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Helping Teens Discover Themselves – Tina Toler-Keel

You began the writing process by writing stories about your grandfather for yourself as a way to cherish your memories of him.  Tell us how that evolved into writing books for teens.

Through writing, I was able to express and deal with emotional issues that were locked deep inside of me – some I wasn’t even aware of. The stories about my grandfather get to the heart of the issues as well as tell a story that hopefully will be passed down throughout generations in our family. Teens always have a story. Sometimes they are great and happy ones, but often they are deeply disturbing. They go through so much and often adults fail to recognize that. Through stories and books, they can find comfort, help, guidance, and entertainment, and know they aren’t alone. I didn’t wake up one day and say, “I am going to write for teens.” It just evolved into that. In fact, my first novel is an adult thriller. I am still revising that, and although I love the story line, my heart belongs with my teen books so they get top priority.

How is it that you can connect with teen-aged minds so well?

Several reasons.

1. I am a parent of three teens. I have seen first hand their struggles and fears. My kids and I talk a lot and they trust me, so I know a great deal of their pain and difficulties. I feel very blessed my kids turn to me. Now, that doesn’t mean I know everything about teens, or about them. I am sure there is plenty I don’t know, and probably don’t want to know.

2. My kids have a lot of friends and they tend to migrate to our house. Often we are sitting around on the porch at two in the morning and they are telling me very personal things about their lives. I have heard about their family troubles, issues with self-harm and suicidal thoughts, molestation, rape, drug abuse, etc. Their stories range from the everyday drama that all teens seem to go through to the really horrid things life sometimes brings. They are very open with me. I have also had friends my kids have gotten to know from other states through Facebook who text me out of the blue asking me for advice on serious issues. Not long ago, a girl I barely talked to on Facebook wrote me asking for help to stop cutting. I think it helps I am willing to stay up all night talking to them if I need to. I don’t talk down to them, nor do I minimize their problems. For teens, something adults think is trivial and something not to worry about, such as a break up, is a huge deal to them and can hurt them to the core. It is important adults really listen to them, and above all, care for them.

3. I was a teen and I remember what it was like. I think this is the most important one. Although my life was relatively good, and even great in many ways, it wasn’t perfect. I remember feeling alone, unloved, lost, confused, scared, and even suicidal at times. I had family issues. I was raped at seventeen. After high school I dabbled in alcohol and drugs. I went through a spell where I was somewhat promiscuous. I’ve been there, and I remember it. I remember simple, unimportant things could drive me over the edge. I remember thinking there was no way I could have a good future and I remember feeling like a horrible person. I also remember during those times I had good friends and I had fun. One did not always exclude the other.