Give teens a taste of 'The Real World'

July 01, 2007|By BOB MAGINNIS

When my sons were younger, they often tuned into an MTV show called "The Real World." The premise was simple - a bunch of young people move into a house together and the drama - what there was of it - came from their interrelationships with each other.

In most cases, the "action" was prompted by some breach of courtesy - eating all the peanut butter or something that seemed just as silly to me.

I thought of that show this week when I sat down with the Washington County Teen Pregnancy Prevention Coalition to discuss how to use what was produced by young people in an ad contest that ended in May.

There were print ads, 30-second public-service announcements and one short film directed by Rowan Copley. For me, the film was most affecting, because it presented the dilemma faced by teens struggling with the decision of whether or not to have sex - and how their peers affect that decision and its aftermath.


That is a drama that usually doesn't play out in public. A teen mother's friends might see her cute little child on a walk in the park, but they're not there for baby's midnight wails and the new parent's anxiety over whether that is a normal cry, or a sign of some serious illness.

Even as the coalition decides how to use the material they have gathered so far, its members have agreed that the contest will go forward. Not all of the entries were top quality, but this week coalition members noted that just entering the competition got students thinking about the contest's theme, which was "Sex Has Consequences!"

It's good news that the coalition has decided to go forward with this effort to involve teens in a pregnancy-prevention campaign. The not-so-good news is that it might not be possible to provide the $5,000 in prize money that was given out this year.

That amount would be repaid many times over if just a few unplanned pregnancies were prevented. It would also provide some young filmmakers with an incentive to do a "Real World" of sorts in Washington County.

Imagine this: Two couples attend a local high school. One couple makes a baby, the other doesn't. Jump-cutting from one couple's life to the other could provide graphic footage of how having a baby changes life for young mothers and fathers.

Think about it: In one shot, the video captures a young girl asleep, her head peacefully on the pillow, her expression serene. In another, the shot is of a young mother, sleepy herself, trying to comfort a colicky infant.

Those are the choices, really. It would be great if someone could show them in graphic way to teens who are less likely to believe such stories if they're told by adults.

That's my idea. Other coalition members might feel differently. During this past week's meeting, the following things were shared:

The director of the short film is the son of Chris Copley of The Herald-Mail's Lifestyle department. The elder Copley told the group that out of concern for the possibility that a short film wouldn't be made, he encouraged his family and students from the paper's "Pulse" section to do one. Just editing it took 45 to 50 hours, he said, but the crew had "a great time."

Carrol Lourie, the coalition's coordinator, said the group is working with different faiths groups on "Just Say No" training sessions to be held this September. Other upcoming events include school assemblies aimed at deterring teens from having sex, she said.

Nicole Houser, executive secretary of the Greater Hagerstown Committee, said she had talked to The Herald-Mail about posting the winning public-service announcements on its Web site, with notices on the site's front page directing visitors to them. Houser is also getting estimates to reproduce the winning print ads so that they can be posted in numerous places, including schools' health rooms.

Lourie said the theme for the next national Teen Pregnancy Prevention Contest is "Stay A Teen," or, in other words, don't grow up too soon by having a baby. Members didn't disagree with Lourie's assessment that, for now, "Sex Has Consequences!" might be a better message for an area where too many teens have looked at early pregnancy as "no big deal."

If you believe this is not your problem, you're wrong. It costs the community a great many tax dollars to care for teen mothers and their babies and not only while they're infants. The children of teen mothers are much more likely to be involved in substance abuse and with the justice system.

That bill ultimately comes to you, the taxpayer. If you can help by donating a few dollars to the coalition, please do.

For more information, call coordinator Carrol Lourie at 240-818-7555 or e-mail her at Questions - and donations - should be mailed to the Washington County Teen Pregnancy Prevention Coalition, P.O. Box 3647, Hagerstown, MD 21742-3647.

Bob Maginnis is

editorial page editor of

The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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