Emotionally Troubled Teens Show Honesty, Courage

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Many teens have trouble opening up emotionally, but for teens with mental health and addiction problems, talking about their personal lives can be a particularly difficult challenge. At a residential treatment center in Orem, Utah, young people showed incredible courage.


Being a teenager is almost always a bit of a chore. For teens with mental health problems, one of the challenges may be just talking about it, and talking with a reporter in the room could be a moment of extraordinary courage. NPR's Larry Abramson has this look inside his Reporter's Notebook.

LARRY ABRAMSON: I have a little rule I follow when I'm talking to kids: no story is important enough that it's worth hurting a child in the process, no matter how good the tape. I had to think about that on a recent reporting trip when a kid made an unusual confession in front of me and my tape recorder.

ARI: I made my bathroom goals twice today.

ABRAMSON: I was in Orem, Utah visiting a residential treatment center called Tillos(ph). It's for kids with emotional or addiction problems. A 16-year-old named Ari was talking at a community meeting. He tallied his successes and failures for the day. For a lot of kids his age, the goal might be talking to a girl, making the team, staying out of trouble, but for Ari the goal was simple but for now unattainable.

ARI: I'm kind of upset. I should be able to making the time limit by myself.

ABRAMSON: Ari has an obsession about washing himself. Before he came to the center he spent hours taking a shower. He's gotten it down to about half an hour but he still can't do it without help.

ARI: But I didn't have any peer help and I failed miserably - well, not miserably but I kind of went over.

ABRAMSON: There's a reason why Ari is a little hard to hear. I wasn't prepared for his honesty and he was being so frank I just couldn't bring myself to record him up close. Though it's my job to jam a microphone in people's faces, sometimes it just feels indecent. The other kids listened in silence, no snickers, just nods of recognition. Everyone here has his own demons. That's why they're here. One other boy chimed in with a voice of support.

SIMON: Don't beat yourself up just because you can't make your shower goal without any help because I know it's tough for you.

ABRAMSON: It's the kind of sincerity you don't get to experience that often. I like to think that every once in a while the presence of my microphone helps inspire that honesty.

SIMON: NPR's Larry Abramson.

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