Being a teenager can be tough. You are growing into an adult and your body is changing, sometimes quickly and in ways you don’t expect. School gets harder and you become more self-aware. And it’s time to think about your future and what you want to do after high school, which is only a few years away.
As a young man and a person of color you have additional weight on your shoulders. You probably have to deal with stereotypes at school and out in the community. Now that you are older, people may look at your differently. You’re also figuring out what it means to be a man, with pressure from an older cousin, brother or friend to act a certain way. And you could be dealing with police profiling or crime in your neighborhood, which can make you feel unsafe.
It’s very easy to feel stressed at this point in your life, and to start to believe some of the negative things you hear and see. You can feel down and like you lack control. You can also lose optimism about the future, when it seems like you don’t have much say in the direction your life is going.
The reality is, you can make your own path. You have control and power over your life and your future. You are becoming an adult and more independent, and you can start taking steps to make the future you want for yourself. Ignore the noise for a moment and think about where you want to go. Are your friends and family helping you get there, or are they holding you back? And what can you do to change the game?
You want to go to college, for example, but your parents think its a waste of time and money. They want you to start working. You don’t need to agree with them–you know college is what you want and that you are good enough to get in. So go for it. The key is to set your own goals, define what you want in life and then pursue it.
What do you need to reach your goals? If you are not sure how to get ready for college, there are some great programs available to you for free in the New York area, like BridgeUP, an after-school program where you can get help with your homework to make good grades today, and college advising and mentorship to apply and be accepted to college. They can also help you with planning for how you will pay for school.
Through BridgeUP, the Boys and Girls Club, or a similar organization, find people who build you up and support you. There is also Project STAY where you can go for free in Washington Heights on Thursdays from 2-6 pm. Project STAY offers free medical care and counseling to young people ages 14-24. If you are dealing with difficult situations at home or in school that are keeping you down, a counselor at Project STAY can help you come up with ways to cope with the stress, and find solutions to make things better for you.
Also, find a good mentor–someone who is older than you and either doing what you want to do in the future, or who can connect you with the resources you need to be successful. This person can be your guide and your role model. Your mentor can help you meet your goals and also check in with you to see how you are doing, and help you deal with obstacles that get in the way.
Remember, your life belongs to you. Don’t let people make you think otherwise. It can be tough at times and people can hurt your feelings. But for every person who makes you feel bad about yourself or that you can’t do much, there are others out there who will lift you up and help you and give you the energy and drive to succeed.
The key is to find the right people and to surround yourself with them. Find good, positive people who lift you up. Set your own goals–what you really want–and go for them. You deserve good things in your life and you can have the future you want.
And know that BeWell is here to support you along the way. If you want to know where you can find homework help, mentoring, or college advising in particular, don’t hesitate to talk to a BeWell staff member. BeWell staff are trained to help teens get to where they want to go in life and they would be more than happy to help you out.
Mary Pender-Greene (LCSW):
American Psychological Association: