Written by Jamin Draves, Volunteer Coordinator
Isolation is the focus of a great many contacts, though sometimes youth are unable to give this experience a name. “I am lonely” doesn’t do it justice. Being lonely certainly doesn’t have the immediate danger of being out on the street and it has an even less of an immediate “solution” (like getting to a shelter, for example). Sometimes isolation is just going to be something that youth need to learn to live with in order to survive.
Youth experience isolation for a variety of reasons including:
- Living in a rural area
- Cultural background
- Strict family rules.
Daniel*, an NRS volunteer, recently spoke to young woman, Claire*, who had essentially been living two sides to her life. The one side of her life is the one that her parent’s rules shaped her into. She is an obedient, studious 16-year-old girl that comes directly home after school. She cares for her siblings when parents aren’t home and isn’t allowed to speak to nor even mention boys. The other side of her life is lived in complete secret.
She’s a girl who yearns for a vibrant social life who also happens to have a boyfriend who she is considering becoming sexually active with. Her parents know nothing about this side of her. She’s had to hide most of her personal interests from fear of them taking it away. Daniel remembers being struck by how little her parents actually knew about who their daughter really was and what she valued. There was a real wedge driven between them that they were seemingly unaware of.
Claire initially reached out to NRS to ask about marriage as a minor. She was considering marriage to be a way out of her home and away from her parent’s rules. She used words like “hopeless” and “lonely”, which is often language that youth who feel isolated say. When Daniel asked about her future plans, she hadn’t even considered a life beyond high school at this point. All Claire knew was they were in love and had a lot of guilt for hiding it. Growing up, thinking thoughts like these were wrong, she said she felt trapped. Someone asking about college and life beyond what she knew was a completely new experience. For the first time she was actually considering a future. Claire said that this was the only time they can remember being taken seriously by an adult.
Isolation isn’t something we can “solve” for the youth on the lines. It’s not going away. Coping is something we often help them focus on since this aspect of their life far exists beyond when the phone call or chat ends. As Daniel helped explore her plan and questions, Claire happily chimed in with possible resources they could use to cope such as after-school programs and clubs. She felt like her parents would approve of this type of activity since it would support maintaining her good grades. The thought of going away for school was exciting. Suddenly there was hope and Claire was taking charge of her life.
Claires is holding on to hope for now. It is her way of coping with an otherwise difficult situation. It is not unlike how NRS hopes that youth will get through their tough situation and have the life they dream of. Hope is a good thing to hold on to when all other things seem so determined to beat you down.
* The names in this story have been changed to respect the privacy and confidentiality of the youth we serve and our team.