One of the unhelpful things people tell parents of young kids is, “Just wait until she’s a teenager!” I always say some version of, “You truly don’t need to remind me. I have been terrified of that since before she was born.”
As a middle-school teacher, I loved my students. I also saw the gap that, necessarily, grows between them and their parents. Now that I have a six-year-old telling me every thought that enters her brain, I’m even more aware of the chasm ahead – especially when I think about teenagers’ mental health and the isolation that can come with that time of life.
All of this is to say that I am already so grateful to Joven Salud, the platform that the international nonprofit TeenSmart International is using to serve more than 50,000 young people throughout Latin America and build dozens upon dozens of public-private partnerships that surround many of those teenagers with in-person attention. They can start with something as simple as reaching out to a trained online coach for support (up to 500 teens do so every week), or build to something as intensive as becoming a volunteer and leading programs for other young people. The online platform can reach young people few other programs can, including migrants and refugees.
Joven Salud recently shared the story of 18-year-old Yareth:
Be brave, because you are worth it.
These are the exact words my TeenSmart coach said to me when I went on JovenSalud.net to seek help. These are the words that began my story of transformation.
Two years ago, when I was sixteen and suffering depression, a classmate told me that cutting myself would make me feel better.
I felt alone and frightened. Afraid of what I might do. Until the night I decided to reach out to TeenSmart. That was the night my coach encouraged me to share my feelings with my parents and to open my heart to receive their support.
Now, two years later, I have graduated from high school and am applying to medical school. My goal is to help others through my service as a doctor. I want to help my parents and be an inspiration for my younger brother.
I am not sure what would have happened to me if I had not found out about TeenSmart. Perhaps I would have kept taking the advice that my friend gave me and began a life of dangerous behavior. Maybe I would not be here today to deliver my testimony. In my neighborhood, many children leave for school after a long night of listening to their fathers beating their mothers. Teenagers wake up on the streets after drinking all night. Many do not finish school.
Not long ago, a friend committed suicide due to drug abuse. We had grown up together and used to play soccer. I wonder if I could have helped to prevent that by saying, Hola!, and starting a conversation.
Now, as a TeenSmart volunteer, I know I can help other teenagers. These days I share how TeenSmart helped save my life and I use my testimony to encourage others to use their services.
Thank you, Joven Salud, for putting this kind of support available to young people like Yareth. We need to make sure all of our teenagers have this tool in their pockets, especially those who need it most. At a time when some of Central America’s most vulnerable youth are on the move, losing access to the already tenuous services they might have had at their school or in their communities, a tool like Joven Salud and an organization like TeenSmart isn’t just a nice option. It’s vital.
I’m a writer in San José, Costa Rica, on a year-long quest to share daily posts on inspiring people, places and ideas from my adopted home as a kind of tonic during a rough time in the world. Sign up (top right of this page) to receive a little dose of inspiration every weekday in your mailbox; tell a friend; check out past posts; and please connect with me on Instagram or Facebook! You can also find me churning out small, square poems on any topic under the sun (here on the site, on Instagram or Twitter).