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The Effects of Poverty on a Teen

A Teenager's Perspective: Melanie

The idea of poverty is a social stigma, especially since we are accustomed to living decent lives in our developed countries.  When poverty is mentioned, people tend to generate the idea of sad children commercials compelling them to "donate now," when in fact people who are influenced by it are everywhere. For people who have had the luck to never experience the struggle of staying afloat, these ideas may make a person naive, and less sensitive to the topic of poverty. Usually hidden in the depths of society, it is hard to recognize a person who is struggling, other times it can be quite obvious. Sometimes there is a fear of embarrassment for a person to use resources available when in need, like food banks, soup kitchens or shelters. But growing up and watching your family struggle long and hard, the greatest fear I have personally, is falling back into the known cycle of poverty.

The Extremities

The hardest part about growing up with no money is the lack of experience and relationships you are able to create. Again, the embarrassment in general or fear of being criticized and unwanted. When I was younger, no one cared if I was poor and I didn't even have an understanding or knowledge of what was happening with my family. I went to a number of the typical slumber parties, birthday parties or pool parties every little girl enjoyed—but these kind of things never happened at my house. Always begging for a sleepover with my best friend, my mother always declining, worried about the lack of food or resources we had at the time. Always awaiting a fun birthday party with some of my friends that never did come. It never bothered me much when I was small, and it wasn't a huge deal because I never noticed the impact. As I aged, the state of our finances had increased—and then dropped severely sometimes. At the start of my preteen years, I had finally recognized that my family was in trouble. A few weeks at a time, our hot water had been shut off. My mother boiled a few pots of water for our baths every other night, and a few other pots for the dishes. Once our power got cut, my mom had lit candles around the house. The heat of summer was too much, and our neighbor brought us over and cooked dinner for us and let us enjoy his air conditioning. With the water, and electricity gone, that meant we could no longer pay for the actual rent of the house. So we moved, again and again. To this day I can't count the number of schools I went to with the fingers on my hands. Presently, I go to a high school in an area where most kids are well off, and will probably never have to think twice about potential student loans. As I am older, it gets harder for me to be able to relate to people and their experiences. My friends are excited to explain the new ride at Disney Land or Disney World, and I stare blankly as I have no idea what the difference between them is. People are surprised when I don't know that popular resort in Cuba. When people ask me what concerts I've been to, I don't have a response. When my friends ask me to join their sport teams, I am unable to, because we don't have the money. I am embarrassed when I play school sports, as I never had the extra time everyone had in the summer to practice. I have never had a passport, and have never left the province I live in. I am still young, and of course the opportunity will arise for me to get to do these things someday soon. As a teenager though, I feel outcasted by the judgmental society I unfortunately live in, and those experiences determine where you stand in class. I crave all of those experiences badly, and I sadly envy everyone who is lucky enough to get that experience early. In school, I sit through classes where teachers tell me these kinds of things don't happen in Canada, and how I'm lucky enough "to have a great life." I quietly sit and think about what my past would have been like, if I were one of those kids who were lucky enough.

What is it like now?

Even though my family is on its feet most of the time, we do get knocked down every so often, quietly falling but we just give up our unnecessary items for our needs, like our wifi or our car. I work a part time job for myself, to save funds I need badly for University. The funds my family generates sometimes isn't sufficient enough to support, and of course I help. It's always promised back, but never returned. It becomes a problem, especially for a person who is so scared to fall into the same patterns and just wants out. Mass amounts of guilt, anger, envy, and strain is put on someone who feels like they're sinking back down again. Many negative side effects are created from the attempt to escape this continuous cycle. I have never learned the skill of saving, and it is very difficult for me to. When I have my own money, I can use it for anything I could ever want. This leads to me compulsively buying new things even when it is not needed. I am so scared of my money being taken away that I just throw it away anyways, making me believe it's being put to good use. I oftentimes justify or try to make the reason why I spent money a good one, digging myself a new hole. In the end, I shame myself for what I have done, and I become hopeless, a great breeding ground for depression and social anxiety. Poverty is something no one who has experienced it will ever forget; a vacuum at your heels at all times. People who have suffered through it must work extra hard to catch up with the rest of society, which is not exactly easy. A car trying to catch up with others after a pit stop; that time delay means everything. Adversely, my past has lead to impactful effects even after my family is not as effected by poverty as we used to be. I am extremely sensitive to criticism in how I look to other people, so much so that I have developed social anxiety. It is very hard for me to get over the fact that I look fine. My self confidence hits extreme lows, especially concerning my crooked, misaligned teeth that cannot be fixed because braces are so expensive. Overall, I have developed depression which effects other people, making them think they are they reason for my bad days. 

How can it make you a better person?

Not being able to participate or do normal kid things has made me extremely grateful for everything I have now. I set goals, and I am extremely self-reliant and I don't expect anything at all from anyone. Even though I have the unnerving barrier of money stopping me from doing a lot of things, when I accomplish one of my goals the pride in myself and from my parents outweighs anything. The fear of falling into this cycle once again is my greatest extrinsic motivator, and every step I take in progress is just one more step further away from the dark sea that once drowned us all. I feel as though I have matured and have had a better understanding of the world from a young age, which isn't necessarily a good thing but it has made me more intelligent. I am not saying you must suffer through these horrible things to turn out "right," but poverty makes a person look at things from a different point of view. I am extremely humbled to be where I am now, and I am very proud of everything I have achieved. Not everyone makes it out, some of us are luckier. If you push hard and reach for the stars, there is not a single thing that can stop you- not even the looming conflict of money. I wanted to share my experiences for those who have suffered and are presently suffering, not to create a pity party but to give them someone to relate to.

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