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How teenagers can get involved and get paid for it

Now here's the perfect summer job for a teenager.

Wanted: Young people ages 14 to 18 to tell parents what to do. Salary: $5 an hour.

That's only one of two jobs the Juvenile Welfare Board of Pinellas County is seeking young people to do. This time, rather than just asking for volunteers, JWB is forking over money to pay teens to help. (I'd say they know kids pretty well.)

Up to 17 youths will be hired and divided into two groups.

The first group will figure out ways to tell Pinellas County parents they must do a better job.

It's clear that some of us haven't earned an A+ in parenting. Look at the evidence. Teen pregnancies are up. Alcohol use by teens has skyrocketed. Juvenile crime is a growing problem. Drugs still abound, even on our school campuses. Test scores are down and suspensions are up in recent years. Adults complain that kids are growing up rude and surly and lacking in self-control and motivation.

Meanwhile, lots of teenagers are unhappy people. And why not? In their own homes they see spouse abuse, child abuse, alcohol and drug use, unkindness and irresponsible behavior by the adults who are supposed to be their role models _ if they see their parents at all. They have no heroes and many of them have no hope.

The Juvenile Welfare Board, in its work with juveniles and with agencies that serve young people, kept hearing about problems that could be traced to insufficient parenting. Even the children themselves were complaining about parents who let them get away with murder or were seldom at home. Finally JWB decided that something should be done to remind Pinellas parents that parenting is their most important job. And who better to remind them than their own children?

"If you talk to young people, they will tell you, "I wish my parents had said no,' "I wish my parents had put their foot down,' "I wish my parents had told me not to go to that place,' " said Kate Howze, JWB communications director. "What's missing from this picture is an enhanced sense of parental responsibility. Some parents don't know how to do it. Some just need to be reminded."

So five to seven youths ages 14 to 18 will be hired to design a parental responsibility campaign for Pinellas that will be paid for by JWB. Working one or two days a week from July 24 to Aug. 18, they will learn from Howze and her staff the basics of putting together a public information campaign. Then they will design the campaign, choose and write the messages that they believe parents need to hear, and pick the media to use.

The goal is to give parents the encouragement they need to be stronger, more effective parents. For example, Howze said, some parents of teenagers allow their children to drink alcohol at home, even though consumption of alcohol at that age is illegal and unhealthful. They rationalize that decision by saying that at least their children are drinking at home rather than in a bar or on the road.

Maybe parents need to be reminded, said Howze, that it is okay to just say no _ period _ to alcohol consumption by their children. That's responsible and proper and requires no apologies.

The second group of young people hired by JWB will work on a different project. This group of six to 10 youths will work at JWB one day a week, and its job will be to design a work plan to create a Youth As Resources project in Pinellas County.

The National Crime Prevention Council and Indianapolis' Lilly Endowment started a Youth As Resources demonstration project in three Indiana cities in 1987. The program expanded to several other Indiana cities and has inspired similar programs in other states.

The goal of Youth As Resources is to get young people to take a real role in improving their communities. A local board of youths and adults reviews community improvement projects written and submitted by young people. The panel awards funding to those projects it likes.

Youth As Resources participants in other states are tutoring children in homeless shelters, repairing low-income housing, cleaning up parks, conducting anti-drug programs and providing companions for elderly people.

The young people learn new skills and gain an improved sense of self-worth. That's to be expected. But another benefit, organizers discovered, was that adults' negative impressions of teenagers changed as they saw them working hard to improve their towns. Adults who had never considered young people as contributors to society saw them solving pressing community needs.

JWB has studied Youth As Resources programs and wants to start one here in Pinellas, where young people, their needs and their ability to contribute are too often overlooked. So it has approved money to pay $5 per hour to a group of young planners to work one day a week beginning July 17 and ending Sept. 4.

Teenagers interested in either of the JWB jobs must be able to provide their own transportation to JWB offices at 4140 49th St. N.

To apply, write a one-paragraph statement about why you would like to work on a project and send it along with your name, address and phone number to Kate Howze, Juvenile Welfare Board, 4140 49th St. N, St. Petersburg, FL 33709-5797. The deadline is July 7. If you need more information, call Howze at 521-1853.

Both of the JWB projects seek to empower teenagers to be a force for good here at home. Teens, if you think you are always getting a bad rap from the grownups, here's your chance to prove them wrong.

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