I'm Not Who I Was At Fifteen

Teenage years are transitional years, not the end product.

By: Courtney Edge-Mattos

I’m not who I was.  I’ve learned, I’ve experienced life, I’ve met new people who have helped make me the person I am in my current form.  My brain has grown and developed.  Difficult situations have arisen and I’ve survived them.  Wonderful moments have happened and I’ve cherished them.  If I’d experienced these same moments and situations at fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, twenty-two, etc., I would have responded and reflected differently.  Because I’m not who I was.

One of the most common statements we hear in foster care and adoption regarding teens is that “They already are who they are.  You can’t undo that and they won’t change.”

How sad to imagine that everyone in the world is done, formed, defined by who they are as a high school sophomore.  Sophomore me was more scared, less sure of myself, rather panicked about how I was perceived and if the more popular, socially adept kids would pick on me.  Thirty-nine year old me would love to walk through the high school halls, find my fifteen year old self (probably agonizing over my locker combination, if memory serves), throw an arm around her, and say, “You’ll be fine.”  Because I am.

The fifteen year olds in care (and all other ages) have gone through hard things, traumatic experiences, chronic neglect, and have been exposed to far more than my sheltered teen self-experienced (eternal thanks to my parents who protected me!).  Yes, these experiences leave marks.  They shaped our teens perceptions of the world: it isn’t safe, you’d better look out for yourself, stay small and quiet, do what bigger people say to do, you are worthless.  Nevertheless, what if no one throws an arm around them?  What if no one gives them a smile, tells them they matter, and shows them that they deserve to work hard for good things, that they can pursue a profession that makes them proud, that they have talents, gifts, and value?  What if no one teaches them how to budget, how to plan, how to achieve goals?  Well, if no one does that, then I guess it is true: they are who they are and that’s all they’ll ever know.

Foster and adoptive parents who support teens enter at a pivotal time in life.  Many of our kids are just waiting for that person, that presence, to give them the tools they need to chase their dreams, to feel confident, to step out of the shadows and into the light.  No teen is exactly who he or she will be.  We are all lives in constant motion, our direction changed by all of the experiences we have, all of the people who influence us. 

Remember who you were as a teen.  Consider who you are now.  Who helped you find your way, to become the person you are right now?  Will you still be exactly the same in twenty years?  No, because there are decades of other experiences and perspectives waiting to change you, shape you, grow you.  Let’s remember to give grace to teens as they find their way and to place a supportive hand on the shoulder of an emerging adult.  They’ll be okay.  We’re all here to see them through.

If you would like to be part of a teen’s journey, please contact us today.  A child is waiting. #FosterHopeFosterCare



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Rachel has been a part of the JRI team since January, 2000. For over 20 years, Rachel has been working in the field of human services assisting families with accessing and navigating services. Rachel received her Bachelors degree in psychology and Masters Degree in Public Administration from Bridgewater State University. She was promoted in July 2005 to Family Networks Program Director where she closely worked with the Department of Children Families for 10 years ensuring that children and families received the highest quality of individualized services ranging from community based through residential care. Rachel is very dedicated to helping the individuals she works with and is committed to improving the lives of children and families. Rachel’s passion for creative service programming inspires her in her role as JRI Service Navigator.