Turn on the local news on any given day and you are likely to hear a story about a young person headed down the wrong track. Teens who commit crimes and abuse alcohol and other drugs are headline news and the public hears enough about it to get the impression that it is the norm. This is not a true snapshot of teens in Anchorage, Alaska, or very possibly anywhere.
The journalist Patricia Hersch, a researcher in adolescent development, said this about how teens are perceived in today's society:
"America's own adolescents have become strangers. They are a tribe apart, mysterious, vaguely threatening. ... Somewhere in the transition from twelve to thirteen, our nation's children slip into a netherworld of adolescence that too often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy of estrangement.
"The individual child feels lost to a world of teens, viewed mostly in the aggregate, notorious for what they do wrong, judged for their inadequacies, known by labels and statistics that frighten and put off adults."
One way to fight this perception is to help observe Red Ribbon Week, now in progress. Red Ribbon activities help prevent drug abuse and support children who make a personal commitment to live drug-free lives.
As part of Red Ribbon Week, I suggest we honor young people who are contributing to our communities and make sure to learn accurate statistics about today's teens.
The vast majority of Alaska teens do not smoke (82 percent), do not abuse alcohol (74 percent) and do not use marijuana (79.5 percent). Statistics show that teen use of all other drugs is lower than 10 percent. (Data are from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Alaska's 2007 Youth Risk Behavior Survey.)
Most teens find ways to stay active without engaging in negative behaviors. Many are involved in sports, extracurricular activities, arts, their churches or community service projects.
As a community, we can make the choice to promote and recognize teens who engage in positive activities so they may serve as role models for their peers. In doing this, we also begin to tear down those barriers we find between ourselves and adolescents. We increase the likelihood that, as adults, we will build relationships that help young people grow up to become healthy, caring and responsible.
Karen Zeman is executive director of Spirit of Youth, a nonprofit dedicated to creating, promoting and recognizing youth involvement in communities across Alaska.