Written by Jessi, Peer Mentor/MSW Intern (2012/2013)
As someone who was not new to working with adolescents, I did not expect to be so nervous when starting my internship at the Santa Clarita Valley Youth Project. I have been a youth leader at my church for four years and mainly work with the high school group; However, I had never really interacted with students as a Peer Mentor and did not know what to expect. Would I be able to help them? Would they even want help? Would I know what to say? Would they laugh at me? So many questions were running through my head and I didn’t know what to expect.
I remember my first “real” day at the Santa Clarita Valley Youth Project very clearly. I was so nervous and felt like I was going to throw up. I had done the initial interviews previously and was surprised that out of all the students who were referred, only one said that he did not want services. This surprised me because I was expecting more students to say they did not need to talk to anybody. I always expected teenagers to be pretty non-cooperative when it comes to talking about feelings and issues they may be having. However, I was pleasantly surprised that the majority of the referred clients agreed to see a Peer Mentor. Not only did they agree, but they seemed pretty excited that someone cared enough to talk to them. On this first day, I started by getting to know the individual. We talked about interests, hobbies, and the reason they were referred to the Youth Project. Most were very open about the difficulties they were having, including problems with peers, family, and school. This was my first glimpse seeing that teenagers want help and are open to talking to someone about what is going on in their lives.
After meeting regularly with the students, I found that my initial nervousness and fear was turning into hope and optimism. I realized that teenagers were not so scary after-all. In fact, they are often scared, confused, and lonely themselves. They want to feel connected to others, to be heard/validated and of course, seek support. Sometimes, it’s difficult to share emotions with friends and family members, so they find that it is easier talking to someone that is a neutral party. My hope mainly stems from seeing the resiliency that many of these teenagers possess. They have the ability to overcome; to beat the odds; they just need the tools and encouragement to do so.
As far as the students I see on a weekly basis, each one of them has the potential to do great things in their life. They have aspirations to be doctor, NFL players, counselor, etc., so inspiring. Teenagers are our future and it is about time we start believing in them. I will be the first to admit that I did not have much hope for them and I was scared of the kinds of adults they would become. But after working with them, I found that I have a lot more trust that they will make the right decisions (if guided properly) and that they will turn out to be just fine. After all, it was not long ago that I was a teenager and I turned out okay.
As adults, I feel it is important to not underestimate teenagers and their potential, but to give them compassion and guidance in an effort to nurture these qualities.