A mission: eradication of boredom

The Teen Advisory Committee wants to find out ways to make summer more exciting for peers

July 01, 2005|By Tyrone Richardson | Tyrone Richardson,SUN STAFF

A typical summer for Hannah Biggie, a 16-year-old from Kings Contrivance village, would consist of hanging out at a pool or going to The Mall in Columbia in Town Center.

But, "the mall gets boring after a while," she said.

On that note, Biggie and fellow teenagers who are members of an advisory committee are trying to make this summer exciting for their bored peers.

The Teen Advisory Committee to the Columbia Association -- 17 young people between the ages of 14 and 18 -- was formed last fall in an effort to understand what Columbia teenagers want to do during the summer.

The committee meets almost every Thursday, and, while others are beginning their summer break, these teens are getting down to fulfilling their mission: eradicating boredom.

Previous planned events such as coffee shops, dances and panel discussions have been bittersweet.

Amber Henry, 17, a member of the committee, said, "It's great" when there is a large teen turnout for events, but there have been instances when not as many teens attended.

"It's contradictory," Henry said. "[Teens] want things to do, and when we provide, they don't go."

She added: "Teens don't know what they really want."

In the past, some teenagers have been hesitant about attending such events because they have been hosted in collaboration with the Columbia Association.

"Some people say it's corny and not going to be good," said Zaire Gross, 17. He added that once the teens attend, they realize "it's pretty cool."

Gross added that if he was not a member of the committee, he would still go to the events, "because it gives something to do in Columbia."

Teenagers in Columbia can go to the pool, take summer courses, find a job, volunteer, play organized sports, visit Baltimore or Washington or hang out at the mall or their neighborhood pool. But, like teens everywhere, they complain that they're bored.

"When they say they're bored, they are really saying that they have nothing meaningful to do," said Maurice J. Elias, a psychology professor at Rutgers University and author of Raising Emotionally Intelligent Teenagers.

Elias said the committee is a good way to help teens find "meaningful" things to keep them occupied this summer -- such as volunteer work and giving back to the community. He added that hanging out at the mall is "just passing time."

"Obviously, [teens] want to have a life of meaning and purpose and know the world values their gifts, and they also want to know they are doing things that are important," he said. "As this committee thinks about activities for them, it's not a bad checklist, and the mall does not survive that checklist."

At the mall on a summer afternoon, three members of the committee -- Henry, Gross and Natalie Hill -- sat with friends on a park bench near Starbucks. They talked about events that teenagers want in Columbia and lamented boredom.

Among the ideas tossed around during the discussion was an all-night pool lock-in. These ideas are added to the band at the lakefront, and parties scheduled this summer. The group said Columbia stores and restaurants typically close before midnight, leaving teenagers looking for things to do.

"After 10 o'clock, there is nothing to do but get in trouble," Henry said.

She added that there used to be several all-night teen parties, but they ceased after a series of violent incidents.

"As teens, we get a chance and blow it," she said.

The mall is a meeting place for teens. They shop and hang out with friends in the food court.

Hill said hanging out at the mall can stir up trouble with its security.

"We can get in trouble at the mall for loitering," Hill said. At the food court, "after we get done eating, we want to sit and talk."

So, these teenagers have turned their talk to the committee, attempting to make a change.

"This is really good," Emmanuel Jackson, 18, of Oakland Mills said at a recent meeting at which the teenagers sat around a conference table, sipping soda and nibbling on snacks, planning a range of activities -- including parties, a carnival and a talent show.

"This lets us teenagers get a chance to have some power," he said.

Hill agrees with Jackson. "Before I was in the committee, I would complain about being bored and stuff, but now, I can put my 2 cents in," Hill said.

Her 2 cents, and the ideas of other members, are presented at full committee meetings. Discussion follows, and a vote is taken.

The duty of this group is to plan and coordinate teen programs and events, while also presenting suggestions about teen issues to the Columbia Association members, said Carol Wasser, Teen Outreach Programs manager.

"This is going to help Columbia Association to determine where its resources should go with regard to serving teenagers," said Barbara Russell, the Oakland Mills village representative on the Columbia Council.

She added: "We as adults don't have a good idea of what teenagers really want, so we decided to go to the teenagers and have them tell us what they want."

The teen committee is funded through the Columbia Association and proceeds from activities.

At its conception, the committee conducted an informal needs-assessment survey, asking fellow teens what they wanted to see in Columbia and what type of events would spark their interest.

Wasser said nearly 70 percent of the 80 responses said teenagers wanted more social activities.

Today, the committee is looking to expand its sphere by publishing a Columbia-wide newsletter containing information about teen events, issues and current events.

Wasser said four of the 10 villages have a teen representative on the committee. She is encouraging teenagers from Dorsey Search, Harper's Choice, Hickory Ridge, Long Reach, Owen Brown and Town Center to contact her or their village board if they wish to become a representative.

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