Recently I had the pleasure of meeting Stephanie Weiss when she spoke about her work with the ACTION Parent-Teen Support Group. I had seen this group’s advertisements in The Signal; and an interview Leon Worden did back in 2003 with its founder, Cary Quashen. Frankly, I read it in the same way most of us NIMBYs do. I didn’t see drug use, anger, defiance, depression, or a possible gang issue growing in my own backyard. Or could I have already missed some clue?
One of the things Stephanie said was that in the SCV we have the specific problem of kids coming home to an empty house or hanging out with friends after school as so many households require both parents to work. She came home to cookies and milk every day with her mom; I greet Samantha with an apple. Sounds good? But only so far. I do know all of my daughter’s friends; because she’s eleven. She hasn’t been peer pressured into experimenting with drugs; for all I really know.
In reading some of the ACTION literature I got a real synopsis of the teens, the parents and the trained counselors. I read verbiage like “…the earlier the intervention the better”, “teenagers often don’t see the link between their actions and the consequences tomorrow”, and the mindset of “indestructibility” that even I can remember as a teen in getting into cars driven by friends that drank too much. (Frankly, I’m almost afraid to mention that it’s been a couple of weeks since the last auto wreck fatality this newspaper has had to report on their front page.) Warning signs I thought I knew included things I didn’t like verbal abuse to the point that the parent has to search for the words that won’t illicit a negative response and struggling with basic family rules, chores and homework.
Advice from the teens made me want to cry: “Don’t give up on us”. “Don’t make empty threats”. “Don’t let us wear you down”. “Don’t fight our battles”. “Don’t fall for the lie ‘But all the other kid’s parents let them’”. “Don’t let us have locks on our bedroom doors”. And the one I can’t believe they could admit, “Don’t be afraid to invade our privacy. If we are in trouble you SHOULD read our letters, check our closets and check out our friends”.
We Santa Claritans cannot keep our heads in the sand. Why do you think we have local group’s offerings Safe Rides, Teen Scene Unplugged, Santa Clarita Youth Project, Active Parenting Today and ACTION? Obviously there is a need. So can we be a little more proactive about this? Advice from Stephanie: “We have many parents walk in our doors with 11, 12, 13 year olds and say “this is not for me” and then end up in crisis with their teens now being 15 and 16 and in more trouble than they could ever imagine.”
ACTION meetings are held dually—kids with kids, adults with adults. Both led by trained counselors. Teens in need will often attend by themselves with out parents. They are every Tuesday night from 7-9pm at Saugus High School in room ZT next to the student parking lot. The organization’s phone number is 661-297-4660 and the 24-hour helpline is 1-800-For-Teens.
At the end I’m sure Stephanie Weiss had a prepared speech in mind when she addressed a congregation of Unitarian Universalists in December. Like she would any other church group in asking for donations. But instead she said that she was struck by our printed affirmation statement and quoted it in her opening remarks, “…love is the spirit of this church made visible by its service…to help one another with compassion…it’s through these actions we can create deeper and more joyful lives for ourselves and others.”
We were suddenly thunderstruck in the moment of how giving time and/or money in our community can help our own youth. You know, the same little kids, that we think are playing in our own backyards, that will soon be running the place. So even if you aren’t blessed at this moment to be raising a teenager and need to attend an ACTION meeting you can still contribute! Of course we could just all move to a place that doesn’t have these problems…Stepford anyone?