The Teen Advisory Group of the Youth Organizations Umbrella (Y.O.U.) is working hard to come up with strategies to reduce violence as part of a 2009 Peace Campaign, Brian Williams, assistant program director of Y.O.U., told the RoundTable. One focus this summer is the emotional devastation caused by rumors and gossip – a perennial teen problem exacerbated in this generation by text messaging.
Members of the group received a $5,000 grant from the Illinois Violence Prevention Authority to develop non-violent strategies for Evanston youth. On June 30, five members of the group, Jennifer Tertulien, Robert Bost, Jalesia Ivery, Maria Martinez and Jackie Montano – all Evanston Township High School students – made the second of the three presentations to middle-school students on how to reduce violence.
The presentation focused on rumors. They told the RoundTable, “Rumors are the source of a lot of violence. …They lead to fights. …They lead to the break up of a lot of relationships.” The group’s goal is to reduce violence in the community; they said they feel that the “best target is the younger ages.”
Skits and role-playing demonstrated how rumors may start based on a misperception of events, how they can spread quickly and become embellished through text messaging and by word of mouth, and how they can lead to violent confrontations.
In question-and-answer sessions and in small-group break-out sessions, they attempted to demonstrate ways to stop rumors, how to stand up for others about whom rumors are being spread, and how to peacefully inquire if a rumor is true before acting on it.
Later, to reinforce these points, the middleschool students put on their own skits demonstrating how rumors can lead to violence, and provided peaceful strategies to address them.
Craige Christensen, violence prevention coordinator of the Evanston/North Shore YWCA, said the students decided to focus on rumors in their presentations because gossip is an overriding problem, the effects of which can be humiliating and devastating. She added that rumors are becoming a bigger problem with the increase of text messaging.
The average teenager sent and received an average of 2,272 text messages a month in the fourth quarter of 2008, almost 80 messages a day, more than double the average of a year earlier, according to the recent article, “Texting May Be Taking a Toll,” in the Science Times section of the New York Times.
Ms. Christensen has been collaborating with Y.O.U. on the Peace Campaign and working with students to develop non-violent strategies.
Members of the Youth Advisory Group said violence happens in families and between friends. To reduce violence, they said, “You need to start with yourself; you need help from others.
The Youth Advisory Group kicked off their 2009 Peace Campaign on Jan. 19 in a tribute to Martin Luther King Jr., in an event called “Diverse Evanston Walks United.” In addition to the current presentations underway, they are planning additional workshops when school begins.