The Kids of ‘Teenager Therapy’ Just Want You to #Feel

On a recent episode of Teenager Therapy, cohost Mark Hugo made a confession not uncommon on the podcast: “Dude, I cried this week.”

As is the show’s relaxed-but-altruistic nature, the other cohosts quickly chimed in. Was it stress? Something else? Extracurriculars were beginning to weigh on him, Hugo explained. His volleyball team suffered an embarrassing pre-season loss to a rival squad. Then there was the problem of the angry Spanish teacher who “likes to yell.” It was turning into a trying week—and it was only Tuesday. “I didn’t feel mad. I didn’t feel happy. But I didn’t feel sad,” he said in the episode. “I kinda wanted to feel something but didn’t. I was sorta just there. You know what I mean?” They did.

The next day, Hugo continued, a teammate extended words of encouragement that caught him completely off guard. “I started crying in front of everybody,” he said. For listeners, this is where the episode finds its warmth, its unassailable charm: Each cohost then offered up their own intimacies, and the conversation—which initially kicked off with suggestions of what to watch on Netflix—matured into one about the delicate moments when we reach our emotional ceilings.

The episode (“Netflix Recommendations + Feelings Update?”) crystallizes what the young people of Teenager Therapy do best: feel. It’s not just their soft-heartedness that makes what they talk about unique—all teens are plagued by endless and unexplainable #feels—it’s their totally brash transparency, the candor with which they speak around those subjects, that suggests what you’re listening to is no ordinary teen podcast.

Teenager Therapy debuted in September of 2018. The idea for the show came to Gael Aitor—a lanky and inquisitive 16-year-old from Anaheim, California—that summer after listening to episodes of Couples Therapy. “It was one of the first podcasts I really got into. I was so captivated by it,” he says of hosts Casey and Candance Neistat’s openness around issues like friendship, marriage, and forgiveness. Aitor decided to apply an equivalent framework to the experiences he and his friends were coming up against. “I thought, What if there was a podcast with teenagers literally talking about their problems and what’s going on in their lives? I would want to hear that,” he says. “I’m curious as to how others are living: what they’re going through, what issues they have, what they’ve done, what they haven’t done. I was 100 percent sure it was going to work because I thought it was such a great idea, but that may just be my ego.”

Teens have yet to saturate the audio narrative landscape with the same genre-distorting prowess they’ve brought to video platforms like Snapchat and TikTok. Several factors have contributed to that: a need for quality equipment, an entrenched old guard, the difficulty in standing out in a crowded ecosystem. Plus, the medium has a distinctly boomer vibe to it—audio without any visual effect can feel less radical to the rhythms of our networked world. Still, Teenager Therapy proved there was a huge untapped audience. Today, the podcast has 360,000 subscribers, 2.2 million streams, and 1.5 million downloads.

The genial campfire mood of the show is a credit to its hosts, who include, along with Aitor and Hugo, Thomas Pham and Kayla Suarez (both 16) and Isaac Hurtado (17). The common denominator among the crew is an eagerness to be vulnerable, the kind of forthrightness that only reveals itself among the closest of friends. What they have—it’s a rare thing, Suarez says. “I don’t think [other high schoolers] are as open with their feelings,” she says, adding that she hopes the podcast will change that. “Right now, there’s such an open discussion about mental health, about being vulnerable, it’s the perfect time to have a one-on-one conversation with your friends. There are other people going through the same things as you are.”

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