Forum Helps Arlington's Teens Have More Say

By Mark Berman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 8, 2007

Teenagers don't think they have much control over their lives. Schools set their daytime schedules; parents dictate the rules at home. There are guidelines for when they can drive and what movies they're allowed to see. That doesn't leave a lot of opportunity for teens to make their views heard, but an Arlington group is trying to change that.

The 24-member Teen Network Board meets monthly during the school year to discuss teen issues, explore community activities and provide a forum for young people to dialogue with adults and make themselves heard.

"It really gets the teen voice out and active," said board member Matt Bloch, a senior at Yorktown High School. "A lot of times, you hear people talk -- at least teenagers my age -- about how they wish there was something to do on the weekends. They wish they could change something. And this is really a way to channel that and get things done and create movement in the county and in our communities."

"They're just such an amazing resource," said Judy Hadden, who helped organize the board. "And they often don't get a chance to voice their opinions, and this is a chance to do that."

Hadden is a member of the Arlington Partnership for Children, Youth and Families, a community-led advisory group that works to strengthen the bond between young people and the community. Partnership members oversee the teen board, which was created in 2003.

There are plenty of youth groups, Hadden said, but they have specific purposes. "This one's unique because it's wide open in terms of the subjects," she said.

Those subjects are up to the teens, said Mary Ann Moran, one of four staff members of the advisory group.

The board is open to high school students, and applications are taken in the spring. When students apply, they specify issues that they think are important. The students are interviewed and selected by current board members. At the beginning of the school year, board members decide which issues to focus on and form groups based on the topics selected.

"They provide us with fuller answers than we can provide ourselves," Moran said. "They have a different voice than an adult's voice. And it needs to get heard because they're the experts on their lives. We need this voice in the community, especially around issues that affect young people."

Issues this year include teen stress, communication with parents and finding things for teens to do all over county. With 18 board members returning from last year, some of the work was carried over because the teens wanted to complete their projects.

Last winter, the board organized a teen night at the Kettler Capitals Iceplex at Ballston Common Mall. The teens designed a promotional ad "in a way that was way cooler than what we would have done," Moran said. The flier generated enough interest to attract more than 100 teens.

The committee focusing on teen stress worked with the community partnership's data coordinator to develop a survey that was distributed to more than 500 teens. Bloch, 18, who is in his third year on the board, worked on the survey.

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