Physical abuse, mental abuse and drug abuse. That’s how Maria grew up. She was bullied in school. She had a learning disability. She didn’t wear the same clothes as the other kids. She felt alone and isolated, like there was no place to go. And it’s why in 7th grade she tried to end her own life. Maria felt hopeless.
At TreeHouse we know stories like Maria’s aren’t isolated incidents. While not every teen is facing the same circumstances she did, an astonishing one in three high school students reported feeling sad or hopeless almost every day for two or more weeks in a row. And hopelessness can manifest itself in many forms — depression, anxiety, anger, problems in school, self-harm, substance abuse, bullying, aggression, unsafe sex, and criminal behavior, to name a few.
With one-third of teens reporting feeling this way, it means chances are it’s happening to a kid you know, or maybe even your child.
So what do we do about it?
To begin, we must understand that hopelessness uniquely impacts teens in their search for identity, belonging and purpose. Hopelessness doesn’t just affect one gender, one ethnicity or one socioeconomic group. Voices of negativity and self-doubt too often dominate the minds of our youth, and it’s critical that we surround teens with positive voices to ensure they know they’re loved for who they are and that they have a great future ahead of them.
It’s also important to remember that just as often as there’s a cycle of self-critical inner thoughts that can create hopelessness, too many teens hear negative messages of who they are and what they’re worth at home, in school or in their community.
If hopelessness goes unchecked, it can have a devastating and compounding effect on the lives of teens, causing breakdowns in relationships, families and communities.
At TreeHouse, we believe we’ve found an effective and unique model to help end hopelessness, provide meaningful connections for teens, help them form healthy relationships, and discover their value. TreeHouse has been helping and supporting at-risk youth for nearly four decades in Minnesota and serves 3,000 teens annually.
Providing adult mentorship is a key part of helping teens. When they have a consistent, caring voice in their lives, offering encouragement and connection, it can help them understand how to build and maintain healthy relationships and build coping skills to navigate obstacles in their lives.
The support of their peers is just as important. Weekly support groups allow teens time to openly and honestly share what’s happening in their lives with no judgment. They get to practice vulnerability, and receive feedback from other youth and adult leaders.
For kids who find hopelessness affecting their academics, personalized educational and vocational coaching can help them prepare for college, job interviews and do better in school.
It’s about providing a safe space, a place to go, and people who care. It’s about reaching kids who are falling through the cracks, and making sure they know they are never alone.
Transforming the lives of teens like Maria also transforms communities. When teens find a way to put down roots and grow in their communities, it means they are connected to those places and will be a positive citizen who can give back. That unleashes untold potential for all of us and is helping build a better tomorrow for teens and for Minnesota.
Tim Clark is the president and CEO of TreeHouse.
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