Then 15, Aitor gathered four fellow high school sophomores, Mark Hugo, Thomas Pham, Kayla Suarez and Isaac Hurtado, and the five started the podcast “Teenager Therapy.” All of the teens are friends with Aitor, who is now 17, and some have known each other since as far back as elementary and middle school.
Roughly two-and-a-half years on, the five hosts are now high school seniors and the podcast has recorded more than 100 episodes where the teens have talked about everything from mental health to sexuality to acne. They’ve also hosted celebrity guests Prince Harry and wife Meghan Markle and had their work spotlighted by Apple Podcasts.
“When I started ‘Teenager Therapy’ I was really coming into this blind,” Aitor said. “I had no knowledge about any of the technical aspects. I didn’t know how to upload a podcast into the world so everyone could hear it.”
He said that there was a lot of Googling involved and that he had to look up practically everything, including how to start a podcast with five people, what equipment was needed and what exactly a mixer was.
But now the group of friends has a professional-sounding podcast with intro music, clear audio and several different places that you can listen to it as well as popular social media accounts.
The show has about 550,000 followers on Spotify and gets around 40,000 downloads per episode, according to Aitor.
The Teenager Therapy TikTok account has more than 137,000 followers, their Instagram account has nearly 52,000 followers and the Teenager Therapy Twitter more than 7,000.
Their podcast has more than 3,000 ratings in the Apple Store with comments from teen listeners saying things about the show such as “it changed my life;” “it brings me so much bliss;” and “I recommend this to anyone who wants to know what it’s like being a teenager.”
Even since the show started nearly three years ago, attitudes about the topics of teen struggles have evolved, Pham said.
“Conversations about mental health and depression and anxiety are kind of normalizing now and it’s not such a taboo topic,” he said.
The podcast is a conversation with the teens talking about their everyday lives and their challenges.
The novel coronavirus pandemic had a starring role on the podcast over the last year and many of the teens’ shows in 2020 focused on the struggles of staying at home, social distancing and minimizing interaction.
“Teenager Therapy” has also brought in some high-profile guests, including TikTok star Shalom and Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. Months before the world would watch Markle talk about her own struggles with depression and suicidal thoughts in an interview with Oprah, she appeared on the podcast with the teens for World Mental Health Day in October.
Aitor said Harry and Meghan reached out to the podcast about a week before World Mental Health Day. And after much coordination, Aitor, Pham and Suarez hit the road to Montecito to conduct an interview with Meghan and Harry.
“They came in, said hi, set their mics up, started recording for about 35 minutes, we stopped, said thank you, took some photos and they were gone,” Aitor said.
Making an impact
Most of the people the hosts hear from aren’t celebrities, but other teens from around the world who are grateful to them. Aitor said some of the feedback is mind-boggling.
“They’ll be telling us something as intense as we saved their lives just by talking or we helped them come out and obviously that’s incredibly inspiring, but it’s just very hard to believe,” he said.
So what does the future look like for the group of high school seniors who will eventually leave their teen years behind?
Aitor said that ideally, he and his friends would love to continue until they’re no longer teens and then after that perhaps they’ll continue the podcast into their young adult years, then their mid-30s and beyond, but it depends on whether the podcast is something that still makes the group happy and fulfilled.
An alternative might be to pass it down to a new generation of adolescents to talk about their own set of challenges and struggles.
“I think it’s going to be interesting to see what does happen,” he said.
For now, the teens are still trying to absorb the impact the show has had so far.
“I think whenever we do take a minute to process what is actually going on here and that there’s thousands of people listening to us and taking each word to heart, it’s heartwarming,” Aitor said.Teenager Therapy
Social media: @TeenagerTherapy on TikTok, Instagram and Twitter
Where to listen: Apple Podcasts, Spotify