When teen-agers talk today, their subject matter takes turn to serious side

February 23, 1993|By Orange County (Calif.) Register

Some teen-agers got together over the weekend to talk about what's on their minds. And what's on their minds might surprise you as much as it surprises Kelvin Davis, who organized the 26th Annual Boys & Girls Clubs of America National Keystone Conference in Anaheim.

"I've seen the program materials from some of the early conferences," Mr. Davis said as about 900 teen-age delegates representing 1.8 million organization members around the country began filtering into small conference rooms for various sessions. "The programs were on stuff like sports, grooming, etiquette, good behavior."

He shook his head, watching kids such as high school students Tino Sanchez and Manuel Zamora survey the lineup of the day's sessions: Teen rape. Teen violence. Abortion, pregnancy and birth control. Discrimination. Stress. Substance abuse. Coping with the loss of a loved one. Racism. Materialism. Auto theft. Gangs and their cycles. Dropouts. Environmental falsehoods. Gay adoptions.

Programming by Geraldo Rivera? Hardly.

"The kids pick the topics during steering-committee meetings," said Mr. Davis, who also is assistant director of program services for the national nonprofit organization. "And they pick things a lot of people don't think kids think about. But what used to seem peculiar now presents itself to them in their everyday lives, and they're all trying to find ways to deal with it."

Teens at the "Corruption in government" seminar were peppering a speaker with questions. Why do we still need 150,000 U.S. troops in Europe? Why did so many people vote for term limits in the last election, then return 96 percent of the incumbents to office? How much money was spent on the inauguration?

Down the hall, teens at the "Sex and what comes with it" session were working through a problem they had discussed in small groups: Should a couple stay together after the girl gives the boy a sexually transmitted disease?

"Our group said they should stay together so they can fix the problem," said a shy young man, reporting for his group.

A chorus of boos and "no ways."

"You're wrong, my brother," interjected another group's spokesman. "He should end the relationship because he might gets AIDS and die."

Silence.

John Rey Adame, a drug-and gang-prevention specialist for the city of Westminster, Calif., wasn't pulling any punches with the 120 or so kids attending the popular "Violence in schools" seminar. He told them about his own gang years, about his brother who died at 26 while working to stop gang activity, about "program pimps" who come out of college as so-called gang experts and think they can stop the killing with federal and state grants.

So, America's parents, take note. Davis, the conference manager, wants you to know: "It's not 'Ozzie and Harriet' anymore. Those days are long gone."

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