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I am trying.

Winter 2024

Written by Melissa Cruz, Prevention Educator


I saw a note written by a teen and one of the lines connected with my heart.

The teenager wrote, “I want to tell you that I am trying.”

I am hoping we can pause and just think about that – a young person wanting us to know, “I am trying.”  

When I’m asked about my work as a prevention educator and share that my area of focus is middle school, I sometimes hear negative things about working with teenagers.

My question is – didn’t we all pass through those years? That means, we have experience!

I do love teaching little ones in elementary school – and all their enthusiasm!

But something in me responds when I see a teenager connecting with one of our lessons. I want them protected as they grow through all the changes that are happening. I love getting to hear them discuss and process their boundaries.

I have been given a personal look into what teens are dealing with these days as my son is 14. He’s taller than me now without cheating and standing on his tip toes! And he’s stronger! But he still likes it when I give him a hug and kiss. He seems to love it when I hang out with him and listen to his stories. Sometimes he drives me crazy with the clothing that surrounds the outside perimeter of his laundry container. Somehow these pieces do not get placed inside the big, wide-open wicker basket that should be an easy target! But okay – a step at a time here because at 13, dirty clothes only made it right next to his bed.

When a teen says, “I am trying” – are we listening?

Are we listening like we did when they were small and growing?

Are we listening intently like how parents check on their sleeping baby at night? Or like when a young child falls and there’s that moment of pause – listening and checking – are they ok?

I like to think about this when teaching in middle school. As our young people go through their teenage years – they are maturing, yet their brains are still developing. They still need us as they grow.

My son likes to share about his new games – the victories and defeats. I listen, not because I want to know how to take on these conquests and play the game. But I listen because I want him to know he can talk with me. I want him to be comfortable in sharing with me. I want to encourage his growth.  I want him to know I’m rooting for him.  

I will never forget how a teacher rooted for me when I was a teenager.

I was becoming a young writer by middle school. My teacher believed in the gift that was developing in me. But he challenged me to take that gift into public speaking by way of a speech competition.

I will never forget how he showed up for the competition. He stood in the back corner of the audience – on my side so I could see him. When I presented my speech, he smiled and nodded his head like he was proud of me. I drew strength from his encouragement.

I have never forgotten what it was like to see him rooting for me.

Someone of influence believed in me ... what a gift!

Because of his encouragement – my confidence grew. I pursued writing. I wrote articles for the school paper. Then as a senior, I wrote a speech and was selected to be one of the commencement speakers at our high school graduation. I became a reporter and then did mission work for over a decade. My work at Crime Victim Services has provided opportunities to share inspirations along the way.

I believe we encourage our young people by how we show up for them. They still need to be looked out for as they grow through their teen years. They just need us in a different way. The “us” being teachers, advocates, friends, and family.

They need to know we are in their corner – rooting for them.

And they need to know that we are listening and checking – are they ok?


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