Kids have a lot on their minds. The stories that follow and all writings on this site were shared by real teens. Discussing them is a deceptively simple way to launch conversations.
Although I was not brought up by my own family, I think being raised by 21st century parents...
Although I was not brought up by my own family, I think being raised by 21st century parents is hard because everyone seems to be more focused on what they do and their own happiness, without caring more for their children or family. In 1994 I lost my family during the genocide war. In 1996 I was taken to an orphanage in Zambia led by nuns. And then in 2003 I came to the United States.
Coming to the United States was like going to heaven. I used to dream about life out of the orphanage. Although the orphanage received volunteers every year from all over the world to teach us, I never seemed to learn enough about life in other countries because of language problems. These volunteers spoke different languages and I only understood local Zambian language. However, my greatest dream was to travel far and see everything I would never imagine. Therefore, in 2003 my dream came true. I flew to the United States.
I moved in with a new white family, something I never expected to do. Most of time, I look at myself and I feel I don’t belong anywhere. However, I think people that have been part of my life have been a family to me. It is sad to lose the people I love: most ironically, the people that remain have become precious to me. And that’s how I feel. Even when I don’t feel fully connected with my new family I feel beloved and cared about in many different aspects of my life.
It was the summer of 2005 when I met my American “family.” The first time I lay my eyes on them, I felt like I was in another orphanage. I said to myself, “these people are white, and how am I going to fit in their family?” My heart trembled! I became so afraid because I did not know how to interact with my new family or how to talk to them. Despite such thoughts creeping in my mind, I have come to like living with them and accepting them as parents.
Over the last years, they have been acting as parents to me by showing great interest in my daily life. For instance, everyday after school they both talked with me to find out how my day at school was. They gave me good advices such as to accept myself and believe in what I can do. Sometimes when I am in bad mood and I don’t want to talk to anyone, they always find something interesting to do with me. One time we went to my favorite restaurant even if my new dad didn’t like the food. In these ways they have become my parents.
Who they think I am/ Should be
WHO THEY THINK I AM/ SHOULD BE
If the only thing bright about a woman is her hair.
Because really, she only has to be as clever as the clothes she wears.
She just has to know when to show off some skin, That is, provided, she's
naturally thin, And preferably pouty, with a voice like a child's, Because
mathematic calculations and library recitations are not what drive men wild.
And isn't that how she proves she's a winner?
In the number of guys who will pay for her dinner, And how many times she picks
salad as the meal, And the way she walks in super high heels.
Because women should have six inches, not six digits, for their figures.
They can be society's dolls.
And validate themselves through barking cat calls, Spend mountains of money on
products and creams To let make up and face wash, Bra cups and lip gloss Dominate
It's alright if they're objectified,
They prefer it that way, it's justified.
Why else would they try so hard for a man's approval?
Or model in nothing for American Apparel?
WHO I REALLY AM
I am more than my face, my clothes, my gender, I'm more than some picture on a
poster could render, I'm more than what only a mirror could show, I'm more or
less more than most people know.
See, sometimes I overflow with words,
Like if books could grow wings like birds, and fly out of me, cuz I can't keep
Because underneath make-up, there's more than just skin.
Because women don't need men to give them self-worth.
They can think about more than just jewelry and childbirth, They shouldn't be
embarrassed to sound clever or smart Or to make more money than their male
Because it's ok to be pretty,
As long as it's also ok to be witty.
My dad died almost 8 years ago. I don’t feel the need to go into too grandiose of detail...
My dad died almost 8 years ago. I don’t feel the need to go into too grandiose of detail besides to say that it was tragic. Beyond being a successful businessman, he was the type of person everyone wanted to be. He was 45 years old, raising three children, a thinker, dreamer, creator, and passionate philanthropist. So, when he was diagnosed with cancer and taken from us two months later it was, like I said, tragic.
When he died I was 11, my brother 10, and my sister 7, therefore making me the oldest. My dad was also the oldest so we used to always bond over it. While my siblings and I are very close in age, his only brother was eleven years younger than him, allowing him to take the oldest child role to a whole new level. His favorite story was when on the eve of my uncle’s first night of high school my dad said to him, “If you get all A’s throughout high school, not even one B, I’ll buy you a car.” Sure enough, my uncle graduated as valedictorian, not one mark lower than an A, and so my Dad did in fact buy his eighteen year old brother a car. My point is that when he died I felt like I really, REALLY needed to start acting like the oldest. To me, this responsibility meant acting like I could carry on. Sure, I was sad, but it was more important for me to help my younger siblings.
What I wish I knew was that this ideal couldn’t be further from the truth. “I was sad” has got to be the understatement of the century. Crying myself to sleep and feeling sorry for myself was what I thought coping was. Bottom line: I wish I knew that it is okay to ask for help. Yes, I may have been the oldest, but let’s be real, eleven years old is absolutely still a child. I refused to see the social workers and therapists that my mom, her friends, and my teachers tried to make me go to. Probably because they felt badly for me, they let me have my way, even though they knew I was wrong. Looking back on it, I think so many things about me would be different. Had I talked to someone, maybe I wouldn’t have been obsessed with secretly feeling badly about myself. Maybe my often-volatile relationship with my brother wouldn’t be that way. Who knows. The long and the short of it is that it’s okay to be fragile and seek help. Had I actually been as mature and eldest-sibling like as I thought I was, I think I would have known that.
Our school day is just as overwhelming and exhausting as our parents’ workday...
Our school day is just as overwhelming and exhausting as our parents’ workday. Kids don’t have experience with so many commitments and we don’t know where to turn first. I wish adults understood how overwhelming all of this can be for us.
Pressures and stress can get really bad when you’re trying to fit everything together perfectly – school, friends, work, sports, homework, family. You try your best but there is continuous pressure.
And some of us have more than schoolwork on our minds. We have additional stress from other things that parents don’t have a clue about.
“Is Dad going to live?” I asked. She repeated her earlier response: “All I know…”
He’s Still My Dad to Me
I REMEMBER WHEN “TRAUMATIC brain injuries’ was just a section in my health textbook, and “the fall from innocence” was just an archetype studied in our ninth-grade mythology unit. That was before the accident that left my dad disabled and changed the life of each person in our family.
I was only twelve years old when hospital visits became a daily occurrence and phrases like “temporal lobotomy” and “inner cranial pressure” became part of my everyday vocabulary. Yet many of the most important things have not changed.
CRASH! I jumped off my bike and turned around. A block back, I saw a stalled black Honda Accord, its windshield shattered into a spider’s web. From the metal-on-metal clash, I thought the car had hit a stop sign, but as I peddled over, I found a man stretched out in front of the fire hydrant. “You hit a person!” I called out to the driver. The man had a small gash on his right forehead. His eyes were bloodshot and unfocused, and he breathed with an ugly snoring noise. Then I noticed the man’s orange undershirt and my heart started racing. It was my dad.
“Dad!” I cried out. “Dad! Can you hear me?” He did not respond. My mom and brothers were far behind my dad and me on our bike ride home; I had been ahead of my dad, a block away from our house, when the car struck him. It seemed to take forever for the ambulance to get there, each second elongated with my dad’s life in peril. When the ambulance finally arrived, my dad was placed on a stretcher and loaded in, and my mom rode with him to the hospital. My brothers and I followed in an unmarked squad car. When we arrived at the hospital, we went into the chaplain’s room.
“My name‘s Priscilla,” she said. We all took a seat. My mom came into the room with the release forms that were handed to her by the doctors. Priscilla, a gentle African-American, asked us what happened.
“My dad was hit by a car,” my brother said.
“How’s Dad doing?” I asked.
My mom hesitantly replied. “The doctors said when he entered surgery, his body was in very good shape.” This sugar-coated answer was met with skepticism from everybody in the room.
“Do any of you have a special prayer you would like to say?” Priscilla asked empathetically. Nobody answered. The extent of the damage was starting to settle in.
Friends and family poured into the hospital. The night grew increasingly tense, and I became more impatient. I kept asking my mom when Dad would come out of surgery. Then my mom gathered my brothers and me around her.
“Is Dad going to live?” I asked. She repeated her earlier response: “All I know is that all the biking he has been doing over the past few years has made his body stronger…”
“—Is he going to live?” I interrupted, demanding a definitive answer. “I don’t know.” Our heads sank.
Finally, the neurosurgeon emerged from the metal double doors at the end of the dimly lit hallway. Everyone anxiously crowded around him. The surgeon’s words were strangely impersonal.
“As you know, the impact to the patient’s head caused his brain to swell, increasing the pressure in his brain. The team here performed a craniotomy to reduce the swelling. Right now, the patient is in a drug-induced coma, and the staff will continue to monitor the pressure in his head.”
One Sunday afternoon, eight weeks later, Dad and I played one of our favorite games in the nearly empty cafeteria of the Rehabilitation Institute. On the thick plastic table stood the familiar yellow-holed panel and blue supports of our shabby Connect Four set, with the red and black checkers scattered across the table. Across from me, my dad was seated uncomfortably in his recumbent wheelchair. An enormous scar arched over his awkwardly titled head and disappeared into his ruffled graying hair. At the base of his neck, a pink hole had formed where his tracheotomy had been, and contusions on his right arm marked former IV tracks.
“Dad, do you want to play Connect Four?” I asked. A hoarse mumble emerged from his dry mouth. I could tell he was not interested.
“Dad, let’s play Connect Four,” I said assertively as I set it up. I dropped in the first black piece. My dad put in a red piece with a little look of concentration or curiosity or doubt. I took my turn, and then my dad let go of his second piece, not even checking whether it was the right color. I dropped in a black one and then waited for him.
“Dad,” I called, “it’s your turn.” He fell asleep.
Was this the dad I used to spend long summer evenings with, locked in fiercely contested Connect Four mini-tournaments and best-of-eleven series?
One warm evening six months later, my dad and I sat down again to play Connect Four. The object of the game is to create a line of four pieces of the same color. I had already set up the worn-out game on the patio, and as soon as my dad wheeled over to our picnic table, we began playing. This time, my dad dropped in the first piece. I followed quickly. Before I knew it, all but one column of the panel was filled up. Our individual colors bordered the empty aisle, sometimes three in a row. “Your turn,” I said expectantly. Finally, just two empty spaces remained. The black piece I dropped mixed into the spotted sea of red and black. So did his red piece. Stalemate.
From these games, I knew that life was never going to completely return to normal; however, the changes that my dad underwent from his accident do not change the love and admiration I have for him. Even if he does not walk the same way or can no longer beat me at Connect Four, he is still my dad to me.
As children, we are taught about diversity and encouraged to embrace the differences...
As children, we are taught about diversity and encouraged to embrace the differences that make each of us unique. We are distinguished by our race, gender, religion, ethnicity, and even the way we dress.
How is it then that, in this effort to accept everyone for how different they are, we overlook our most evident similarities? Above all else, we are all human beings and all of us crave love and acceptance. While most teens cannot identify with the experience of living in a refugee camp, like many African kids have done, we can empathize with feelings of solitude and fear and loss. We can imagine, and we can have compassion.
Adolescents across the globe are looking for a safer, brighter future in which they can pursue personal goals. All come across obstacles that prevent them from doing so. We all have uncertainty and anxiety, just some more than others.
Whether it is war, poverty, abuse, or illness, teens of different cultures are living in the same world. In a way, our differences complement our similarities. Our countries may be not agree with each other politically, or may be excluded from global attention, but we, as people, share so much.
Thus, it is not surprising when youths from completely different cultures find that they all are concerned about getting a good education, making a difference in the world, or just overcoming some smaller personal anxieties like problems with dating. When these kids can come together they do not only speak about their individual lives, they get the opportunity to get to know each other.
When they talk together, and can respect each other’s differences, then maybe they can also see their similarities. Hopefully, they can be future leaders and major motivators of change, young people who respect each other’s views about living in today’s world.