Teenager. The very word evokes a brave new whirl of excitement, mystery, experimentation, confusion, hope—a child teetering on the verge of a kind of awakening. As of Saturday, Feb. 27—Chelsea Clinton's 13th birthday—the nation will once again have a teenager in the White House. Chelsea's home address aside, she has a lot in common with other girls her age: slumber parties, a penchant for T-shirts with slogans (urging, for example, Don't Let the Future Happen Without You) and great aspirations. But she will surely also share with these girls the tumult of early teenhood. For though adolescence is a time of explosive growth, researchers have found that girls, in particular, may emerge from these years with their vital self-confidence shaken (see page 37).

In search of clues to what makes Chelsea's contemporaries tick, PEOPLE sent reporters across the U.S. to talk to girls who are her age—exactly: They were all born Feb. 27, 1980. On the following pages, seven of them reveal their thoughts, feelings and fears as they enter their teenage years.

CHELSEA CLINTON

Hometowns: Little Rock and Washington
Father: Bill, 46, U.S. President
Mother: Hillary, 45, lawyer, head of President's Task Force on National Health
Career aspiration: Scientist, astronaut

It isn't easy to switch schools in the middle of the year when you're 12, but by all accounts, Chelsea Clinton's transition period is going just fine. Even though a gaggle of Secret Service men accompanies her and her new friends when they go to Roy Rogers for an after-school snack, Chelsea has settled into her eighth-grade classes—including drama and environmental science—at the private Sidwell Friends school with relative ease. Mom sometimes escorts her to school, and she hit her father up for lunch money on her second day. She plays goalie or defense on the Sidwell girls soccer team. She gels to do her homework in one of the quietest spots in town: the presidential study next door to the Oval Office. She has already had two pals from school over to the While House for a sleepover—during which the three girls baked cookies.

When she's with her mom and dad, Chelsea likes to play card games (pinochle, hearts, gin rummy) ride bikes, watch movies (she re-cently saw her first R-rated flick, Lethal Weapon 3) and eat take-out pizza. Though her plans for Feb. 27 are so far shrouded in secrecy, past birthdays, such as last year's slumber party at the Governor's Mansion in Little Rock, have featured her favorite foods: fried chicken, baked potato, broccoli with cheese, and chocolate cake. Happy Sweet Thirteen, Chelsea!

JAMIE HARGES

Hometowns: Santa Monica and Reseda, Calif.
Father: Michael, 50, computer programmer
Mother: Terry Wang, 47, special-education teacher (parents are divorced; Jamie divides her time between them)
Siblings: None
Major concern: "People finding out my secrets, the stuff in my diary that I hide even from my mom."

Hunched over her school desk, she stumbles through her French lesson, biting her small, reddened nails and jiggling her foot. Twice the teacher calls on her, and twice she answers correctly in a barely audible voice. But after school, in her high-top black Reeboks, a suddenly boisterous Jamie Harges spots a gangly blond boy on Rollerblades and hollers at him to watch out for traffic—even though there is none.

For Jamie, the battle of the sexes has already begun, and she's winging it with mouthy bravado. "This kid told my friend that you could land a plane on her chest. I called him an a———e, and he said, 'F—you!' I said, 'You're definitely not that lucky, and I'm definitely not that depressed.' "

Yet even with the aspersions, she insists that she feels sorry for boys her age. "About three quarters of them are really immature and stupid. Once they hit 12, their hormones grow arms and legs. It's true." As a result, long, baggy shirts have become her trademark. "Sometimes I hang out with boss because I'm sort of a tomboy," she explains. "If I wore light clothes, I don't think I could be friends with any of them."

She admits to having been kissed once at summer camp ("I can't say any more because my mom will kill me") and teasingly accuses her mother of being fiendishly overprotective. "You know what my first dale will be? Going to the park for 10 minutes to feed the pigeons when I'm 32."

But then, Jamie is in a big hurry. "I've wanted to be a teenager since I was 10," she says. "I can't wait to drive. I can't wait to get a job." Her one consolation, it seems, is being way ahead of the opposite sex. "We mature faster than boys," says Jamie, eyeing a gawky kid in a Lakers jacket. "See that boy over there? I got about 20 years on him."

ERICA ANDERSON

Hometown: Boca Raton, Fla.
Father: Larry, 43, special agent for the Immigration and Naturalization Service
Mother: Elvia, 44, IRS clerk
Sibling: Denise, 6
Major concern: "I'm worried about whether I'll ever get a job. It just seems to be too much to have a career and children."

"She's always been mature. She thinks she's an older person," says Erica Anderson's mother, and in some ways that seems true. Erica, who learned to read before kindergarten, keeps a scrapbook filled with scholastic awards she has won in the gifted program at Loggers" Run Community Middle School, cited as one of 222 National Schools of Excellence by the U.S. Department of Education. But in other ways the tiny, brown-eyed seventh grader—who wears her hair in a braid—is anything but advanced. One of her biggest problems she blurts out without hesitation: "Freckles! My sister teases me. And my mom threatens to connect the dots."

For Erica, who looks too young to be almost 13, puppy love seems a world away. Her favorite mode of transportation is still her Huffy bike, and her true loves are soccer, Nintendo, movies at the mall and a range of critters from her 6-month-old kitten to the reptiles, bugs and snakes that she collects. "She was always catching lizards when she was little," says her mother. "Yuck!"

But even at this carefree age, Erica admits that she "sometimes" gets jealous of boys because "there are more activities for them, more things to do." So what's good about being a girl? "Well, all the Presidents arc men. I can't really think of anything." In fact the worst part of being female, she says, is that "we're looked down on by everyone. The boys probably get more attention. They think we're not physically able to play football or soccer. And the teachers give the boys more help."

It may come as a shock that a girl whose most valued possession is a pair of Rollerblades is already watching her figure, but the 5', 78-pounder nevertheless thinks that "my stomach and legs are fat. I sometimes go on a water-and-bread diet. Then two hours later I'll eat a bag of cookies. I try to lake [dieting] seriously, but I have no willpower."

Becoming a teenager, she thinks after careful consideration, will be a mixed sort of blessing. "I'll have more freedom, a car and stuff," says Erica, with just the hint of a shadow passing across her face "But then I won't be a kid anymore."

JODEE BALLANTYNE

Hometown: Brentwood, Tenn.
Father: Tom, 42, architect
Mother: Jan, 39, sales assistant
Siblings: Hydee, 19; Loree, 18; Thomas, 16; Marcee, 14; Thad, 11; Katee, 10; Nick, 8.
Major concern: "Like about war, and what Clinton's going to do."

Along with a lot of girls her age. Jodee Ballantyne is a study in contradictions. Next to attending the young women's group at her local Mormon church, her favorite pastime is going with her girlfriends to the second floor of the Bellevue Center Mall and spitting over the railing at unsuspecting shoppers below. But beneath that exterior is a seventh grader of steely resolve. She knows, for example, which boys she likes: "They've got to be gentlemen and pay for you. It's like, 'I'm here. Open the door for me.' " Jodee also has a game plan for life: a job, premarriage, as a lifeguard ("You get a tan, and there's a lot of guys and stuff") and, someday, a single-income household ("My husband's gotta do it. He's gonna have a good job. I'll make sure of it").

In the meantime she muses about where she'll move. "I want to live someplace like Virginia. My sister and I went there last summer and snuck out a few times to meet these guys. They're really funny, and one of them has his own car." Yes, she says, with an air of finality, "it'll definitely be Virginia."

KYLIE AND MANDY WIBBENMEYER

Hometown: Sikeston, Mo.
Father: Richard, 39, truck dispatcher
Mother: Karan, 40, runs yard-and house-cleaning service
Sibling: Whitney, 14
Major concern: "My hair's got to look good." (Kylie)
"That people will talk about what I look like." (Mandy)

"I wish it was like it used to be," says Kylie, five minutes younger than her twin, Mandy. "Boys and girls just friends." But these days relationships with boys are becoming more complicated, and the differences between the sexes more pronounced. At school, for example, "boys aren't embarrassed to do anything or to say the wrong answer," says Kylie. She, on the other hand, feels "nervous that I'll say or do something real stupid to embarrass myself." Even worse, says Mandy, is "sometimes feeling like you're not pretty 'cause no guys like you.

"I think I was happier at school last year," she says. "I just didn't worry as much about 'How do I look?' or 'Is anybody looking at me?' " Still, there are some things about school that the twins treasure. "The best thing is friends and getting to see them every day," says Kylie. "A girl always needs a friend to talk to." Yes, Mandy agrees, "making new friends is the best part."

Some truths seem evident lo both of the twins: that boys fight while girls gossip, for instance. Other gender differences are more perplexing. "The other day a girl's grandpa died," says Kylie. "She was real upset and she talked all about it. But if it was a boy, he would pretend that nothing even happened."

Both girls started playing boys' baseball in first grade, since neither softball nor baseball was offered to girls that young. "Most girls don't go out for sports," says Mandy. "They're scared boys will make fun of them or won't go out with them if they do. But I really don't care what they think." Kylie concurs: "I'm not going to let some boys stop me from playing sports."

Though their after-school hours are currently taken up with Girl Scouts, basketball practice and Tae Kwon Do, the Wibbenmeyers have big plans for the future. "Everybody needs to have a job," says Kylie. "Being a housewife is good, but my mom doesn't like lo be in the house all day. She says she's got to get out." Kylie intends to be an inventor or an oceanographer. "The table I eat on is going to be like a fish tank," she says, mentioning an idea that touches both aspirations. Mandy has her sights set on becoming a veterinarian, and her chances, she figures, are "as good as a boy's."

Just now, both girls want to gel on with teenhood. "Twelve is a hard age. says Kylie. "When you're younger, you've got little things to do, and when you're older, you can drive. When you're 12, you can go out for basketball, and that's just about it."

TAMARA BRICKERSON

Hometown: Detroit
Father: Ralston, 42, city purchasing agent
Mother: Gloria, 37, child-care provider
Siblings: Jenica, 16; Raquel, 15; Elisa, 10; Ralston Jr., 8; Jason, 3
Major concern: "I wish I could spend more time alone with my parents, go to a movie or out to dinner—-just me and them."

Tamara Brickerson is hoping for a small miracle. One of her fondest hopes is that when she turns 13 "people won't call me a little kid anymore or think of me as a child. I'll be grown-up like my sisters, and we can all go to the mall." But for now, with just 87 lbs. on her 5'6" frame, she's still "Skinnybones" to her classmates. Making matters worse, her parents don't allow her to wear makeup ("except lip gloss"), and any jewelry she puts on is most likely borrowed from her big sisters; she owns just a single pair of earrings—tiny imitation amethysts, her February birthstone.

Tamara, an honor student at Murphy Middle School and a member of her church choir, once longed to be a cheerleader and still keeps a raggedy green-and-white pom-pom on her bookshelf. But despite two years of gymnastics lessons, she couldn't master the splits and didn't even try out for the squad. She shows no such reticence in the classroom, however. In math, her favorite subject, she "picks the front seat," says her teacher, Sherry Short. "That tells you how interested she is in the class."

The Brickersons—deeply religious, loving and strict—have in the past taken foster children, including a crack baby, into the family's tiny bungalow. Lately they have been pitching in to help a family of 14 down the block. The mother recently died of a heart attack. "We feed them," says Ralston Brickerson, "or just let them cry about why they lost their mama."

For her part, Tamara describes her parents in terms of her favorite TV show. "My dad is like Bill Cosby. He makes us laugh," she says. "My mother treats us like Clair Huxtable treats her kids. She's strict." According to her mother, Tamara is "the family clown. She does a killer imitation of her father in church, waving his hands and singing 'Hallelujah!' "

From time to time the Brickersons' usually quiet neighborhood is shattered by violence. "I'm afraid to go out by myself," says Tamara, recalling how a teenage boy was shot to death the weekend before at a community center six blocks from her home. Even on the walk to the corner gas station to buy bubble gum, she prefers company—"just to be safe."

Tamara hopes someday to be an obstetrician "because I like babies." Having her own is a possibility too, but first she'll have to find the right guy. "He would have to treat me nice and respect me. He'd have to make me laugh. And," she adds firmly, "he has to be smart."

IVRIA BEN-OR

Hometown: San Francisco
Father: Gabriel, 44, rabbi
Mother: Melanie, 37, apprentice midwife
Sibling: Naomi. 14 (parents are divorced; Ivria and Naomi live with their mother)
Major concern: "We are ruining our planet every day, every hour. It could be that we will die off because not enough people care."

Her tidy bedroom seems to mirror Ivria Ben-Or: Its bookshelves suggest a budding scholar, but it also contains a little girls' dollhouse given to her by her grandfather. On her 13th birthday. Ivria will celebrate her bat mitzvah, the Jewish coming-of-age ceremony, and her parents and their new spouses will place con her shoulders the prayer shawl that marks her step into adulthood. "It's going to be in front of a lot of people," she says. "Everyone is staring at you, and if you mess up one word, everybody will know."

A poster in the entryway to her home reads, "No woman is required to build the world by destroying herself," and Ivria has taken its message to heart. "I hate it when they say women can't do things, like be a general," she fumes. "Women can do anything a man can do." But she sometimes runs into roadblocks. Last year, at the end of a class recycling project, her public middle school teacher allowed only boys to bundle the collected paper and refuse. "She said girls shouldn't have to mess with that kind of stuff," says Ivria. "It made me angry. My mom wrote a letter, and I gave it to my. teacher, but she said it didn't make any difference.

According to her mother, Melanie, Ivria and her sister are very different. Ivria—who plans to be a pediatrician—"is sure about what is right and wrong, very grounded. Her sister sees homeless on the street and wants to help. Ivria wants to talk about changing the banking laws."

Mother and daughter look pains in choosing the blue satin gown with its white lace collar that Ivria will wear to her bat mitzvah—a task complicated by the fact that she is too main re for the girls' department but not yet filled out enough for junior sizes. "The baby I knew is now a young woman," says Ivria's father. "It's like a garden that you nurture and tend. Now you have to step back and give her a little space."

SUSAN SCHINDEHETTE
ELIZABETH GLEICK
AMY ESKIND in Brentwood, ELIZABETH FERNANDEZ in San Francisco, MEG GRANT in Boca Raton, MARY HARRISON in Sikeston, JULIE KLEIN in Santa Monica, ANITA LIENERT in Detroit

  • Contributors:
  • Amy Eskind,
  • Elizabeth Fernandez,
  • Meg Grant,
  • Mary Harrison,
  • Julie Klein,
  • Anita Lienert.