Monday, September 26, 2011

Prudential Spirit of Community Awards: Teens Making a Difference in Their Community

Justin Churchman
As a parent, you strive to raise your children right and you teach them the value of giving.  Throughout the country and the world there are so many opportunities for youth to get involved in and help others. Over the past 16 years, The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards have been given to nearly 100,000 middle and high school students across the country for helping the less fortunate, promoting health and safety, protecting the environment, and many other volunteer activities. 

The search is now on to identify thousands more who have made meaningful contributions to their communities over the past 12 months, as the prestigious awards program kicks off its 17th year!

In honor of this school year’s application period, I had the chance to interview one of last year’s High School National Honorees, Justin Churchman.  Here is what Justin tells us about his experience and why he encourages more teens to get involved with this year’s awards program:
  • What has being part of The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards meant to you?
Being surrounded by other community volunteers for several days was amazing! It give me an opportunity to share ideas, problems and concerns with other volunteers my age. It is inspirational and affirming, at the same time, to see what other teens are doing around the world and to realize that you are making an important contribution as well.
As a national winner, the experience has been incredible. When you look at the resumes of the teens from throughout the country, you see that kids are not letting anything hold them back - not age, gender, where they live, money and sometimes, adults! We are the generation who will be leading this country and programs like Prudential are making it clear that giving back to the community HAS to be a number one priority.

Application forms for the 2011 Prudential awards are available now online at and the deadline is Nov. 1. I hope you will encourage your readers to apply!
  • What is the number one reason you would encourage your peers to get involved?
The world is not going to be a better place if we don’t get involved. People don’t have to go to Mexico and build a house or to India and build a well. They can look in their neighborhoods for a senior citizen who can’t mow their grass anymore. They can walk down the street to a school where kids are working hard to learn to read and spend an hour helping. They can organize trash clean ups or clothing drives. And if everyone would just spend an hour or two, unselfishly being there for another person, they would be amazed at the changes inside them - and they will be back.
  • Has this experience brought about new opportunities for you?
Being a Prudential winner introduced me to some of the most amazing teens in the country. I’ve met super achievers who are passionate about changing the world and I’ve met regular kids who are passionate about improving a specific part of their city. It has created networks where I can find support - both financial and physical - and a place I can turn to if I need motivation. I have also gotten some support for my favorite project, building houses in Mexico, at, and through my new online site
  • How did you go about selecting a volunteer project?
I built my first house when I was 12 by joining a school-sponsored project. I knew that was going to be my passion, so I just made sure I stayed involved with Casas por Cristo, the organization building them. In the early years it was tough, fund raising and organizing and convincing adults I could do the job, but now that I have proven myself it is easier. As for other projects, I just look around. Really, every community has the same needs. There is always trash to be picked up or families in need of food and clothing. There are always younger kids who need an older kid to hang out with or to help them with homework. I just see a need and do my best to find a solution.
  • Why do you feel volunteering should be a part of every teen’s daily life?
I think every teen should be volunteering because we are the next generation of leaders. We learn what we need to in school to get a career and we learn from our families about relationships. We learn from spending time in the community what it takes to grow a community strong and how to find solutions to social problems. Of course, it makes you happy to volunteer, and it rewards you like nothing else can.

As Justin mentions, the search is now on to identify thousands more who have made meaningful contributions to their communities over the past 12 months, as the prestigious awards program kicks off its 17th year! 

Get out there and get involved by visiting the official website at or on Facebook at

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Bullying and Gay Youth

Bullying in Schools: Harassment Puts Gay Youth at Risk

While trying to deal with all the challenges of being a teenager, gay/ lesbian/ bisexual/ transgender (GBLT) teens additionally have to deal with harassment, threats, and violence directed at them on a daily basis. They hear anti-gay slurs such as “homo”, “faggot” and “sissy” about 26 times a day or once every 14 minutes.

Even more troubling, a study found that thirty-one percent of gay youth had been threatened or injured at school in the last year alone!

Their mental health and education, not to mention their physical well-being, are at-risk.

How is their mental health being affected?

  • Gay and lesbian teens are at high risk because ‘their distress is a direct result of the hatred and prejudice that surround them,’ not because of their inherently gay or lesbian identity orientation.
  • Gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth are two to three times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual counterparts.

How is their education being affected?

  • Gay teens in U.S. schools are often subjected to such intense bullying that they’re unable to receive an adequate education. They’re often embarrassed or ashamed of being targeted and may not report the abuse.
  • GLBT students are more apt to skip school due to the fear, threats, and property vandalism directed at them. One survey revealed that 22 percent of gay respondents had skipped school in the past month because they felt unsafe there.
  • Twenty-eight percent of gay students will drop out of school. This is more than
    three times the national average for heterosexual students.
  • GLBT youth feel they have nowhere to turn. According to several surveys, four out of five gay and lesbian students say they don’t know one supportive adult at school.
Source:  Mental Health America

Jamey Rodemeyer
With the recent suicide of 14 year-old Jamey Rodemeyer, it is yet another wake-up call to everyone - bullying kills!  

Watch Jamey Rodemeyer's last YouTube video - "It gets better, I promise!".

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Monday, September 19, 2011

Preventing High School Dropouts

Parenting teenagers can be a challenge.

Generations prior finishing high school was never an option.

Today more teens are opting to drop-out completely or get their GED.  Why?

Why do students drop-out?

There’s no single reason.

Students drop out of school for a number of different reasons—and it’s typically a combination of many issues. Here are some of the top reasons students give for leaving school:
  • Classes aren’t interesting
  • Parents/family/adults have low expectations
  • Poor attendance
  • Failing in school
  • Family responsibilities (work, caring for siblings, etc.)
  • Becoming a parent
  • Too much freedom
What are some warning signs to look for?
What to watch for. There are specific factors to watch for in students who are likely to drop out of school. If you see one or more of these signs, get involved! You can give these students the Boost they need to stay in school.
  • They don’t feel challenged in school.
  • They don’t feel high educational expectations from either their family or school.
  • They believe their parents are too controlling and they want to rebel.
  • They have trouble with schoolwork or feel like they are not as smart as other students.
  • They have drug, alcohol or mental health problems.
  • They regularly miss school or are frequently tardy.
  • They struggle with problems at home, including physical or verbal abuse.
  • They feel like they don’t fit in or have friends at school.
  • Their peers or siblings have dropped out of school.
  • They have poor learning conditions at school—such as overcrowding, high levels of violence and excessive absenteeism.
If you fear your teen is heading down a negative path and you need to get them back on track, visit or for more information.

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Monday, September 12, 2011

Teen Manipulation: Getting What they Want

On  a daily basis I hear from parents and amazed at the stories their teen comes up with to get what they want.  I also know personally, what my own teenager (now an adult) would do to get her own way.  They stop at nothing…. As their friends all seem to have that curfew at 3am (NOT), our teenager is the only one that has to be home by 11pm (or whatever your curfew is).  I personally believe nothing good happens after midnight.  I recently came across a great article about this topic and wanted to share it with my readers.
Manipulation in Relational Aggression: Jockeying for the Position of Victim

By Jane Balvanz

If manipulation, as a noun defined, is artful or skillful management, and as a verb, means to negotiate, control, or influence (something or someone) cleverly, skillfully, or deviously, then manipulation, as a relationship tool, is just plain scary.  It’s a sideways method for getting what you want instead of using direct, honest communication.

In one sense, manipulation can be innocuous.  Parents use manipulative techniques to persuade their children to eat healthily.  And who among us hasn’t helped manage some sort of situation to pull off a surprise for someone’s birthday?  Intentions, in these cases, are meant to help or create a pleasant situation for someone else.  Both examples illustrate the sunnier side of manipulation.  But there is a dark side, a very dark side.

The Shadow Side of Manipulation

When kids meet and form new friendships, there is joy and abandon.  This is particularly true for our youngest.  Small children form bonds easily with little thought of gain or how a friendship could improve their social status.  They just want to play.  It doesn’t take long, though, for cliques to form and manipulation to begin.

Kids discover ways to keep others from joining in play.  Changing the truth just a little can keep an unpleasant situation at bay.  Forgetting on purpose can explain away an indiscretion.  And gathering a group together to “explain” one version of a story first before someone else’s opposing view can be told gives a certain stronghold over the most believable version of the truth.

It’s natural for kids to experiment with manipulation, but it’s a sad place to stay.   With girls and boys equally using it, anyone who continually succeeds through manipulation increases their chances of becoming a manipulative adult.  Spending enough time with a relationship manipulator eventually exposes their MO.  Unfortunately for the manipulator, relationships are shallow and ever changing.  It becomes a heartache for manipulators and their targets alike.

Victim, Victim – Who Gets to Be the Victim?
A masterful manipulator knows how to appear as the wronged party.  The best defense is a good offense; that is the manipulator’s mantra.  She knows how to set things up.  Victim is the desired role, because if you are the victim, you cannot be in the wrong.   Let me illustrate through roles and age groups:

Preschool:  Sarah retrieves a toy Mia has just snatched out of her hands. (Mia, crying to an adult)  “Sarah took my toy!”  Sarah is reprimanded to share.

Siblings:  Younger Child wants to play with Older Child’s science experiment.  Older Child, not wanting to have the school assignment destroyed, denies the request.   Younger Child cries to Parent that Older Child is mean.  Older Child is reprimanded because, of course, she/he is older and should know better.  (Younger Child smiles at Older Child)

Grade School:  A group of girls calls Mary names.  Mary, in tears, says she will report the group to the teacher after recess.   After recess, the group reaches the teacher first and reports that Mary has been calling them names.

Junior High and High School:  Maria and Eve were friends who told each other everything.  Their relationship included privately venting about others and sharing their opinions.  A fight ends the relationship, so Eve seeks “justice” by proclaiming herself Victim while sharing Maria’s private, negative views of others.  As a result, Maria is ostracized, and Victim Eve is embraced.

Romantic Relationships:  Maggie doesn’t like Josh’s friends, so each time he goes out with them, she sulks for days.  When Josh asks what’s wrong, Maggie responds, “Nothing.”

Work:  Analise’s boss asked her to do extra assignments without any compensation.  When Analise spoke up to say she would need extra compensation to pay for her babysitter’s additional time, the boss became incensed.  In conversations now, the boss calls Analise his Prima Dona employee.  When others ask about the obvious change in their relationship, he just shrugs his shoulders as if to suggest she is a difficult employee.  His actions cause others to stay away from Analise.

Character Qualities That Eschew Victimhood and Embrace Self-Efficacy

To raise a 21st Century Citizen who is able to become happy, self-reliant and successful in relationships and life itself, guide your child to live these five character qualities.  They are the antidotes to manipulation:
1. Respect
2. Responsibility
3. Resiliency
4. Honesty
5. Courage

When you respect yourself and others, it allows you to be honest in your communications and to take responsibility for your words and actions.  Resiliency gets you through the difficult times, and courage helps keep you in alignment with the other character values.

What gifts you will give your child – your guidance toward characteristics that lead to fulfilling relationships without manipulation and victimhood!

© 2011 A Way Through, LLC

Female friendship experts Jane Balvanz and Blair Wagner publish A Way Through, LLC’s Guiding Girls Ezine. If you’re ready to guide girls in grades K – 8 through painful friendships, get your FREE mini audio workshop and ongoing tips now at

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Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Teen Drive Smart: Road Show Rally 2011 Video Contest!

So after months of studying and practice, you passed your driver’s test and finally have your license…nice work! But the hard part isn’t over yet. In fact, it’s just starting. Once you and your friends begin driving, you’ll begin to see that everyone has a different standard of what constitutes “safe driving.”

Before getting in the car with another driver, think to yourself: would I let my kid brother/sister drive with this person? If the answer is no, then you shouldn’t do it either. Teens Drive Smart has put together some ways to help you get out of these rather uncomfortable situations without damaging friendships.

We know that talking to your friends about driving safe can be tricky, so here are five quick things you can say when confronted with a friend who is driving distracted:
  • Texting: “Do you want me to hold onto your cell phone while you’re driving?”
  • Driving and Overcrowded Vehicle: “Whoa! We all can’t fit. Let’s not get [driver] in trouble. Anyone want to stay back with me?
  • Drinking and Driving: “I’m not feeling well. I think I’m going to call my parents to pick me up. Do you want me to have them pick you up, too?”
  • Treating You Like a Chauffeur: “I can give you a ride but the others are on their own.”
  • Rowdy Passengers: “Hey guys! Not to be annoying, but can you guys quiet down a bit? I’m still getting used to the idea of driving with other people in the car.”
Now it is time to rally and be part of  a great contest!

On behalf of Bridgestone Americas,  their Teens Drive Smart Road Show Rally 2011 Tour, a high school grant contest promoting safe driving and the importance of learning these behaviors before a driver sits behind the wheel is on!

So as you head back to school this fall ask your friends, “Are you ready to rally?” Any individual or group of teens interested in participating in this contest will create a 30-second to two-minute video describing the following:
  • What they have done in their community to spread the safe driving message;
  • What they would like to do in the future to alert others about the dangers of driving distracted;
  • And why a road show rally should come to their school.
Entrants will be judged by three criteria: Creativity, Need, and Story and are to submit their videos by October 7th. The grand prize winning school will receive the Road Show Rally and a $5,000 donation!

More information can be found by visiting And while you’re there, be sure to check out Teens Drive Smart on Facebook and Twitter!

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