Parents know the frustration of trying to unplug their children from electronic devices long enough to have a meaningful conversation.
Instead of fighting the battle against technology, Charles Friedman of Pinellas Park embraced it and developed an interactive computer-based program that helps young people think about the consequences of their actions.
Pinellas County served as the pilot program for the curriculum, which will launch nationwide at the National Association of Police Athletic/Activities Leagues (NAPAL) national convention in Denver on May 29.
School systems in Georgia and Mississippi, as well as other organizations, also have expressed interest in the program.
The interactive CD-ROMs present students with scenarios acted out by young people, and then allow them to select from a range of feelings they may experience and actions they could take. Depending on their choices, the students will see the results of their decisions.
"We have to open the lines of communication so we can understand what they are thinking," said Friedman.
Friedman, who previously developed training programs for the Department of Justice and the Navy, among others, said he hopes the curriculum will communicate to young people through a medium and in a way that's relevant to them. To that end, he organized a 17-state student focus group to ensure authenticity of language, dress and everyday real life situations.
The program addresses areas such as sexuality, bullying, peer pressure, conflict resolution and other issues facing young people.
"There's no preaching involved," he said. "It's nonthreatening and nonconfrontational. It's fun and kids really get into it."
Jerry Babcock, the executive director for Pinellas Sheriff's PAL, initiated the program in Pinellas County. He called the curriculum extremely effective and said the kids really seem to get involved.
"It's very simple to me. It touches on and targets real situations kids have every day."
Babcock said the program being computer based has an additional benefit for kids who may not have regular access to computers.
"It is also helping kids learn to maneuver through the computer," he said.
Babcock said that Friedman's program and others have helped lower arrest numbers in areas where they have been used.
"We have seen a decrease in youth arrests in areas where PAL is in," he said.
Babcock was so impressed with the curriculum that he helped the Boys & Girls Clubs and the St. Petersburg YMCA adopt the program, and he spearheaded the effort to take it nationwide.
"This is an important tool. I'll put my signature to that. It worked here for us and I can't imagine that it won't work other places."
Michael Maharrey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8779.