Parents, teens find common ground Planned Parenthood holds forum on goals

April 27, 1991|By Diane Winston

Patricia Dennis calls her daughter selfish, self-centered and spoiled.

Shaneisa Dennis says her mother is out of touch.

Not surprisingly, the two butt heads regularly on everything from boys to school to sex.

But last Tuesday night, at a workshop for teen-adult communication, Patricia and Shaneisa Dennis found they had more in common than they expected.

"I was surprised her ideas were similar to mine," said Mrs. Dennis, who attended the workshop with Shaneisa, 15, and son Samuel, 12. "It's been easier to talk about sex to Samuel than to Shaneisa. She's so sensitive."

Teen-age years are prickly, sensitive years, as parents and teachers can attest. But with a web of woes -- including drugs, AIDS, sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancy -- facing inner-city youth, a growing number of young people and adults are trying to span the generational gap.

Planned Parenthood of Maryland, which sponsored Tuesday's program, is also interested in helping. Last year, supported by a grant from the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, Planned Parenthood organized "Teen Empowerment" groups where 86 young women talked about AIDS, sexuality and taking control of their lives. This year, the program has reached an additional 100 teens -- including young men.

The program's sponsors say the teen groups get results. After last year's program, 50 percent of the participants said they asked their sexual partners to use condoms, and 73 percent said they could help a man put on a condom. This year's results haven't been quantified, but many participants have said they are choosing abstinence.

Tuesday's forum was the first time parents were invited to learn more about what goes on in the weekly groups. Close to 50 participants gathered in an auditorium at the University of Maryland School of Social Work, where adults and children talked about goals, values and AIDS.

Both groups discovered they shared an interest in working for the future, responsible sex and AIDS education.

"Basically, I see we're talking about the same thing," said Ronald Brooks, who came with his stepdaughter, Gaillett Davis, 14. "But the biggest problem is there's been a lack of communication."

Before the teens and adults met together, the two groups broke apart to ponder three questions. In the adults' group, 16 men and women brainstormed over what parents want teens to think about, what parents think teens think about and what parents want teens to know about AIDS.

Many parents said teens were fixated on money, sex and fancy new cars. They wanted their children to think about values, education and the future.

"Does anyone else have a problem with what they wear?" said Regina Johnson, who came with her two nieces. "Those little bikinis with jackets? I say, 'Uh-uh, put on some clothes.' "

Ms. Johnson, who has twins, aged 6, and a 4-year-old, said she wished the groups had been available when, at 17, she became pregnant and couldn't talk to her mother.

"My nieces will ask me questions and I say, 'Go ask your mom,' but they say she'll get mad at them," said Ms. Johnson, who also brought her little girls to the workshop. "I say, 'If you are ready to do something, let's go to the doctors and get some rubbers.'

"I tell my 6-year-olds, 'When you're ready, talk to me.' Kids grow up fast today."

Kids grow up fast, but they still like kid-type things -- loud T-shirts, strange haircuts, gold jewelry. Many of the teens from the program sported all three, including bright white T-shirts emblazoned with "STARS" -- Students Talking About Responsible Sexuality.

Shaneisa Dennis didn't wear a T-shirt. She had a short skirt, a patterned blouse and dark hair frosted with gold.

Sitting in the front row of the auditorium, at a safe distance from her mother, she spoke eloquently about teen-age concerns regarding sex, dating and diseases.

"You could talk about this in the house, and it's a big deal," she told the group while looking at her mother. "But here in the open, it's not such a big thing."

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