U gets involved in helping teenagers

Elizabeth Cook

The University isn’t concerned only about the behavior of college students; its Extension Service also reaches out to seventh- and eighth-graders.

Kathleen Olson, a family relations specialist with the University’s Extension Service Regional Center in Rochester, said there are about 30 schools participating in the University’s “Teen Talk” program.

“Teen Talk” is a project involving a series of fact sheets that were given out in spring to all parents of seventh-grade students who go to participating middle schools.

The fact sheets deal with issues such as drugs, alcohol, dating and tips on how to better communicate between parents and their teenagers.

“The goal is to have a resource with parents so they can learn how to communicate with their teen,” Olson said.

Some research shows resources like this work, she said.

Part of the reason it is beneficial is that parents of teenagers often are busy and it’s not always possible to attend group meetings to discuss difficult issues.

After fact sheets are distributed, the parents fill out an evaluation that is sent back to the University on how well they think the fact sheets work. The evaluations from the spring are still being returned.

In the fall, the same families will receive another five fact sheets and will again fill out an evaluation.

Some evaluations have started to come in and so far the response has been good, Olson said.

“(The parents) are happy to have a resource they don’t have to pay for,” she said.

Schools with fewer resources were picked for the project.

The fact sheets normally are available for purchase, but thanks to funding from the American Legion Child Welfare Foundation and the University of Minnesota Extension Service, the schools didn’t have to pay.

Bill Pease, the executive secretary for the American Legion Child Welfare Foundation, said the Extension Service was awarded $16,200 to produce the fact sheets and handle the distribution.

Pease said the grant was passed because it looked like a good idea because the project is national.

Schools aren’t limited to Minnesota. They range from Minnesota to Wisconsin, New Hampshire, Mississippi and Alabama.

Starting in the fall, schools in Illinois and South Carolina also will participate, Olson said.

Arthur Reynolds, a professor of child development, said this type of resource can be beneficial, but only if done the right way.

It also depends on the parents, he said, and whether they think the information is important – a large percentage might not even read it.

Reynolds said it’s hard to tell whether this will have a positive impact, but it might lead to better communication between parents and teenagers in the future.

He said it will work for a small percentage of families, but for the communication and learning to really take place, it needs to be in conjunction with other things, like group discussions.

Child psychology junior Carrie Verkman wrote in an e-mail that fact sheets are beneficial because they might give parents information they never thought of talking about before.

It also could give them information they didn’t know before, she wrote.

A downfall to fact sheets is that parents might not be completely honest in their evaluations, making it seem like they are more involved in their children’s lives than they really are.

“Not everyone does this, but it’s possible with parents, because they want to be seen as supportive and concerned parents when it comes to these issues,” Verkman wrote.