Friday, December 4, 2009

Dialogue Night teaches parents, youth how to communicate

On Thursday, teens, parents and other community members from Perrysburg High School gathered to learn how to talk to each other about subjects that affect them on a daily basis.

So often, parents and teens don’t know how to talk to each other. Topics of alcohol, drugs, Internet safety and sex can become awkward, if they are brought up at all.

During Dialogue Night, parents and teens are separated into small groups to discuss these and other topics. There, they can practice communication skills that they can use with each other and their peers, according to Debbie Marinik, the community organizer for the Reducing Alcohol Abuse in Secondary Schools (RAASS) grant through the Wood County Educational Service Center.

One discussion group talked about privacy and trust.

“There was one time when we had to take the door off of (our daughter’s) bedroom,” said one mother. “It was just one day.”

“That happened to me,” said a male student. But I didn’t get my door taken off. I had my doorknob taken off. While my dad was doing that, my brothers were cheering and my mom was taking pictures.”

The subject turned to safety and parties. One female student said she thought it was important that kids tell their parents where they are, what they are doing, and who they are with.

Another student said her family has a policy in which the student can call her parents to pick her up at any time if she is uncomfortable with a situation, with no questions asked.

That statement prompted several students to say that their families have code phrases in which the students can call their parents and say the phrase to indicate they want out of a situation without embarrassing themselves in front of friends. One student said her code phrase was “I could use a Pepsi right now.”

“I need to write these down,” said one parent after hearing the idea. “I have a 1-year-old and a 4-year-old. These are really good ideas.”

Another group talked about the gap between students and adults.

“Parents want to protect kids and kids want to be independent,” said Barry Parsons, the director of the drug testing grant for the Wood County Educational Service Center. “That alone creates a gap.”

One male student said he doesn’t like the idea of having an arbitrary number (18) decide whether people are adults or juveniles. “It’s a question of maturity,” he said.

“Adults have already gone through what we are going through, but we don’t see that,” said another teen. “We need to experience it for ourselves.”

After talking in groups, everyone gathered together again to discuss the experience. One teen said she liked hearing from other generations: “Parents have the same views as we do. I didn’t expect that.”

The sentiment went both ways.

“They are really not far off from what we are thinking,” Rich Schmidbauer, director of the Wood County Juvenile Detention Center, said of the students. “I would never have guessed that.”

“The kids have a lot of things to say if someone will listen to them,” said Melissa Notestine, prevention specialist for Perrysburg schools. “Respect is a two-way street.”

“I thought it was a really good success,” said Samantha Sieren, a sophomore at Perrysburg High School who facilitated one of the discussion groups. “I think we’ll have a bigger turn-out the next time around.”

Sieren and another sophomore facilitator, Jessie Mackiewicz, are members of Teen Institute, a youth leadership program designed to educate youth about how to prevent the harmful use of alcohol, tobacco, other drugs.

Teen Institute members, under the direction of Notestine, helped plan and organize the event, which drew 70 teens and adults.

“I’m surprised so many adults showed up,” said Mackiewicz. “I think it’s harder to get parents here. We were able to get kids extra credit. Parents don’t understand why it’s important to come.”
“I thought it was going to be more serious,” Sieren said of the experience.

“I thought it was going to be more formal and stick to the topics,” said Mackiewicz. “Once we got into it, it was more relaxed and fun.”

“There are no winners or losers,” Marinik said of Dialogue Night. “It’s not about one person’s opinion being better than another persons’. It’s about being heard and leaving Dialogue Night feeling that their opinions have been valued.”

Another Dialogue Night is planned for Dec. 8 in Rossford. Marinik said she also hopes to hold another event in Perrysburg.

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