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Teens share struggles at conference on youth in crisis

Tucker Johnson, left, Samari McNeil and Delaney Overstreet were among eight teens and young adults who shared their experiences as adolescents and offered suggestions for parents.
Tucker Johnson, left, Samari McNeil and Delaney Overstreet were among eight teens and young adults who shared their experiences as adolescents and offered suggestions for parents.

Parents, know this: Your teen thinks you are annoying.

It is their brain on hormones.

But the sullen stranger who has temporarily replaced your darling child needs you now more than ever, teens and experts say.

"Even if they keep saying you are annoying, don't take it to heart, they still love you, " said Charsley Nave, one of eight teens and young adults who told dozens of parents and professionals about the teen years at a conference in Lexington last week.

The teen panel was part of a daylong event, "High Hope for High Risk: Responding to Youth in Crisis," sponsored by University of Kentucky Department of Pediatrics and The Ridge Behavioral Health System and the Stop Youth Suicide Campaign.

The hourlong session was literally filled with laughter and tears as the topics ranged from the need to avoid parental cheesiness to how support during depression can save a teen's life.

"I always say I learn more from them than I learned from all of my mentors in medical school," said Dr. Hatim Omar, UK chief of adolescent medicine, who organized the conference.

The audience seconded that idea with applause and a few cries of "amen."

The first question to the panel pulled no punches. A parent was worried how her son was doing after a public traumatic event. He isn't talking.

"Have open arms and be understanding, let him know that you are there and you want to help," said Tucker Johnson, 18, a senior at Bourbon County High.

But "Don't try too hard," said Holly Hurt, 21, a student at Centre College. "If they are not wanting to talk and you are going after them that is just going to make it worse."

The most important thing teens need is an adult in their life who's willing to listen, said Omar. They may not be talking about something that the adult thinks is important, but teens need to be heard.

The teen years are hard work, said Charsley, 18. Teens are often trying to figure out "who I am, who I want to be and don't want to be in my life."

"Looks are almost everything and that is really, really unfortunate," said Delaney Overstreet, 17, a senior at Boyle County High School.

All of that, Omar said, would be "identity formation," the major focus of development in the teen years.

"Everything you thought when you were 13 is completely different when you are 17 or 18," said Omar. The brain isn't fully developed until 25, he added.

"The problem is they don't see tomorrow," Omar added. "They don't see that multiple threads tie together to create a single outcome."

"It's true," said Tucker. When he looks back at his 13-year-old self he tells himself, "You don't know what you are talking about."

All of the panelists revealed their own struggles, from eating disorders to depression, and they all said no matter how indifferent they seemed, support mattered.

When he knew adults in his life were behind him, Tucker said, "I felt like a thousand tons of weight had come off my shoulders."

But parents, don't expect to hear that from your child. Remember, you are annoying.

"Honestly, I tell everyone they are annoying if they live in my house," said Samari McNeil, 18, a senior at Lexington's Dunbar High School.

"If you are a parent and your kids tell you that, you're kind of going to have to deal with it."

Other panel discussions included topics such as body image, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder, stopping youth suicide and substance abuse.

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