Saturday, October 31, 2009

What Is Domestic Violence?

Did you hear?  Today is the last day of National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.  Do you know what it is?  National Domestic Violence Awareness Month is one month out of the year when the issue of violence, forced or threatened, among family members and teenagers is discussed, with extra attention being given to solutions and resources.  National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.  What does this have to do with young people?  The answer is "lots".  Domestic violence has "lots" to do with young people. 

Check out a few stats.  According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in 10 teen girls and one in 11 teen boys admits to having experienced physical violence in a dating relationship in the past year.  One in three teens say they know someone who has been physically assaulted or hurt by a dating partner. One in five teens ages 13 and 14 who have been in a relationship say that they know someone who has been hit in anger by a boyfriend or girlfriend. One in five teens admits to being emotionally abused in the past year.  Among 11 to 14 year-olds who have been in relationships, 62% of them know friends who have been verbally abused by a boyfriend or girlfriend.  Approximately one in five teen girls have been physically or sexually abused by their partner.  70% of teen girls who have been sexually assaulted knew their attacker. The attacker was a friend, boyfriend or casual acquaintance. More than half of girls surveyed reported mutual aggression in their relationship – meaning that both she and her partner were physically aggressive toward each other.  A clear indicator that young people tend to think its okay to hit one another and that young people are enduring surprisingly high rates of abuse, physical, emotional and sexual, among one another.

Are you surprised, shocked?  Here's more information.  According to the National Youth Violence Prevention Research Center, studies show that children who witness violence at home experience behavioral problems and increased aggression, have less developed social and conflict resolution skills, and may suffer long-term developmental effects. These youth are also at risk of engaging in future violence and of being abused themselves. Researchers have found that people who batter their partners/mates are also more likely to abuse their children.  What does this indicate for young people?  Recent stories of teen-on-teen violence around the country indicates that young people are struggling with what to do with the "social stimuli" that perpetuates a culture of violence, particularly violence among females and that young people are unaware of how to adequately and appropriately address and express pain, anger and rage.
Teen domestic violence.  Another area of the adolescent experience in need of increased attention.  It's much more common than most teens, parents or others may think.  Many young people are subjected and impacted by this EVERYDAY.  Disagreements turn into arguments which turn into shouting matches which turn into shoving matches which turn into physcial fights, where someone almost always gets injured.  Teens know about it.  Some think its okay.  Some accept it because its been a way of life for them.  Some feel pressured to accept it from peers and adults.  They witness it among their friends and are likely to be victims themselves.  Teens are exposed to violence at home, at school and in their everyday life experiences.  Add to that, the violence viewed on TV, movies, videos, the internet and magazines.  It is overwhelming and the message sent to young people is mixed.  Adults TELL them that domestic violence is bad, but SHOW them that domestic violence is hip, cool, and in some way acceptable.  The internet, movies, TV, videos and magazines are very effective in communicating this messge, however unintentional it may be. 

What are young people to do?  A start is to understand the message.  Domestic violence, at home, school, with your friends or boyfriend/girlfriend is never right and never acceptable.  If your boyfriend or girlfriend calls you names, tells you what to wear, discourages you from friendships, criticizes you unfairly, blames you for their negative choices/decisions, or threatens you in any way, this is known as emotional abuse.  Your response to this is to go and speak with an adult for guidance and tell your parents.  If your boyfriend or girlfriend touches you forcefully, like pull your arm or hair, hit you or in any way inflict physical pain, this is known as physical abuse.  Your response to this is to seek guidance and advice from an adult and tell your parents.  Do not keep an abusive relationship to yourself.  Tell someone and seek help.  As a teen, you should never feel as if you deserve any mistreatment from a peer, boyfriend/girlfriend or family member.  No teen has the right to attempt to gain control over another by using any form of abuse.  If you have changed your attitude, style, hobby, social life and lifestyle to satisfy your boyfriend or girlfriend, you may be at-risk of an abusive relationship.  If you experience any of the above described abuses at home, either directly or witness against your mother or father, speak to the social worker, counselor or adminstrator at your school immediately.  If you believe you have been a victim of domestic violence in the past and need help, talk to your school counselors immediately.

National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.  It's the last day of the month, but not the last day to speak out on this important issue among young people.  Adults need to model appropriate examples of expressions of anger and unhappiness and teach young people acceptable vs. unacceptable behaviors, particularly in relationships.  Teens need to increase their knowledge base regarding abusive behaviors to readily recognize and to display an intolerance to the abuse that threatens self esteem, self-worth, ambition, drives and possibly your life.     

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Few Things To Know

Teenagers.  Most times when I use that word with someone, I almost immediately get some type of response, be it a snicker, a smile or a grimace.  Sometimes, I even get a good dose of "rolling of the eyes".  When I tell people that I work with teenagers in a school setting and community setting, I almost always get the "bless you" or "somebody's gotta help them and I hope you can" response.  It's funny to me because I believe teenagers are some of the most interesting, fun, challenging, fascinating, energetic, engaging and loyal group of individuals I have ever met.  I absolutely LOVE my profession of social work, career as a school clinician and program developer and population of teenagers with whom I have the most contact.

Truthfully, sometimes teenagers can be exhausting, but that's because they have usually challenged me in a way or ways that force me to look within and "check myself" to ensure that I am doing what I am doing for the right reasons and not for a convenient reason.  I think they teach me as much as I teach them.  Each day, I encounter something that makes me think about all that teenagers endure.  When I think back to my own teen years and I hope everyone does at some point, I remember times during high school feeling difficult and sometimes feeling alone and isolated, wishing for someone, nonjudmental and understanding, other than my parents, in which to share my inner thoughts.  As I remember back, there were some things I wish someone had shared with me at that time.  Following are a FEW THINGS TO KNOW as you live your life as a teenager.

School is the most important endeavor in your life at the moment.  Going to school, doing your best in the classroom and receiving an education sets the foundation for your future.  A future that is bright and full of endless possibilities.  I like to tell the teens I encounter that "if you can dream it, you can do it or be it".  Don't take school for granted and think that you have time to waste.  Every grade, from 9th to 12th matters.  Colleges review your entire high school career including your attendance.  If you are having a hard time in a particular class, don't give up.  Actually, NEVER give up.  Ask for help.  Ask a friend, peer, teacher or other school person to help you.  Ask a family member, church member or another person you know, like and respect for help.  Keep asking until you receive the help you need and pass that class.  Always be willing to work hard to achieve your goals.

College will be one of the best decisions and experiences of your life.  If possible, stay on campus in the dormitory.  If given the option, pick a roommate that you don't know.  I know you and your best friend may have planned for years how you would go to the same college and room together, etc, but be adventurous and expand your social network and circle.  That is the beginning of a lifetime of networking and learning to get along with others that are different from you.  Learn to manage your time, manage your money and manage your life.  Don't worry about money for college.  Talk to the guidance counselors at your school.  They are wealth of information for financial aid, grants and scholarships.  If you are the first in your family to attend college, congratulate yourself and vow not to be the last.

Feel good in your own skin.  The world is made up of different types of people, with no type better than another type.  I like to say that we all have one heart, one mind, one brain.  These are some of the important things in life and we all have them in common.  You are handsome and beautiful the way you are.  No need to stress about how you look, how your hair hangs or how long or short it is.  No need to stress about skin tone or color, that one or two extra pimples on your face or pounds on your body.   Consider reducing or maybe eliminating sodas, fried foods and candy/sweets from your diet.  No need to stress about your body make-up.  Your legs, arms, chest and bottom don't need enhancing.  Your body is still changing and developing.  Give yourself the time and space to evolve.

It's okay to go it alone.  Don't feel pressured to get a boyfriend or girlfriend.  There will be plenty of time in life for boyfriends and girlfriends and all the choices and decisions that come with having a boyfriend or girlfirend.  Sex and sexuality does not make you cool or mature, no matter what others "say" they are doing and no matter what the TV or magazines report.  Now is not the best time to be serious with any one person.  Now is the time to meet many new people, develop friendships, trade stories, create laughter and make memories.

Know that drugs and alcohol set the stage for self-destruction.  Nothing good comes from using drugs or alcohol.  If someone pressures you to use any drug or alcohol, understand that this person is NOT your friend.  Remove yourself from their presence, their environment, their influence.  Drugs and alcohol can lead to an addiction that can take a lifetime to overcome, creating havoc in your personal, family, school and ultimately, your professional life.  If you think using drugs or alcohol is cool, you are misguided in your thinking.  It is not cool.  It is dangerous, addictive, and destructive.   They will not make your life better, make you happier or take away any pain.  There are many stories of teens making poor choices while under the influence of a drug or alcohol.  Don't be one of them.

Be kind to your peers and friends.  Don't be a bully.  What you say or do to another person may affect them for the rest of their lives.  Remember that everyone's life situation is different.  You don't have the right to hurt others because you may be hurting.  Instead of teasing that quiet kid, talk to them and find out that your commonalities are more than your differences.  Recognize if a friend or peer is feeling sad and talking about hurting themselves or others.  Tell an adult immediately and encourage them to seek help.  There is no such thing as snitching if you are helping someone.

Be aware of your actions because someone is ALWAYS watching.  Be mindful of what you text on your phone, and load onto your MySpace, Facebook or other social sites.  You don't want a silly mistake you made in high school follow you into your adult life when you have taken on a more serious demeanor.  If you think your parents or other adult would not approve of what you write or load onto your site, then don't do it.  Teachers, colleges and potential employers will see what others say about you and all the pictures you put on your site and judge you by what is visible to them.  Don't embarass yourself, your parents, your family and all the people who support you.

Love and respect your parents and caregivers.  They have sacrificed a lot for your benefit and well-being.  Your parents and caregivers will be your biggest fans, cheering squad and supporters.  Your parents were teens themselves, once upon a time, even if they don't act as such.  They understand more than you may realize.  Your parents and caregivers work hard to ensure that you receive the best possible advantages and opportunites they can provide.  Your success is their pleasure, but your failure is their pain.  Remember that when you come home and the lights are on, the phone is working, the air is blowing, the heat is pumping and the food is cooking, many sacrifices, unknown to you, are being made on your behalf.  Always strive to do your best and make your parents proud.

A few things for teens to know.  A few things to help on the journey.  A few things to live by.  A few things to share with another.  There are many more things to know, but as with anything in life, there is a time and a place for everything.  So, whenever someone asks me how I could work with teenagers or comment that they admire my patience for teens, I simply reply that there are a few things to know.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Behind the Wheel

Today a student shared with me that she likes to drive fast.  She doesn't have her driver's license yet and she assured me that this is how she feels, not that she is driving without a license.  She also told me that she wanted to be a NASCAR race driver.  I guess my reaction, open mouth, wide eyes, was enough to tickle her because she started laughing and said, " I know, it sounds crazy."  I reassured her that it didn't sound crazy and that I would be honored to say that I once knew the person who became a famous NASCAR driver.

We joked and laughed for a bit more about different career paths and her various professional interests.  I couldn't help but take an opportunity to share with her that this week is national teen driver safety week.  I shared with her some of the sad statistics of teenagers who have been seriously injured or killed in auto accidents, with a majority of them involving teens who were not exercising driver safety.  I felt as if she may be at risk because she has already shared that she likes to drive fast.  The scary part is that she said it with a smile, as if she received some sort of rush or affirmation.  I quickly wondered how many teens feel the exact same way as she.

Teen drivers.  I suppose most adults can remember being one and the excitement and adrenaline rush felt on the first time behind the wheel of a car.  I suppose most teenagers would prefer to be recognized in another manner, because most "older" people have thoughts and comments regarding teen drivers that are mostly critical.  Teen drivers.  They don't always understand the complexity of operating a moving vehicle.  They don't always understand the importance of respecting the roadways and the language of the road, meaning all those signs which indicate "stop", "yield", "slow down", "detour", "proceed with caution" etc.  They don't always understand the importance of maintaining strict attention to the roadway and to avoid distractions such as the radio, cell phone or other passengers.  They don't always understand that an accident can occur in a split second and there is not always enough time to react in a manner that will end in a good result.  They don't always understand that driving at night, when you are tired or under the influence of any type of substance can result in tragedy for the driver and others.  They don't always understand that speed limits are in place for a reason.  They don't always understand that letting others drive your car is putting you and your parents and other family members in jeapardy, particularly if an accident should happen.  They don't always understand that racing on the roadway, a fun past-time to them, can lead to life-changing and/or life-ending results.   

National Teen Driver Safety Week.  An important, not-to-be-underestimated week for young people.  Important because it is imperative that society focus attention on it's youngest drivers, to educate them on the dangers of driving unsafe and placing their lives and the lives of others in peril.  The lesson for young people is this:  Driving is a privilege, not a right.  It is a privilege to be taken very seriously.  Understand that no one is obligated to allow you to drive.  Your life could depend on how seriously you take this privilege.  Your parents and society trust you with making the best choices and decisions when operating a vehicle.  It is not a toy.  It is not that simulator you play on at Dave and Buster's and it is certainly not like that bicycle and motor bike you may have operated.  Every person you encounter on the roadways is trusting that you are taking the responsibility of driving seriously in your actions AND reactions.  They trust that you will not succumb to peer pressure and influence to drive fast or wrecklessly, not wear your seat belt, pile too many friends in the car or take your eyes off of the road.

As my student left my office today, I wondered how she would be behind the wheel of a car.  A student who is already reporting that she likes to drive fast.  I hope that she and all other young, teen drivers will take the privilege seriously and observe national teen driver safety week and all its education and tips in ensuring that teen drivers are always safe, always careful, always attentive, always sensible, always accountable.  Teen drivers.  We all couldn't wait to be one.  In honor of national teen driver safety week, may we not lose another one to unnecessary carelessness.  According to research, nearly 5000 teens per year will lose their lives to America's roads.  May you NOT be one of them.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Those Two Words

I could tell by the expression on her face as she and her friend asked to come to my office to talk.  I could tell by her need to bring someone with her and the reluctance to talk to me by herself.  I could tell by the "slow" stroll we took through the building and down the stairway and hallway to my office.  I could tell by the nervous, empty conversation as we walked what probably seemed like an eternity.  We sit down.  They comment on how nice my office smells.  Both young ladies are looking at me.  I could tell by the expressions.  I was just waiting to hear it.  "Well, say something", says one.  "You tell her", says the other.  "No, YOU tell her" is the return response.  I could tell by the look in her eye.  I break the exchange.  "Honey, just blurt it out.  It will be ok".

"I'm pregnant".  Those two words that are hard to say and hard to hear.  I knew my initial reaction would have a lasting impression upon this extremely impressionable teenager.  I knew she probably had spent most of the day and possibly the evening before contemplating how she would tell me and when she would tell me.  I knew she probably was frightened at the thought of a negative, unsympathetic reaction from me.  I knew she was feeling as if her entire life had just turned upside down.  I knew she was scared and I knew she needed a nonjudgmental, caring ear.  As I looked at her, I thought many things in that moment.  School, graduation, college, money, support, diapers, bottles, daycare.  Who would help with all these things?  Who will help this sixteen year-old "child" address a heavy burden that she placed upon herself.  I wanted to say many things.  Instead, I said this:  "I'm glad you came to talk to me".  At that instant, I saw the anxiety, fear, apprehension and nervousness flush out of her.  It was as if she, and her friend, let out a huge sigh of relief.  We commenced to have a candid discussion.

I asked her how she felt.  I asked her what she understood about her "situation".  I asked her if her parents were aware of this development in her life.  I asked her about the father.  I asked her about medical services.  I asked her about her immediate future plans.  Instead of hurling a bunch of "you know better" or "how could you" or "your life is over" statements, I allowed her the opportunity and space to share her story and her experiences which led to this conversation, this day, in this office. 

I shared with her what I share with many young girls who have found themselves in the exact situation.  I began with the stories of the young ladies of the teen parenting group.  I shared their struggles of having to break the news to family members, most of whom were angry and hostile.  I shared their struggles of having to live with the stigma of teen pregnancy and teen motherhood.  I shared their struggles of not having the support, financial or otherwise, of the baby's father.  I shared their struggles of having to manage school, work and parenthood.  I shared their struggles of sometimes having to "choose" between school, work and parenthood.  I shared their struggles of having to forego "teen stuff" to be held accountable to a new, full-time responsibility.  I shared their struggles of feeling unsupported, overwhelmed and sometimes depressed.

I ended by sharing with her some well-known facts.  Teenage pregnancy is not life-ending, but life-altering.  How one's life is altered depends upon the individual.  Be confident, assertive, aggressive, committed and focused.  Teen parents have access to supportive networks and services.  Teen parents can and do complete high school and pursue college and advanced education.  Teen parenting does not indicate your child's future or direction.  The President of the United States and leader of the free world, Barack Obama, was the child of a teen parent. 

I don't know what the future holds for my student, but I do know that she is a bright, intelligent, beautiful, insightful, and goal-oriented young person.  She is willing to have the hard conversation about her actions and decisions.  She is honest and truthful to herself.  She understands the value in seeking adult support and guidance.  I expect wonderful things from her now and in the future.

This is what teens should understand:  Teenage pregnancy is not a new phenomenon, yet those two words, I'm pregnant, continue to be controversial and somewhat of a lightening rod for young girls and boys.  With increased education and prevention services for young people, teenage pregnancy continues to be one of the top areas of concern for young people.  Why is that?  If you find yourself in this situation, talk to someone you trust, your parents or another adult about your choices and subsequent consequence.  Engage in careful reflection and consideration in comptemplating your future, a future that continues to shine bright and with promise.  Seek counsel from others in similar circumstance.  Seek appropriate medical care and nutrition information.  Think about the choices you make BEFORE you make them.  Think about all the positive and negative outcomes associated with your choices and think about if you can live with those outcomes.  Don't let what your friends and peers "say" they are doing influence what you may or may not do.  In most instances, it's just talk.  Don't always believe what you see on TV or read in magazines.  What is happening in one person's life is not an indicator of what may happen in your life. 

"Teenage pregnancy" and "I'm pregnant".  Admittedly, two sets of words that evoke some sort of emotion within us.  It did for me and my student on that day, in that office, when she finally blurted them out.  It's an uneasy subject for young people and adults.  We all struggle, in some way, with how to confront, address, manage.  Most young people and adults still exhibit apprehension in discussing openly.  At some point, all of us, young people, parents and other authority figures will have to engage in more open discussion on this topic.  In the meantime, I must admit that I'd rather hear "other" two words:  I STUDIED, I PASSED, I GRADUATED.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


HOMECOMING.  It has several different meanings, but for a teen, it is a "feel good" time, a time early in the school year when you get "all dressed up" and everything must be perfect.  Perfect dress, perfect suit, perfect shoes, perfect hair, pefect cut, perfect make-up, perfect shave, perfect jewels.  The excitement begins brewing early in the week when you start what is commonly known as "spirit" week.  All week, students get to celebrate something different each day with the culmination being the big dance on Saturday night.  There's dress-up days, teacher-student competitions, class challenges, parades, pep rallies, king and queen and the football game.  For teens, this is an opportunity, a "pass" to let loose a bit and have some fun.  An opportunity to come together with your current classmates and meet past classmates.  An opportunity to come together and celebrate the good stuff of adolescence.  That stuff that keeps you coming back year after year, long after you have graduated and succeeded in conquering new quests and challenges. 

Over the weekend, many high schools celebrated HOMECOMING, a time of celebration.  Celebration of memories.  Celebration of good times.  Celebration of good friends.  Celebration of what used to be.  Homecoming could be described as sort of a ritual with the parade and the homecoming court.  But it is also a "feel good" story.  A story of young people stepping out of that existence of worry and stress and into an existence of laughter, fun and good times.  A story of how young people can come together, regardless of differences, and share in the common thread of school community and school spirit.  A story of how young people can use HOMECOMING to leave positive, lasting impressions for others to follow.

HOMECOMING.  It's more than the parade, the dress-up, the dance.  It can be a time to mobilize change and "do some things".  Invite past teachers and staff to come back and mentor.  Invite past students to come back and mentor.  Invite past parents to come back and mentor.  Organize a fundraiser to gain monies to support the academic advancement of future classes, such as expanded libraries, computer labs or tech centers.  Remind community partners of commitments made and solicit new, broader commitments.  Invite the local TV, newspaper and radio station to come and spend a day at your school and witness the wonderful learning environments.  Request guidance and trainings for current class leaders to ensure successful leadership for future officers.

HOMECOMING.  If you thought it was just about the best looking girl or the best looking guy, think again.  It's about remembering the past, enjoying the present and planning the future.  It's about coming back to that place that feels safe and welcoming.  It's about coming back and expressing gratitude to all those who have helped you along the way.  It's about coming back and helping another teen feel good.  Feel good about self.  Feel good about school.  Feel good about life.  It's about remembering how wonderful it is to be a teenager.  

HOMECOMING.  Would you dare miss it? 

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Gone Too Soon, Part II

DERRION ALBERT.  By now you know him.  His name has been in the news for the past two weeks.  Derrion Albert.  His videotaped beating death in his schoolyard has been broadcast around the world.  Derrion Albert.  He has caused many people, young and older, to pause for a moment or two to think about the safety of children and the safety of children in schools, particularly urban schools.  Derrion Albert.  His story is being told in the White House, in the halls of the Justice Department and in the halls of the Education Department.  Derrion Albert.  His story has brought attention to a city where he was reared, educated and killed.  Derrion Albert.  How can young people process his death and the death of so many other "Derrion's"?  How many young people residing within urban and suburban communities in this nation have lost their lives to school violence?  Surely if known, the numbers would be shocking and unbelievable.   What does the death of Derrion Albert and others like him ultimately mean?

There will probably be many answers to this last question.  Most positive, a few not so positive.  Truthfully, only time will be able to give the accurate answer.  Time will tell how the name Derrion Albert moved a school, a community, a city, a country, a society to awake and realize that the issue of school violence, also known as student-on-student violence, is a GLOBAL problem, which requires a global response.  Not one that occurs in one neighborhood, in one city, to one person.  The world has lost out on what could have been for Derrion Albert.  Gone could have been the next inventor, the next orator, the next big difference in the lives of many.

What should young people think of the attention this week on the issue of school violence?  I'm not a young person, but if I were, I would breathe a big sigh of relief and think and hope that all this attention would foster in a new day.  A day in which the focus is on how to make the lives of young people better.  Attention that is much needed and undoubtedly welcomed.  There is much talk about the outrage and disgust of a city and country that has thus far failed at protecting some of the most precious of all, our children.

This is what I say to my students and to young people:  I know you are disgusted and most importantly, fearful.  Disgusted that you don't feel safe coming to or leaving school.  Disgusted that the very place where you are told you can advance your life can also take your life.  Disgusted that you have too many "RIP" t-shirts for friends lost.  Disgusted that you feel forced to carry a weapon in which to render protection if needed.  Disgusted that no one seems to "hear" your pain, discouragement and disillusionment when you act out violently toward yourself and others.  Fearful that you may be the next victim of school violence. 

I ask them, what will YOU do?  What will YOU do to address YOUR problems?  Will you get mad, start fights, engage in criminal behavior or experiment with illegal substances or alchohol?  OR will you confront and challenge your parents, school leaders, church leaders, and community leaders who are responsible for guiding you, leading you, directing you.  Responsible for showing you what to do when you feel angry or mad about the ever-mounting pressures of teenage life.  Responsible for showing you how to address the pain felt from past and current traumatic experiences.  Violence in all forms, is about pain and the inability, at a given time or moment, to adequately and appropriately address it and put it in its proper place within our minds and actions.  Show me a young person who acts out violently and I'll show you a young person who is in pain, most notably, emotional pain. 

Herein lies the lesson for young people.  Don't underestimate yourself and your ability to influence.  Don't wait for the change to come from city hall, your state or national government.  You have a voice, a voice that can and will be heard by the adults in your life.  Use your voice, not your fists, for expression and change.  Use your voice to speak to the world about what you need to feel safe, to feel productive, to feel hopeful.  Use your voice to hold those adults around you (parents, relatives, teachers, counselors, pastors, coaches, community leaders) accountable in what they need to do and should do for you.  Use your voice to ask for things.  Ask for conflict resolution.  Ask for job training.  Ask for academic support.  Ask for extended learning opportunities.  Ask for better libraries, more computers, more nontraditional learning environments.

Derrion Albert and countless, nameless others like him.  Gone too soon?  Absolutely.  We, those they left behind, know their deaths have not been in vain.  They are the symbols of hope and change.  Hope for days when no young person will fear the schoolyard and change in how young people think about themselves, others and the world around them.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Teen Life

Hanging at the park, or the ballgame, or the movies, or the mall, or that restaurant, or that cool party, or that friend's house.  The life of a teenager.  Making new friends, losing old friends, meeting new girls, meeting new boys, that first crush, that first heartbreak, getting that first job, learning to drive.  The life of a teenager.  Loving parents, hating parents, needing parents.  The life of a teenager.  Cell phone, text messages, facebook, youtube, myspace.  The life of a teenager.  Studying hard, making the grade, graduating, college, work.  The life of a teenager.  Seeking praise, wanting praise, self identification.  The life of a teenager.

The life of a teenager.  One of the most misunderstood, most talked about, most exploited periods of time in an individual's life.  Friday, I spent some time watching the teenagers who walk the hallways everyday at The Baltimore Talent Development High School.  It is a wonderful place of learning, led by dedicated, caring people, located in the inner city, in a neighborhood that some would deem "undesirable" and others would deem "full of promise and hope".  As I watch them move about, talking and laughing among themselves, grabbing stuff from their lockers, eating candy and lollipops, trying to sneak that cell phone call or ipod tune, running down the hallway, and rushing to the cafeteria, I cannot help but think that they are "typical" teenagers.  Even more, I wondered if they view themselves as "typical" teens, just like most other kids their age or do they view their lives as somewhat different, not the same.  It is my hope that they as well as all teens view themselves at "typical".  Typical in the sense that they are just like most of their same-age peers, regardless of geographic location, economic status or racial/cultural identity.  They are scared about growing up.  They are scared about making their own choices and decisions and having to live with the consequences of such.  They are scared about what the world has in store for them.  They are scared about being able to get a good education, get a good job and be able to take care of themselves.  They are scared about falling prey to such ills as substance abuse, violence, and teenage pregnancy.  They are scared of not being able to live up to "the standard", real and perceived set for them and in most cases, by them.  They are scared of not obtaining the approval of the important adults in their lives.

All of this is very real in the life of a teen and the lesson for young people is this:  Most adults, particularly your parents and teachers, know that your teen years are a time of great fun but also a time of great fear.  You are not charting into unknown OR unfamiliar territory.  What you are experiencing has been experienced in some manner by most of the adults you know.  The only thing that has changed is time.  You are not alone and you are not doing anything new.  Most adults, at one time or another, have shared some version of your fears.  Keep in mind that they are present in your lives to guide you and help to ease your fears of growing up.  Use them.  Learn from them.  Study their successes AND their mistakes.  Call and talk to them for advice.  Your teen years are the time to "test out" your decision-making and survival skills.  It is the time to make some choices on your own and accept the consequences, good and/or bad.  In most cases, you won't be penalized or judged harshly.  Spend more time learning about yourself as opposed to the lyrics of the next rap song, or following the life and times of the currently popular movie star, reality star, athlete or professional this or that.  That is the way to increase your self confidence and decrease your fears.  Being scared is a state of your mind.  A mind that is controlled by you.  You, who hold the power to be or do whatever you can dream.  Remember to smile more, laugh more, be more kind to others, compassionate for others, giving with others.

As I continued to watch the teenagers of The Baltimore Talent Development High School go about their day, I couldn't help but feel a bit envious.  Envious because of their stage in life.  Adolesence.  That time in life when you really have no potentially life altering worries.  No worries about the rent.  No worries about the lights.  No worries about food.  No worries about job downsizing.  No worries about making it all work and having enough for the next day.  Instead, you get to worry about not having enough fun.  Worry about not meeting enough new people.  Worry about missing out on the best party of the year or the best school dance.  Worry about missing out on a great opportunity to study abroad, learn a new language, experience a new culture.  Worry about not staying after school for that extra half hour of help in english, math or science.  Worry about not hearing about that great opportunity to take part in a cool community service project.  Worry about not taking the time to read to stimulate the mind and gain knowledge.  Worry about not taking the time to study history.  YOUR history so you can understand your past and make plans for your future. Worry about not getting the message that one person can make a difference in the world.

The teen  life.  It is mostly the same with most young people, something I hope most teens realize.  The same worries.  The same ups and downs.  It doesn't matter if you live in Miami, Maine, Seattle or California.  The teen life. What you make of it is up to you.  The teen life.  What will your memory be?