Mary Jo Podgurski

Column Mary Jo Podgurski

Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski is the founder and director of the Washington Health System Teen Outreach. She responds to 68 questions from young people daily and has written 'Ask Mary Jo' since 2005.

Young people deal with adult issues

Young people deal with adult issues

January 8, 2014

Today’s questions deal with adult problems. Young people are affected by parent challenges; often they try to assume adult roles in a family as they attempt to fix those problems. I included the questions as a reminder to all adults who care about youth – young people’s behavioral changes can be symptoms of adult situations causing youth stress. Parents, teachers, coaches, youth group leaders and other concerned adults must work together to offer support. In each of these situations my staff and I connected the families with resources. My heart is heavy when I consider how many young people deal with adult issues alone. Please encourage and support the young people in your lives.

Q. Can you help me find a job? Since my dad left, money is really tight. We get by, but barely. Christmas was rough. I know you hire some teens at the Teen Center. I looked for other jobs, but I’m only 13 so no one will hire me. My mom has never had a job because of health issues. My dad isn’t paying child support. I worry about this all the time but I don’t want my friends to know how bad things are. I tried talking with my mom but she just cries. I’m having trouble concentrating in my classes.


Mary Jo’s Response: I think you’re a mature young person. You’re trying to take on an adult problem so I’m pleased you sought help from an adult.

At 13, your job deals with school, with learning and with growing up. Your family’s problems are affecting your school work. It’s time to turn those adult problems over to adults who can help. Let’s talk:

• There are agencies where your mom can get help with child support. There are places where she can find help with her health issues and with employment. Your support will help her but you shouldn’t take on a problem this big without help. Your mom may be depressed. Depression doesn’t just disappear. Trained adults can help her.

• Contact your guidance counselor or a trusted teacher at school. Please don’t feel bad. They’re there to help. Share your family’s problems.

• Let me know what they suggest. My staff and I can help coordinate services for your family.

• I’d like you to be part of one of our programs. ECHO is a wonderful mentoring program – I think you’ll love it. One of our staff people will meet with you and help you focus on school. With your permission, I’ll give your information to our team and someone will call your mom. There’s no charge for ECHO.

Remember you’re not alone. Things will get better.

Q.How can I stop my stepdad from drinking? I think my mom and dad broke up because my dad was a drinker. My stepdad made her happy at first but now they fight and it sounds like right before my mom and dad split. I don’t want to go through this again. I asked my friends for help and one of them said to write to you. I almost told my coach, who is really cool, but then I thought he’d be mad if I did.


Mary Jo’s Response:

You can’t control choices adults make, but you have power over your own choices. You made a healthy choice by seeking help. My response to you is much like my answer to the first question. Adults can help. Your friends care about you but they have little power over adult behavior. I’m glad you wrote.

Adult relationships can be complicated. Alcohol can make them more complicated. Have you shared your fears with your mom? I know opening up to her may feel uncomfortable. Many times families deny problems or think children your age are not aware of them. She needs to know how you feel. I also suggest talking with other adults in your family. Do you have an aunt, uncle or grandparent you trust?

Please talk with a trusted adult. If no one in your family can help, seek help at school or church. I don’t think your coach would be angry. If you feel awkward starting this conversation, I will be happy to help you connect. Good luck.


My big brother is always in trouble. He just got suspended from school for the second time. He used to get upset when my dad and his girlfriend fought but now he stays out of the house most of the time. I miss him. I want him to be OK. How can I get my dad and her to stop fighting so my brother will stay home more?


Mary Jo’s Response:

As with the other questions, your family needs support. Your job isn’t to make the adults in your family change but to seek support for your brother and yourself. Writing me was a good start. Let’s connect you and your brother with adults who can help.

Peer educator response:

You were smart to write to Mary Jo. Find an adult you can trust. You can’t fix adult problems. You can only take care of your own stuff. Be strong and continue seeking help.



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