'Straight Talk' from Ashland High

Two Ashland High School seniors are answering teens' questions about drug use, sexual activity and parents' divorces in a syndicated weekly advice column published in 18 California newspapers.

Called “Straight Talk for Teens By Teens,” created and edited by Lauren Forcella of Fair Oaks, Calif., the column offers a forum for Brie Powers, 18, and Jessie Karlovich, 17, to advise peers and parents on such weighty issues as how to break up, what to do about friends who abuse prescription drugs and how to handle parents engaged in a custody battle.

The questions — and the answers — can be shockingly candid, Forcella said in a phone interview. The 60 volunteer panelists come from all parts of the country and try to speak from personal experience — with no pretense of having all the answers, she says.

“We don't shy away from anything,” Forcella said. “They (panelists) have been through a lot and have a lot to say. ... Kids listen to them.”

When a mom said she'd read her daughter's text messages and found a man had been asking explicit questions about the female anatomy, Brie responded, “This guy is obviously not dangerous, so I see no harm. You need to have more trust in your children, otherwise they will stop trusting you. And you want that trust so they will come to you when real situations arise.”

The comment appeared in the Auburn (Calif.) Journal under the headline, “When Do Parents Have the Green Light to Snoop?” The answer, from Brie and a half-dozen other young contributors, was that parents should only snoop when the child shows danger signs such as depression, failing, truancy, withdrawal, dropping out of formerly enjoyed activities and drinking and drug abuse.

When a reader from Redding, Calif., asked how to handle friends who combined Adderall and Ritalin with other prescription drugs — and noted that all were easily available within five minutes of school — Jessie wrote, “The prescription drug most abused at my school is Vicodin, but pharmaceuticals in general aren't nearly as popular as marijuana.”

Brie added, “Have a serious talk with your friend about the danger of mixing prescriptions. If that doesn't help, alert an authority figure.”

Where do Jessie and Brie seek wisdom to answer such tough questions? “We get it from the people we know and from our families,” Jessie said during an interview in Ashland. “It's not a guidebook we're writing. It's so that you know you're not the only one going through these problems.”

The disclosure of drug use to authorities may be a hard choice, but “they get their life back,” Brie added. “They're under their parents' roof and they have to live by the rules. It's important for parents also, to hear that they can't just let their children go, to do what they want.”

When a Medford mom complained of the increasing weight problem of her compulsively eating 14-year-old daughter, Jessie responded, “Usually when somebody has an eating problem, either something psychological is going on or there is a chemical imbalance. Ask her if something is wrong, and if she won't discuss it, have her see a counselor. At the same time, educate her on the dangers of overeating and obesity. Maybe she doesn't fully realize the risks.”

Snippets from panel members are used in the newspaper columns, but longer answers — and more personal stories — are available on the column's Internet version, www.straighttalkforteens.com.

To a Salinas girl who was hiding her boyfriend, a heroin addict, in a basement bedroom, Brie was candid about breaking the code of silence many teens honor.

“A wonderful friend of mine got hooked on meth,” wrote Brie. “His father kicked him out, too. He dropped out of school and was couch surfing and living on the streets. He kept saying he'd quit, that he'd go to rehab, but then he would just get high again.

“A group of us contacted his father about how worried we were. I don't think he ever would have gone to rehab if we hadn't informed his parents how bad it was. They sent him to a rehab facility for over a year. He's clean and sober now but will forever have to be careful.”

Teens today “are sexually much more fluid,” said Forcella, with more flexible boundaries that allow for bisexual relationships as well as platonic friendships across gender lines.

But they'll still struggle with the age-old issue of how to break up, she said.

One thing both Ashland teen columnists were clear on: You don't text the breakup.

“I wish there was a graceful way, but as far as I know, he'll be hurt any way you do it,” Brie wrote to a girl who asked whether she could break up with her boyfriend by text message. “It's best to just be honest and let him know the feelings are no longer mutual. But you must do this in person.”

Today's teens face a much more different and dangerous world than their parents' generation did, Forcella said.

“The kids are awesome. They are solid. I love these young kids. They are incredibly wise and evolved and have advanced psychological processes — and other kids listen to them.”

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

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