Sunday, January 31, 2010

Teens In Trouble

Are teens in trouble?  What do you think?  I think the question is worth asking and pondering.  Clearly, many are not in trouble, but given recent news reports, there are a significant number who are in trouble.  The CDC, also known as the Centers for Disease Control,  reported that 1 in 5 teens have cholesterol problems.  1 in 5!!  Does that sound incredible or unbelievable?  Another report out this week indicated that the teenage pregnancy rate has risen for the first time in ten years.  In other words, more teens are giving birth to children of their own than have been in the past 10 years.  Teenage pregnancy has always been an issue.  Apparently, it's becoming an even bigger issue among the young.  Violence among teens has increased.  We only have to listen to the news to see too many stories of teens being seriously injured or killed as a result of violence.  The number of teens dropping out of high school is shockingly high.  What are they doing?  Where are they living?  What are the employment outlooks?  There are high numbers of teens who are overweight, spending too much time in front of the television or on the computer and not enough time engaging in any sort of exercise activity. 

Having the opportunity to work with young people on a daily basis is an opportunity to transform a life.  As I walk in the midst of teens I notice many things about them.  Loud voices.  Interesting clothes.  Junk food.  Books.  Cell phones.  Ipods.  Hugs.  Kisses.  Playful behaviors.  Laptops.  Conversations about school.  Conversations about friends.  Conversations about boys.  Conversations about girls.  Conversations about parents.  I wonder if they are aware of the troubles that plague them, so I ask.  The responses I receive are varied.  Some are keenly aware that their generation has many challenges.  Some are more oblivious.  Some discuss "teen stuff" with their parents and are comfortable doing so and some don't and aren't comfortable doing so.  Some feel that the adults in the world don't pay enough attention to what is going on in their lives.  Some feel that they are old enough to make their own choices.  Some feel that the "world" allows them to get away with things that should be reserved for adults and that teens have too much freedom.  Some feel that enormous pressures are placed upon them without adequate support.

Here's what's important for teens to know:  Be conscious and aware of your health.  Stop drinking so many sodas and fruity juices.  They are loaded with sugar.  Drink more water and non-carbonated drinks.  Stop eating so much fried foods, potato chips, cookies, candy and all the other snacks you can't seem to eliminate from your diet.  Pay attention in health class.  You just may learn some useful information.  Take school and your education seriously.  Dropping out of school will not solve any problems.  It will create more.  Without a high school diploma, life will be very challenging and most likely, unfulfilling.  Stay away from places and people who engage in violent activities.  They may put your life and the lives of others in jeapardy.  Consider the serious consequences of engaging in sexual behaviors.  Putting yourself in a position to become a parent is a serious decision.  Child-rearing is a lifetime commitment, meant for adults.  Trust me when I tell you that it is hard for a child to raise a child.  What is the lesson here?  Stay in school.  Listen to your parents, your teachers and mentors.  Ask for help when needed.  Think about the consequences of your decisions before you make them.  Help each other and instead of looking for a role model, be a role model. 

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Teens In Haiti

Haiti.  Until last week it was probably not a place in the forefront of the minds of people who reside elsewhere.  Probably not a place where many have studied or visited.  Probably not a place where it was thought unimaginable tragedy might occur.  Tragedy did occur and the people of the world, teens included, are left to ask: Where do we begin to understand?  Where can we get some reasonable rationalization?  Who can help us to make sense of such enormous tragedy, death and destruction?  What is going to happen to the people of Haiti... the children, the teenagers, the adults, the elderly? 

It's a safe guess that most of the teenagers in Haiti are probably similar to teenagers in other parts of the world.  They probably like to socialize.  They probably like sports.  They probably sometimes like school and sometimes don't like school.  They probably want to be independent of their parents, yet still depend on them for guidance, direction and money.  They probably endure feelings of stress and confusion regarding boyfriends or girlfriends.  They probably engage in HS rivalries, enjoy prom and party after graduation.  They probably worry about grades and college.  They probably are faced with peer pressures such as teenage pregnancy, violence or substance abuse.  They probably like to wear the clothes of popular designers and the shoes of famous athletes.  They probably sometimes make choices and decisions without regard to consequences.  They probably possess raw emotion, frankness and a good sense of right and wrong, as modeled by the adults in their lives. 

It's normal for teens to feel unsure about the future.  Unsure about decisions regarding educational goals or independent living.  As of January 12, 2010, the lives of Haitan teens will never be the same.  Gone are the normal stressors and worries that other teens may share.  Present is fear, anxiety, devastation.  What will they do?  Who will help them?  What does the future hold for them?  When will they be able to experience the life of a "normal" teenager again?  When will they hear the sound of the school bell or the voice of a teacher scolding her class for incomplete assignments or the excitement regarding the Friday nite dance or Saturday afternoon ballgame?  What will they tell teens who will come after them about life in the aftermath of an earthquake?

What can other teens do?  First, understand that life presents many challenges, some fair and some not fair.  Understand that your life as a teen is "cake" compared to the life of a teen in another part of the world.  Understand that the teens of Haiti are in need of goodwill.  Goodwill in the form of knowing that they share the bond of "adolescence" with all the teens of the world.  Teens like to help other teens.  They do it everyday in their own environments.  If you want to help the teens of Haiti, mobilize your friends, peers and classmates to organize donations to send to them in Haiti.   They need clothing, shoes, school supplies, books and most importantly, letters and words of support, encouragement and hope for a bright future.  Consider giving up a pair of shoes, some sports equipment, some hats to protect from the heat.  Make a list of the things you like as a teen.  Whatever you can give will be appreciated.  Teens in Haiti.  They are just like teens everywhere.  They need to be given the opportunity, once again, to experience the life of a teenager. 

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Role Models??

Gilbert Arenas.  Chris Brown.  Tiger Woods.  Brittany Spears.  Rihanna.  Just a few of many.  All very famous and presumably wealthy individuals.  All living their lives in the public spotlight.  All having to endure their share of "life challenges".  All given, solicited and unsolicited, the responsiblilty of ROLE MODEL.  Is it fair?  Is it justified?  Is it needed?  Is it wanted?  Given recent national news stories regarding each of the above-named individuals, these seem to be fair questions.  Do their lives and behaviors and that of other equally public individuals influence the lives and behaviors of teens and young people?  The answer to that question is probably "sometimes".  As I walk in the midst of teens and young people, I try to seize the opportunity to learn more about how they think, what they think about and why they think what they think.  On this particular day, I decide to ask the question, "who are your role models"?

The answers received may be surprising to some.  My mom.  My grandmother.  My teacher.  My football coach.  My music teacher.  My brother.  My sister.  My next door neighbor.  My principal.  My friend.  It seems as if not all teens consider celebrities and the like their role models.  Although they may follow their lives and the twists and turns, they don't necessarily view these individuals as someone, as one teen put it, "to want to be like".  When asked why they didn't consider celebrities as role models, one teen replied, "cause they probably have problems just like us".  Another replied, " their lives don't seem real".  "The money is nice, but they act stupid sometimes", was another response.   "Why do they do things when they know people are watching" needed no return reply.  One surprising response, "maybe it's the adults who need role models and not us kids", left much to ponder.

As one who is rarely surprised by the insight of teens and young people, I believe they need to know and understand the following.  Role models, according to, are defined as persons whose behavior, example, or success is or can be emulated by others, especially by younger people.  Role models are good.  They are positive.  They are inspiring.  Their influence is endless.  They help teens figure out right from wrong, make good choices, develop self confidence, dream big and aspire large.  Role models care about the messages they send and the impact upon the receivers.  Role models are real and honest.  Real in their existence and honest in their position.  My challenge to teens is to figure out who is your role model?  Find someone you like and admire because of the good they demonstrate.  Find someone you trust that is selfless, giving and understanding.  Find someone you can talk to and know they will listen.  That person is your role model.  That person probably exists within your environment.  All you have to do is find them.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Happy New Year

There is no better time than now.  No better time to think about past actions or reactions, accomplishments, mistakes, regrets.  No better time to think about school, grades, sports, friends, family, parents, boyfriends and girlfriends.  No better time to think about what will be done differently this year.  How will you be a different, better person?  Last year is now gone.  It's time to seriously consider a new start, a new beginning.  It could be the start or beginning of something big or something small.  Something that may impact only you or something that may impact many others.  Something that you probably have been giving thought to for a considerable amount of time.  In short, it's time to stop doing the same things the same ways and expecting bigger, greater results.  Be different.  Do different.

New Year's resolutions.  I think all people at least THINK about them and young people and teens are no different.  They huddle together with friends, talking on the phone, hanging out, texting each other about what they "pledge" to do in the new year, what they hope to obtain, like a new wardrobe or what they hope to change, like a new boyfriend or girlfriend.  I often wonder if they think about changing a circumstance or the plight of someone's life.  The answers I receive are always inspiring.  Helping a friend find a place to live, raise money for the light bill, food bill or mortgage/rent.  Helping a friend get over a break-up, the loss of a friendship or some other tragic event or circumstance, such as divorce.  Spending time with a friend who is having a hard time with life's challenges and the sometimes stressful times of a teen.

I ask teens this question:  What will you do differently this year?  Don't answer right away.  Think about it.  Think about what feels right to you.  Think about something that will help you to be a better individual.  Will it be to study more?  Will it be to take school more seriously?  Will it be to read more and learn more?  Will it be to be a better friend?  Will it be to listen more to your parents and share more with your parents?  Will it be to spend more time with family?  Will it be to abandon envy, jealousy, disrespect, sadness, intolerance, anger, rage, violence and embrace peace, forgiveness, happiness, understanding, honesty, respect and loyalty?  Whatever you decide, may it be something that will build upon your foundation.  Your foundation of life, that piece of you that builds character and leaves a legacy for others to follow.  Whatever you decide, may it bring joy to you and others, remembering that it's better to give than to receive.  HAPPY NEW YEAR!!