By Parri O. Black, Courier & Press, June 10, 2015 –
Sadly, in nearly every high school, there are invisible kids sitting in classrooms and wandering the halls. In the magical world of super heroes, invisibility is a powerful weapon, but in the real world of everyday teens, it’s often an unperceived sign of trouble.
Recently, a friend joined me to watch students graduate from a Youth First program for teens who are at risk of dropping out of school. They were a diverse group of young people struggling with all sorts of challenges, including difficult home lives, depression, anger, anxiety, substance abuse, and much more. Some were teen moms; others had parents in prison.
My friend, who is just a few years older than the program’s graduates, shared her dismay, saying: “I never saw these kids when I was in high school.”
They were there, but to her, they were invisible. That’s because her sights were set on succeeding in school and in life. She had her own set of problems, but she also had three key assets that every child needs and deserves:
- Caring adults (preferably parents) who love and support them
- Dreams and goals for the future
- Resiliency or the skills to bounce back from adversity
Youth who are raised without these resources face lots of hardships and cause lots of heartache. They become victims of abuse, bullies, school dropouts, unemployable, homeless, addicts, criminals, prison inmates, and those who kill or die as a result of their behaviors.
If we overlook these kids, we become part of the problem, but if we open our eyes, we can become part of the solution. It pays to pay attention to the children around us and make sure they have the support they need. If it’s not a parent or another relative, caring adults in a child’s life can be a teacher, mentor, counselor, minister, neighbor, or friend.
Youth First’s School Social Workers often meet that need. They help motivate students to focus on the future and set goals to achieve their dreams. They also help kids develop coping, communication, and social skills to navigate life’s inevitable challenges.
Unfortunately, when school is out during the summer, many kids are also without a positive role model. Mentors through Big Brothers Big Sisters (bbbsevansville.org) or similar programs provide invaluable support for vulnerable youngsters, and there is always a need for more adults who are willing to give a little of their time and attention to a child.
Removing a teen’s well-worn “cloak of invisibility” can sometimes require some specific skill sets. By that age, the problems often seem insurmountable, but as my friend witnessed at the Youth First graduation, given the right kind of support, troubled teens can step into the spotlight and connect to a brighter future.
You can see for yourself by taking the blinders off and volunteering to help a school, church, or community organization devoted to healthy youth development. Caring adults who recognize the invisible kids are true super heroes.