and your Mum sometime xx

    • Thank you Kate, I’m glad this has given you an insight into an introvert’s life! hopefully we will cross paths again soon XX

  • Hello Tilly,

    What an interesting article you’ve written! I have enjoyed reading it and it sounds as if you are having a good experience in being home schooled. Your ability to write well says it all.

    Some years ago, I had the pleasure of knowing your Mum and your auntie in their growing up years. It’s a joy to see the avenues down which their careers have taken them.

    I look forward to seeing more writing from you – an alternative to Adrian Mole!!

    All the best and thank you for sharing your thoughts.


    Sherry. xx

    • Thanks so much Sherry! I wasn’t actually aware of Adrian Mole I had to ask Mum, looks like I’ll have to read it! Xx

  • Hi Tilly

    Sorry for the delayed reply! Thank you so much for writing this. As a new-ish mum I find it interesting and terrifying to read how young people deal with the added pressure of mobile phones. I was about 18 when I got my first mobile phone (not a smart phone, they came later!) and I am honestly so glad smart phones weren’t around when I was in school!

    You seem to have a brilliant balance between social media use and real interaction, I can imagine that’s hard to do.

    I’m so glad you were able to find an alternative to mainstream education that works well for you and your family, you’re clearly a very intelligent girl and thriving from being home schooled so well done x

    • Hi Charlie, Yes finding the balance between real life and life online is tricky, not sure if the perfect balance exists!Thanks for all the lovely compliments XX

  • Hi Tilly. Just catching up on the blog, so I’m sorry for a delayed comment.

    What a brilliant article, I really enjoyed reading it. I found it interesting how you said that mainstream schools cater predominantly for extroverts and I absolutely agree. It reminded me of this video I watched recently, which I thought might resonate with you too (I’m also an introvert and this reminds me that there’s no need to wish to be extroverted!)


    Hope we see another article from you x

  • Hi Sian – (I’m Tilly’s mum).

    Thanks so much for the comment and the Ted Talk recommendation…funnily enough I have shown Tilly this before and told her all about Susan Cain after I read her book ‘Quiet Power’ – it’s brilliant and should be compulsory reading in all schools! 🙂 Introverts rule! Cxx

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