“I’m just a bad kid.” The words so effortlessly escaped her lips that they caught me off guard. Although I remained visibly calm, my eyes burned as I struggled to hold back tears. Although this was my first conversation with Natalie (I have changed her name to protect her identity), over the course of an hour I learned about her troubles in school and at home and a past riddled with emotional and sexual abuse. This caused her to be distrustful of adults. At the mere age of 14 and only in the eighth grade, she had run away from home more times than she remembered.
As I continued my conversation with Natalie, it became evident that she had formed her ideas about herself based on negative experiences with the world around her. She saw herself as unattractive, unintelligent and unlovable. Although I was saddened and somewhat shocked by Natalie’s assessment and articulation of her value and worth, in my work with “high opportunity” young people, I have found that this perspective is unfortunately not uncommon. Having been an insecure teenaged girl at some point in my life, I can relate to some aspects of Natalie’s image of herself. However, my life experience was in no way parallel to that of Natalie or her peers. (more…)