Columnist

Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski is the founder and director of the Washington Health System Teen Outreach. She responds to 6–8 questions from young people daily and has written 'Ask Mary Jo' since 2005.

Often the questions I receive are dark, written by troubled young people. I thought about the impression those questions may make on adults. Do people think all teens are confused? I know they are not. Some teens are more mature than many adults. I am blessed to spend time every day with young people; their words encourage and inspire me. I wish other adults could hear their wisdom. I think of recording our group sessions, but confidentiality holds me back.

In a recent meeting with teens, I was impressed by their resiliency, their courage, and their fortitude. We were discussing holidays. Many young people live in situations unlike those one sees in sitcoms and movies. My role is to listen to hear, to facilitate their conversation, and to offer sincere support.

The concerns teens air are real. Sharing Christmas with families where custody is complicated and bitter. Trying to accept a parent whose new live-in partner disrespects and bullies them daily. Postponing Christmas celebrations until four days later on payday, and spending the actual 25th hiding at home, pretending it’s OK. Sharing the stress of living with an alcoholic adult. Wrestling with their own choices and the consequences thereof.

The dialogue was honest, real, and often intense. At one point, a teen sighed, and said, “Mary Jo, this is all pretty deep. I think we need to change the topic. I think we need to talk about hope.”

Hope. Hope is what connected adult mentors offer teens and children. Hope is the reason teens return to adults who care – to the coaches and teachers and counselors who regularly shore them up and empower them. I’m deeply grateful for caring adults. People wonder why our Common Ground Teen Center is filled with young people – we offer hope.

I thanked the teen who suggested we talk about hope, then asked, “What gives you hope?” Our conversation turned to a spirited discussion about what keeps them going, day after day. Someone suggested they write down their hopes privately. I distributed paper and pens and encouraged them to do so. Then, I asked other teens to share their inspirations for hope.

With their permission, here are their unedited responses:

  • People who are kind to one another.
  • Friends. My friends are like my family.
  • My dreams. I dream of a future where my life is better than the one my mom lives.
  • Cat videos. Also, sometimes dog videos, but cat videos are best.
  • Art and my ability to self-express through it.
  • Food. Really any kind of food, but especially tacos. And fresh bread with butter. Also salads with chicken. Hamburgers. Ice cream. Eating at a restaurant with Mary Jo and other teens. Just food.
  • Knowing that I have two friends who think about suicide and realizing they make a choice to stay alive every day. Feeling like I’m part of that decision.
  • Mary Jo
  • Puppies, pretty pictures, memes, and most of all, books.
  • Connecting with people and sharing new experiences.
  • Being taken seriously.
  • Building our own community of caring people.
  • Helping to educate younger teens. Teaching them that they are people of worth.
  • Laughter, especially the kind of laughter that makes you snort.
  • Planning for college, figuring out loans, studying hard, thinking of tomorrow.
  • Unity, openness, honesty.
  • The Teen Center
  • Helping people reach their full potential, helping adults see we are not dumb teens but that each of us is a person of worth, even if we’re in a rough place now.
  • Acceptance. Not tolerance, that’s weird. Real acceptance.
  • The idea that I can change someone’s state of mind in a positive way.
  • My older sister. We share a lot in our family and she understands me. I don’t know what I’d do without her.
  • My church. Not so much the actual church, but my youth pastor.
  • The joy that comes with friendship and trust.
  • Being an ally to those in need of support. Helping to make change.
  • Diversity
  • Kindness
  • Watching people who are bullied stand strong and keep on going.
  • Music. Any kind of music, really, but I really like jazz.
  • Video games where I can get lost in the play of the game and forget about what’s happening in real life.
  • School, especially math class. Honest.
  • Sports. I love playing soccer, like watching basketball, will one day see a live hockey game. Sports are good.
  • When I see the good in the world, especially from my generation and people younger than me, I find hope for the future.

I wish you many gifts this holiday season – time with family, health, and joy. Most of all, I wish you hope.

Have a question? Send it to Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski’s email at podmj@healthyteens.com.

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