Good Life

Helping Hands: Community alliance works together to raise responsible teens

“It takes a whole village to raise a child.” This Igbo and Yoruba (Nigeria) proverb exists in different forms in many African languages. The basic meaning is that child upbringing is a communal effort. This communal responsibility in raising children also is seen in the Sukuma (Tanzania) proverb, “One knee does not bring up a child” and in the Swahili (East and Central Africa) proverb, “One hand does not nurse a child” (the Rev. Joseph G. Healey, M.M., Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania).

No matter where one lives, it does take an entire village to raise a child, even in Centre County. It also takes an entire village to raise a teen. Throughout time and across cultures, the teen years have been noted as a time of dramatic changes in body and behavior. Adolescence is a time of increased conflicts with parents, mood volatility, taking chances and risky behavior. According to Dr. Jay N. Geidd, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at the National Institute of Mental Health who specializes in brain imaging, “ ... the brain’s plasticity allows adolescents to learn and adapt, which paves the way for independence. But it also poses dangers: Different rates of development can lead to poor decision making, risk taking ...” (The Teen Brain: Primed to Learn, Primed to Take Risks, Feb. 26, 2009.)

Teens in Centre County, just as teens everywhere else, need care, guidance, nurturing, role models and yes, the entire proverbial village. The Centre Alliance for Healthy Relationships is part of that village. Formed in 2009, the mission of CAHR is to empower our youth to build healthy relationships, to make sound decisions, and to reduce their involvement and engagement in sexually risky behaviors. CAHR is composed of concerned and committed community members from the legal system, nonprofit agencies, school districts, medical facilities, area churches and youth service agencies, plus concerned individuals.

A major premise of CAHR is that adults need to talk with teens comfortably about their bodies, about sex, and about safe and healthy relationships. CAHR members, within their activity groups, research ways to bring information to the community in an effort to open conversations and face the reality our teens are facing. Teens need the village of caring adults to speak to them about sexuality, responsibility and relationships. Why? According to information released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 40 percent of adolescents have said that they are sexually active, and only two-thirds of these teens reported using protection. That is unacceptable to a caring community.

As The Montreal Gazette reports, teens who relied on their friends as their primary role models were more sexually active and also more likely to engage in at least one form of “risky sexual behavior.” Conversely, children from families that openly discuss sexuality had a greater awareness about the possible risks associated with sexual activity, including sexually transmitted infections. “Good communication within families and especially around sexual health issues is associated with more responsible behaviours,” Dr. Jean-Yves Frappier, one of the study’s co-authors said in a statement. ( )

Within CAHR are five activity groups and members can participate in any/all of the five, which include: community outreach, education, faith-based, medical and the legal system. CAHR is co-chaired by President Judge Tom Kistler and myself. Each activity group meets monthly and the entire CAHR alliance meets quarterly to update members, provide a guest speaker on a relevant topic, and recruit new members as all are welcome to join at any time. Together, as a village, we can raise a healthy teen.

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