By Ericka Chukwuanu, LGSW
Fifteen years is a long time to reflect on, but as I settle in my chair and try to recall who, what and where I was 15 years ago, I come face to face with my 18-year-old self. I was halfway through her freshman year of college and fumbling to find my voice. I was the quiet observer taking in the stories of my peers while struggling to put words to my own. During that time in my life, I was so afraid of my own voice that I became good at listening to the voices of others and believing that because they were more vocal their stories had more value.
I watched as my peers explored their sexuality, experimented with alcohol and other substances and rebelled against those things (whatever those things were back then) they felt held them back. I watched as my female friends and I battled with images of self-worth, self-love and self-respect. I watched as my male friends categorized the females they encountered based on criteria two which the average 18-year-old female is rarely privy.
During that time and the year prior I encountered stories so vastly different than mine but all requiring a listener just the same. There were questions that I, as an 18-year-old, could not answer. Who at 18 knows what to tell a friend questioning his or her sexuality? Who at 18 knows how to talk openly and honestly about reproductive health? At 18, do you truly understand that the friend always drinking or getting high is really crying out for help? Do you understand that the highs and lows that a person is feeling may be signs of something far more than just being a teenager?
At 18, where do you go with all of this information? Where do you send those seeking answers? For me, I tried to be the best listener possible and to pay attention to when a listening ear would not be enough.
I think TeenCentral.Net is that resource for all youth, whether the quiet observer or the storyteller. It is where a teenager can go to learn more about the issues affecting their age group and know the information is safe and current. It is where that teenager tired of watching others get bullied can go to learn more about ways she can stand up for her peers. Or where she can go to regain confidence about her decision not to drink or experiment with drugs. It is where a teenager can go to learn more about what she cares about and figure out ways to make those things matter to others.
It is that thing I wish I had known about way back when. It is that tool that I hope every young person is aware of now. Happy 15th anniversary TeenCentral.Net!