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His CD-ROMs help youths learn to make wise choices

In a school hallway, one girl challenges another, certain that the girl is trying to take her boyfriend.

The two students get up close and personal, glaring at each other with hate and hurling insults. Their heads snap back and forth as the argument gets closer to escalating into real violence.

Freeze.

The action on the CD-ROM stops, and a prompt gives the viewer three choices: tell her to back off, push her out of your face or continue arguing.

To Chuck Friedman, this is one of the best ways to help youths learn how to make good decisions during difficult moments. Friedman, a former National Geographic producer, discovered the value of CD-ROMs years ago when he was working on a project at Disney's EPCOT Center. He saw real educational opportunities in the technology.

CD-ROMs look just like musical CDs but can load into a computer's CD drive and produce video images and interactive prompts.

"The user does not feel intimidated or fear failure," Friedman explained. "If designed correctly, the user can explore different options and actually make mistakes and learn consequences."

Friedman's A.F. Interactive Productions, which is based in Pinellas Park, has partnered with various institutions to create a series of interactive CD-ROM presentations designed to help adolescents understand the consequences. The CDs cover a wide range of topics, including dating violence, bullying and nutrition.

Friedman relies on data and research from specialists for the content of the CDs and lets student focus groups preview it before it's finalized.

Each CD comes with a manual for the facilitator - be it a parent, teacher, coach or counselor - that helps stimulate dialogue with the kids. The CDs try to explore not only what decision they would make in different situations, but what feelings prompted them to make that decision.

"You will see if they respond to peer pressure, curiosity, anger, insecurity, fitting in, fear and an assortment of other inside and outside influences," Friedman said.

Friedman said these influences often go undetected until bad decisions lead to damaging consequences. More than anything, Friedman hopes his CDs can work as preventive maintenance, helping kids realize the potential impact of their actions before it's too late.

The technology also can be used for various instructional videos, and Friedman says his company has produced work for a variety of entities to help defray the costs of his teen-oriented videos.

The lowered costs have allowed a number of afterschool programs and other nonprofits to use his videos, including Boys & Girls Clubs on both sides of Tampa Bay.

It's that work that inspires Friedman. As a teen who dabbled in reckless behavior, and as a father who had to guide his own teenage daughter, Friedman said he is all too familiar with the difficulties of growing pains.

"More than ever, today our children are bombarded with high-energy stimulation and advertising messages," Friedman said. "As a parent and as a person who remembers their childhood, I am concerned that our children are more focused on their immediate needs and do not think about the consequences of their actions."

As Friedman notes, those consequences can impact a family's trust, finances and a teen's future.

Naturally, I let my two boys view one of the videos. Far be it from me not to take advantage of every necessary tool.

More times than not, Matthew and Ethan made the correct call and avoided the negative consequences. Making the correct choices was easy because anger and emotions usually don't surface in front of a computer.

Still, the video did provoke some thoughtful conversations. The more I can talk to my kids, the more likely I'm going to be that angel sitting on their shoulders when they truly are confronted with a difficult choice.

I look back on my own life and can easily recall a few pivotal times where the consequences could have been detrimental. Sometimes I made the wrong decision, but more often I heard my mom's voice or saw a disappointed look on my dad's face and stopped myself.

If these CDs can implant those images in the mind of my own kids, or in any teen, I'm all for them.

That's all I'm saying.

Ernest Hooper can be reached at 226-3406 or hooper@spttmes.com.

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