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New & Views - Apr, 1992 Issue 

Adolescents in Crisis Conference
January 23-26
By Bryan Bates
(602) 527-9228

(Bryan Bates is an independent educational consultant and naturalist who specializes in Math and Science for the "At-Risk" student. He has extensive classroom and backcountry experience with adolescents. His interest is working with the inner child and extending to the natural environment. He can be contacted at 9045 Beautyway, Flagstaff, Arizona 86004.

In January 23-26, over two hundred professional counselors and health providers gathered in Tucson for the First Annual "Adolescents in Crisis" conference, co-sponsored by the National Prevention Task Force and Sierra Tucson Adolescent Care Center. The tone for the conference was probably best set by Dr. Joseph Cruse who, in his opening keynote address, stated "all this [negative, unhealthy behavior] is happening and we just accept it as normal." The basic direction he presented is that care givers must formulate a support community for the family, which ought to consist of school teachers, counselors, state social welfare officials, financial representatives, the medical profession, the legal profession and all other agencies/individuals who create/release tension within a family unit. Only through the community process will an "at-risk" family break out of the cycle of producing "at-risk" children.

Each workshop was its own unique experience, yet from my standpoint, there were some key moments and issues. Prior to leading all two hundred of us on a beautiful guided imagery, Rokelle Lerner vibrantly expressed that in healthy families, the parents adjust to their children: in unhealthy families, the children adjust to their parents. She offered that perhaps a key to helping adolescents is to graciously assist them to explore what they hide from their parents/caretaker, as it may well be hidden from their view of themselves.

Throughout the conference, a common thread of several presentations was the question, "What do kids (and adults) get from negative subcultures that is more attractive than our mainstream culture?" Several presenters, (Bob Jackson on Gangs, Valerie Heller on Satanism and Janis Gabe on how to stop losing kids) all reiterated that sub-cultures offer a sense of place, of belonging, of ritual, of power. Kids are attracted to negative sub-cultures because somebody pays attention to them. When kids need something to believe in and the family doesn't provide it, the sub-family (i.e. the gang, the cult, etc.) will. The basic message was very simple: We as adolescent caregivers have to offer the kids something more than the gangs, the cults, or the drugs. We have to be user friendly, vibrant and rewarding, focusing on what can be positively attained and publicly recognized, and we can never take something without first replacing it.

One of the delightful yet disturbing presentations was that of Judge David Admire. One of the disturbing revelations was the degree to which an antiquated, overburdened judicial system serves to perpetuate the problems we see facing adolescents and adults. It seemed from his comments that we need to find a more effective way to counsel and modify behaviors prior to adjudication, for once a kid arrives before the bench, the legal system itself becomes another albatross about the kid's neck.

If you have trouble wondering what you would do in order to compete for a kids well-being, you are not alone. But the whole tone of the conference emphasized that we are winning --- one kid at a time, one day at a time. Each program has its own way of approaching the challenge, of hooking into a specific type of kid. And, each program has the responsibility to critically evaluate itself on what works and what doesn't work, what's true and what's not true. Then in an honest concern for the children of our country, we need to share with each other what, how, when and where. We ourselves need to become a tighter community. To all who were unable to attend this year's "Adolescents in Crisis", may I heartily recommend that you create the time to attend the Second Annual Conference.

Copyright 1992, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)

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