Mary Jo Podgurski

Column Mary Jo Podgurski

Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski is the founder and director of the Washington Health System Teen Outreach. She responds to 68 questions from young people daily and has written 'Ask Mary Jo' since 2005.

Column draws reader responses

February 20, 2013

Last week’s column inspired a number of comments from parents and young people. Here are a few:

Comment 1: I really related to the young woman who wrote last week’s question. My parents judged my boyfriend based on his appearance and forbid me to see him. That was 40 years ago. I’m ashamed to admit that I spent high school sneaking around behind their backs so I could see him. After college, he “cleaned up” his act, and I reintroduced him to my family. They accepted him then. We’ve been married more than 30 years, and we raised two great kids. I agree that the young woman should try to tell her mom, but my mom couldn’t see past my boyfriend’s long hair and “hippie” dress. I learned from my parents’ mistakes and raised my children in an open atmosphere where they didn’t need to lie to me or sneak around. As I’ve grown older, I often see parents making their children’s lives more difficult. What a shame! I know my parents were trying to protect me, but I still resent their inability to see the person behind my boyfriend’s outer looks.

Thanks for being there for teens when they don’t have a parent they can talk to. – “Fiftyish female”

Mary Jo’s response: I appreciate your email and the time you gave to write. Your perspective is a strong teachable message. Looking beyond outward appearance is vital. Most important, your experience shows that young people will often resort to lying if unable to communicate with adults.

I’ve shared many times that I won the “parenting lottery.” I could talk openly with my parents on any subject. They may have disagreed with me, but they always keep the lines of communication fluid. When I began teaching, I thought most parents were like mine; we typically see life through the lens of our own experience. I’m still saddened when I find a family where a young person feels unable to share honestly.

I always hope that communication with parents is possible. I encourage it and hope for a positive result. Very often, talking with mom and dad does turn out well.

Comment 2: I’m a parent, and I’m glad that you encouraged the young woman last week to talk with her mom. It struck a nerve with me. Will you print my email? I listen to my kids. My parents never listened to me. Not all parents do this right. My message is for parents. Everyone says preschoolers need you. They do. But teens need you more. Be active in their lives. Pay attention. Don’t shut them out. Don’t put them in a situation where lying is their best option. Thanks for letting me rant. – A parent who remembers being 15

Mary Jo’s response: Of course I printed your email! Thank you for your perspective. I’ve often pondered how little we are all prepared for the most important job of our lives – that of a parent. We typically learn from the parenting we experienced. Changing the script we observed as children takes real effort. I’m glad you parent with intention and respect.

Comment 3: About five years ago, I wrote to you about a similar problem. My parents hated my girlfriend because she was a different race than me. You printed my question in the O-R, and I showed the column to my mom. She really had a change of heart, and my girlfriend was able to come to family functions. We didn’t last as a couple (we were 16 so we just grew apart), but we’re still good friends. Thanks!

Mary Jo’s response: Thanks for taking the time to share. I’m so glad.

Vote for Teen Outreach: Anyone who read the O-R article Saturday knows we are one of three finalists for a $10,000 IKEA Life Improvement Project to upgrade our teen facilities. The winner is the group that receives the most votes (you can vote once a day with each email address through March 11). We’ll be able to remodel our kitchen if we win. We use the kitchen for young people – teaching them to cook (the sounds when teens who have only seen “chicken in the form of nuggets” open a package of “real” chicken are amazing – “ewww … yuck … OMG.”) We make Thanksgiving meals, and the kids are hilarious, then so very proud when we sit down to eat the food they made themselves.

Here are step-by-step directions:


2. Scroll down to: To get started, select a store!

3. On the drop down box, click “Pittsburgh.”

4. A list of the three projects will appear with check boxes.

5. Click the box next to “Washington Hospital Teen Outreach.” Make sure you have the correct box.

6. Scroll down to “Not an IKEA worker?” and type your e-mail address in each of two boxes.

7. There’s a red/white/yellow box below that. In the yellow box, type the two words printed in the white half of the box.

8. Click the green button to “Cast Your Vote.”

9. Visit the page every day to vote again.

Thanks in advance for helping us!



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