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.

Don’t judge a book by its cover

May 22, 2013

I’m writing this in Harrisburg where I’m honored to present at the Temple University PA Adolescent Sexual Health: Everyone Counts conference. A speaker at one of the sessions stressed a concept I’ve encountered: adults who think of young people as “bad teens”. She displayed a picture of a young man with orange and blue hair, piercings and tattoos, and said that most adults would condemn such a teen without looking beyond the superficial to discover that he was caring for an invalid parent, had won the poetry slam at school, held down a part-time job, was active in his church and maintained a high grade-point average.

Do we judge young people on their appearance? It’s easy to judge based on difference. In the 1960s my papa thought any young man with long hair was suspicious until a teen in our neighborhood with a decidedly “hippie” appearance helped him shovel out of a deep snow. Then he shrugged and told me how foolish he’d been to “rush to judgment.” My father was an open-minded person. I wonder. Do we assume that all teens are disrespectful, devious or rebellious? Do we cross the street to avoid a group of teens?

I’ve often stated that the foundation of my philosophy is simple: Each person is a person of worth. Young people are as diverse as adults. Many young people live exemplary lives. I’d like to share one of the ways young people in our community are excellent role models.

Our Real Talk Performers are young people who volunteer precious time in their already busy lives to make a difference in the lives of others. The educational dramas they create teach in ways that extend beyond the traditional classroom. Since 1996 this drama troupe has produced yearly original productions on cutting edge issues. I start the writing process but each play goes through at least 10 drafts as our actors make the words their own. Our most unique play was Gonorrhea Monologues. Produced in 2003, Monologues won first place at the PA PCPTP Youth Conference at Penn State University. Pre- and post-testing showed a 65 percent cognitive growth as the audience correctly identified bacterial and viral STIs. It was a bizarre but delightful production.

This year our Real Talk Performers produced two plays. The first, “Txt Me, Luv Me, Own Me,” focused on dating abuse and cyber bullying. A video of the play was shown at Trinity High School as part of the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program. Their second play, “If You Only Knew Me,” will premier Wednesday at our 11th annual Awards Night. Open to the public, the program begins at 7 p.m. and is held at Trinity High School. Admission is free.

The concept for “If You Only Knew Me” came from one of our outstanding peer educators, senior David Pascoe. David is also one of the three young people who run our Common Ground Teen Center (the others are Amanda Campbell and Troy Frazier). The play consists of teen-written monologues about bullying. These true stories are often intense. I asked a few young people to share why they thought speaking out about bullying was important.

Raelynn Marie Sanders: I think it’s important to teach about bullying because not everyone is aware of the negative extent bullying has on people, or the fact that it even exists because it hasn’t happened to them

Serena Green: Bullying wounds a person; if not in physical ways, then it leaves wounds on the heart and mind. Every single individual should be able to feel loved and valuable, instead of fearing violence and being made to feel small.

David Pascoe: Bullying awareness is vital in our schools and even jobs. If people can learn where to recognize the behavior, and know how to prevent, stop, or avoid these situations, I feel we’d see a huge change in the world. Bullying isn’t just physical anymore, but that doesn’t mean it still doesn’t happen. I feel that emotional and mental abuse and bullying is much easier to accomplish and more satisfying to the person doing it because it leaves the person who is bullied with no physical bruises that naturally heal over time. Bullying leaves a person mentally submissive and exposed to harsher attacks.

Jared Hess: Some bullies are offended when I tell them to stop.

Cheyenne Moore: Maybe bullies in life feel alone and trapped just like the people who are bullied. We need to find a way to help both.

Anonymous: I’m over being a bystander. I’ve never bullied anyone but I’ve watched when people were being bullied. If more people were strong enough to stand up and say something about bullying it would stop. Bullies like an audience.



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