abenaosei.jpgCyberbullying. Dating violence. Peer pressure. Career choices.

Although South Florida's teens are facing tough issues as they navigate middle and high school, about 200 of them got some extra guidance on a recent Saturday morning.

“You determine your own success,” Fort Lauderdale business owner and motivational speaker Darrell Hardge told the students in the auditorium of  Fort Lauderdale’s Pine Crest School on March 21. “You determine how high you want to go or how low you want to remain.  The choice is yours.  Not your parents, not your school, not the television, not the radio, not your Ipod, not Facebook.”

Hardge's 30-minute talk kicked off the 2009 Youth Summit & Parent Empowerment Conference.  The event was organized by the Urban League of Broward County’s Young Professionals Network and Breakthrough Fort Lauderdale, Pine Crest’s summer and school-year enrichment program for underserved middle school students.

Hardge, author of the book, Prescription for Success, 17 Principles for Success and Achievement, served as the event's keynote speaker.

The daylong conference was filled with open discussions about hard-hitting subjects facilitated by presenters from Women in Distress, Broward County Public Schools, Broward Health and several other organizations.

This is the second annual event hosted at the school.

Event organizer Abena Osei said this year’s event offered workshops, specifically geared to middle and high schoolers, covering a variety of topics.

“We wanted everybody to get something from today,” she said.  “We wanted to cover anything and everything that could be affecting the family.”

Parents were also invited to this year’s summit.

“We noticed that last year, parents wanted to stay.  So we thought what a wonderful opportunity to have both groups here together,” said Osei, Breakthrough Fort Lauderdale’s executive director. “It’s a great way to spark dialogue in the car on the way  home.”

Osei said the event was especially important for parents trying to keep up with teens in today’s technology-driven world.

“Many parents are just trying to figure out what’s going on in the life of their teens,” she said.  “It’s hard for parents to understand the technology and kids are developing so much faster.  We hope the [summit] continues to grow and be a resource for the community.”

In a workshop titled “Healthy Dating Relationships,” Women in Distress counselor Aly Oppenheim described the five types of dating violence: sexual, verbal, physical, mental and financial.  The classroom of middle-schoolers then took turns reading aloud the story of  “Aisha” a 15-year-old with an abusive boyfriend. At the end of  the story,
Oppenheim told the class that Aisha is the true story of a girl living in Broward County.

“Domestic violence is all about power and control,” Oppenheim said.

In other classrooms, students attended workshops titled “The Leader in You,” “Learn How You Learn Best” and “Surviving the World of Middle School.”

Another set of workshops was tailored to parents.

Hollywood resident Mable Irving said the summit gave her a fresh perspective on the issues her 16-year-old daughter, Vernetia, faces as a Fort Lauderdale High School student.

Irving said she makes a conscious effort to stay connected to Vernetia.

“I stay on top of things,” Irving said. “I keep in touch with her and I stay in the middle of what’s going on.”

Giselle Slater-Tunnage, 19, a freshman at Florida Atlantic University studying art history, said communication is something she’s working on with her parents.

“I want them to listen  to me without judging right away,” the Lauderdale Lakes resident said of her parents.

LaQuana Crawford, a 17-year-old Boyd Anderson High School student, said parents need to be aware of what’s going on in the life of teens.

“There’s so many things they can’t protect us from, but they should be a part of our lives.”


Photo: Abena Osei