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‘Got Teens?’ Parent-Guardian Workshop Opens Avenues of Communication

Reaching out to teenagers with a life-changing message of abstinence from premarital sex and drugs is only one part of the comprehensive Healthy Respect program. Another key component is opening a dialogue with parents and guardians on the difficult choices and situations teens face, and how they can help guide the young people in their lives to do the right thing.

The Healthy Respect teaching team met with a group of adults to discuss these issues in an innovative workshop called “Got Teens? Get Help.” Most of those who attended the four-hour workshop were surprised to learn that while teens may appear to be autonomous and self-motivated, research shows that they are heavily influenced by the views and attitudes of parents and other adults in their lives. The influence can be for the better or for the worse, depending on how responsible the adults are and how seriously they take their role.

“Parents or guardians are the number one influence on teens and they can be the most effective persons in helping teens make good decisions in their lives,” said Dolly McLemore, who developed the Healthy Respect curriculum and spoke at the workshop. The workshop took place Jan. 17 in Harlem at the Bethel Gospel Assembly Church.

The four-hour program focused on the physical and emotional dangers young people face when they become sexually active before marriage, and suggested ways for parents to communicate with their teens about abstinence. Using slide and Power Point presentations, discussion and interactive periods and planned activities, the Healthy Respect team kept the workshop participants engaged and in some cases on the edge of their seats.

“A lot of them had no idea about the variety of sexually transmitted diseases out there and how they can be spread,” McLemore said. “They had no idea about the kind of pressures teens are under today to get involved.”

She said a big thing among teens is oral sex, which many do not think of as sexual relations. Yet a variety of diseases can be transmitted through oral sex and even simple skin to skin contact, McLemore told the audience.

Luzeta Phillips, another Healthy Respect teacher, said that some of the adults who attended were “taken aback” by the information on STDs. “They said that something had to be done to protect kids from these things,” she said.

“At the end, so many came to us and wondered why they had never been told these things before,” McLemore added. “Why is there not some public program of education about STDs and other factors that can ruin the lives of young people, they wanted to know. They said they were glad that we were out there trying to spread the news and teaching people how to avoid these pitfalls and live happy and healthy lives.”

The goal of the workshop was not simply to shock and inform. The ultimate mission of Healthy Respect adult program is to help parents and guardians open communication with their children on such key issues as sexuality and drug use.

“We want to empower parents to communicate more effectively with teenagers, and become familiar with risky behaviors they can fall into,” McLemore noted. “I think a lot of parents are hesitant to open such discussions, and we try to give them ways to do this.”

John Margand, executive director of Healthy Respect, said that the program seeks “to build or in some cases rebuild relationships and dialogue between adults and their children. We find that many parents do not know the important role they play in the lives of teens. When they find out about the research in this area, they tend to become more active in the lives of their kids. Healthy Respect is here to foster healthy relationships and support parents in their role as the primary educators of their children, especially in the area of sexuality.”

In addition to classroom presentations in schools and neighborhood workshops with parents and guardians, the Healthy Respect curriculum includes after-school programs to reach teens in a more informal, personal setting. The three-venue approach makes for a comprehensive curriculum that is particularly needed and effective in New York City and its environs, says Margand.

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