Seeking Teen Solutions

Seeking Teen Solutions

About 450 people turn out for a youth symposium last week.

Loudoun County teens need a stronger deterrent than the DARE program to keep off drugs, said Jazmyn Duguid of Douglass School. “That’s like a slap on your wrist. It was effective at the time, but …”

DARE stands for Drug Abuse Resistance Education. Deputy sheriffs teach fifth graders about the harmful effects of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs, peer pressure, gangs and violence.

Jazmyn was among the 450 people who turned out for the “Step Up” youth symposium last week to find ways to keep Loudoun County teens from turning to alcohol, other drugs, violence and gangs. America Online sponsored the event.

Duguid’s group addressed alcohol and other drugs. Evan Alexander Chapple of Loudoun County High School said DARE failed as a deterrent. “I know everyone does drugs because there is nothing else to do,” he said. “That’s a huge part of it.”

Marjorie Knight, a group facilitator, asked why some of the students “didn’t get suckered into it.”

Robert Zayas of Stone Bridge High School responded. “You have to be that type of person that says … you want to better yourself to get into college.”

Knowing the consequences made a difference for Alex Leap of Park View High School. He said he stayed away from drugs, because he did not want to jeopardize his future and he wanted to protect his reputation.

Zayas also cited his reputation. “It’s respect, absolutely.”

Duguid gave another reason. “For me, it was fear. I didn’t want to end up like that.”

Chappel said a lot of students are on the fence. If they could see others who are not abusing alcohol, tobacco and other drugs, they might follow suit.

Knight said it sounded like teens needed to be educated and aware there is a future out there.

Leap said schools should have motivational speakers, such as Adolph Brown III who spoke at the symposium.

“Then you’re not saying education, it’s motivation,” Knight said.

Leap nodded. “The way he came into the room that made him link with us,” he said. “It’s not like the principal says, ‘It’s Prom might. Don’t drink and drive.’ I’m sorry that doesn’t work.”

BROWN SHOWED UP looking like a rapper and sounding like the master of wit. He cited lyrics from popular songs and prompted the teen-agers to finish them. When he wasn’t making everyone laugh, he conveyed a serious message. “Stepping up is a two-way street, Loudoun County,” he said. “True character is not who you are when somebody is watching. True character is when no one is watching.”

He admonished parents for spending more money on their children than time. He warned that teen-agers who dress like him would go from being “wantabes” to “gonnabes.”

He advised moms and dads to listen to their children’s music to find “teachable moments.”

“A lot of rappers don’t let their children listen to their own music,” he added.

“Stepping up is not just about them. It’s about us too,” he said. “If MTV can teach them … so can we.”

As for the youth, he recommended, “Just because you’re messed up, it doesn’t mean you have to give up.”

He advised the teen-agers to be humble. “Take a shoe and throw it as far under your bed as you can. Tomorrow morning it’s going to force you to start your day on your knees,” he said. “If you understand that, clap your hands.”

The room rocked with applause.

“Step up young people,” he said. “Sometimes you are going to have to be the adults.”

AFTERWARD, the teen-agers spent about two hours discussing the results of a survey of 500 Loudoun County middle and high school students taken this summer and fall. The youth said there was a need for a centrally-located teen center, transportation and additional activities. They talked about how disconnected they feel because changing school boundaries were forcing them to move from school to school. “These kids appear to be abandoned” and a “black hole opens,” reported Jessica Walker, the youth chairperson on the county Advisory Commission on Youth.

Bullying was brought up frequently in both the middle and high school groups. The youth cited cliques, intimidation and compromising of themselves as ongoing problems.

Carol Kost, chairperson of the Advisory Commission on Youth, said a steering committee met after the symposium to review the survey findings and subsequent recommendations. “When they say teen centers, it’s a little different than the mall,” she said. “It’s something that they can actually have ownership of. They can have a say in what happens at that place.”

Loudoun County is so large, it would need more than one teen center, she conceded. “But you have to start somewhere.”

Supervisor Stephen Snow (R-Dulles), who spearheaded the survey and symposium, and Vice-Chairman Bruce Tulloch (R-Potomac Falls) pledged to help find money for the projects. Snow called on businesses to commit dollars.

Kost said the students cited a need for shuttles between schools and public transportation, particularly on weekends and during the summer.

Regarding bullying, she said, “People are not aware how much they were actually being bullied at school,” she said. “They were asking for safe ways to report bullying. A positive solution was to expand on peer mediation and conflict resolution.’

Teens asked for more adult involvement — mentors, teachers, counselors and parents to fight drug abuse. “They were talking about the need for support structures,” she said.

Kost applauded the solutions generated at the symposium. “They gave me energy,” she said of the youth. “We have a lot of work ahead of us. My mind has already turned to the next step.”