One adolescent was gripped with terror that a sexual encounter he’d had would become known and his life would be ruined. He hadn’t told his parents, he said; he carried his fear like a time bomb. He just needed to tell someone and wonder aloud what to do.

All told, I spoke with dozens of young people, some in brief conversations that informed my thinking but won’t appear in this series of stories. I spoke to others over many months, as in the case of M, whom I first met a year ago and who shared their story in one of the first articles of the series. M was always frank, at one point revealing that they had started self-harming again; I told M that I would need to share that information with their mother, with their consent, and I did.

After each conversation, I thanked the teens and parents for sharing so much of themselves. The most frequent response was: I’m telling you this so that it may help someone else dealing with this stuff.

Some wanted to vent their anger at a medical system they felt was unequipped to deal with the crisis. They wanted a measure of validation, and justice. But as much as that, I think, they spoke with me because they wanted to try to understand, and heal, themselves.

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