I hope all who visited not only enjoyed reading the content, but also found it thought provoking and helpful. I was hesitant to share the thoughts I had and poetry I wrote as a young person, but doing so has been a positive experience for me. Like my friend Lisa, I don’t want to loose sight of all the things that happened in my life. Good or bad, they molded me into who I am … and continue to do so. I’m still evolving. If my life had ended on that dark, hopeless Louisiana night in 1985, I would never have experienced (to name a few):
– visiting Europe, Utah, Southern California, New York City, Puerto Rico, and Singapore to name a few
– lying on the hood of a speed boat, racing through Lake George in New York, the wind in my hair
– promoting someone deserving to Associate Director and seeing her face light up
– seeing Wicked and Phantom of the Opera on Broadway
– reading the millions of books I’ve found since then
– knowing my wonderful in-laws, who have touched my life
– being an Aunt to seven awesome kids
– reading a history my grandfather wrote about his life
– earning a BS degree, and then an MS degree in my 30s
– watching my daughters learn to walk, ride bikes, run, read, write, etc.
– meeting a million interesting people who have taught me that life is an absolutely beautiful jumbled mess
– learning to love myself
With all that said, here’s some advice from Lisa and me (the runaway girls) on how you might possibly help a struggling teen.
With regard to the teen who looks fine and dandy, but is suffering (Penelope):
1) Listen for hints and openings offered to strike up a conversation about what’s bothering him or her. (I often hinted to adults but they missed it every time.)
2) Don’t assume the kid who appears to be the strongest, brightest, or most cheerful is immune to depression. Remember the signs of depression. Understand that there can be a difference between diagnosed mental illness and depression based on growing up in a depressing environment. I was taught to experience life a particular way; once I understood that I didn’t have to look at life through the lens of my teacher, I began to break free of that sad lesson and find my own view.
3) Take the emotional pain a teen expresses seriously. Don’t talk down to them, or treat their suffering as if it’s trivial. Although they’re young, they are complex individuals with deep emotion. (This happened to me numerous times, even with health care professionals.) Don’t offer easy fixes to teens as if their pain is a passing phase. This makes them feel even more isolated and strange.
5) When you know a teenager is surrounded by dysfunction, don’t assume they’re fine just because they’re smiling with a sparkle in their eye.
6) Find, create, and/or offer a safe environment where the teen can unload. Even at a young age, years of trying to keep it all together is difficult to break through. If they talk a lot about pain related to their social interactions, ask them about their family. If they smile and say they have a nice family, blah, blah, blah, dig deeper.
I was a tough nut to crack (and still am sometimes), but nobody even really tried … I eventually had to bust my own nut.
For the obviously stressed teen who is acting out (Lisa):
There were so many obvious, glaring signs that I was troubled, and they were all overlooked. To this day, I find it just really disturbing that nobody reached out to me.
I was clearly withdrawn and depressed by the time I was in high school. My grades started to slip. I often went to school disheveled from abuse I had suffered just that morning at the hands of my mother. I even often got drunk on school grounds at lunch period and then went to classes after wards, and nobody ever picked up on it or called me on it. So, I don’t know . . . I guess what I would say to adults is “Don’t overlook the obvious!” I mean, it’s a fine line, I’m sure. A certain amount of teenage angst and even acting out is to be expected, and I don’t think adults should be right in every teenager’s face offering/threatening counseling over every little thing, but I do think that adults need to just try really hard to be tuned in, to be able to recognize the difference between normal growing pains and signs of something more serious.
Up next week on Aberration Nation, On Being Societally Disabled: An Aberration Story. If you think you have challenges, wait until you meet courageous Kev. He lives in a home for the disabled. Look around now and count your blessings. Kev does …