Youth forum looks to close communication gap between teens, parents
PITTSFIELD -- Perhaps the lines of communication will open a bit between Berkshire teens and parents on tough topics -- drugs, sex and relationships -- as a result of a youth forum held Monday night at the Boys and Girls Club on Melville Street.
Hosted by the Pittsfield Prevention Partnership (PPP), four groups of local students took turns presenting fun and participatory skits and activities to illustrate communication issues from the youth perspective and provide ideas to help parents better communicate with their teens.
The idea was hatched after the PPP collected data from local high school students on risk and protective factors.
"One of the risk factors that kids report is family management, and that includes a variety of communication issues that can include the way people communicate as well as what they're communicating," said Karen Cole, the coordinator of youth development at Berkshire United Way, which organizes the PPP.
"We think that by hearing it from the youth perspective, parents start to reflect on their own communications styles," Cole said. "Sometimes young people don't tell us exactly what the problem is."
Reid Middle School's Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) opened up the forum with a warm-up exercise. Participants had to stick playing cards on their foreheads without looking at the number. If they had numbers two, three or four, they were "unaccepted" and had to be ignored by people with numbers five, six or seven (students that "belong nowhere") and people with eight, nine of 10 (the "accepted" students).
Taconic High School's SADD group had everyone sit around two circles consisting of nine parents, and nine students. This "fish bowl" activity allowed students to sit in the center first to share their ideas on topics given to them while parents listened in. Then the roles were reversed.
"It surprised me that a lot of students had the same feelings that I did," said Bailey Stokes, a junior at Taconic. "It also surprised me that the parents also feel that the students don't want to talk to them, and they're feeling that the communication divide is there as well."
Gladys Allen Brigham Community Center's Teen Outreach Program (TOP) presented a talk-show skit. Students played the roles of guests that were talking about issues like pregnancy, relationships and abortion.
"A lot of girls in Pittsfield are dating older men," said Pittsfield High School Sophomore Jacinda Griffith. "Our skit is more reflecting on the relationships in Pittsfield."
Barrington Stage Company's Playwright Mentoring Project ended the evening with a skit about two brothers showing their report cards to their father. One student had good grades and was rewarded by being brought out to dinner. The poor student had to stay home.
"It's easy for a parent to not see what's going on in their kid's life," said Pittsfield High School Senior Zach Atterberry. "I feel you should ask your kid every day, ‘Are you OK?' "
Tina Tartaglia, a substance abuse specialist with The Brien Center, emceed the event.
"[The forum] starts the conversation," she said. "We have to find a way to continue the conversation."
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