Today's teenagers face a UNIQUE challenge

By Nicole Steele This morning, as my alarm clock radio blared, startling me from my sleep, the lyrics coming out of small speakers were enough to make my stomach turn.

My radio was set to a local mainstream radio station, and I wondered how many other listeners were disturbed by the lyrics.

As I hurried to hit the off button, I tried to recall when we had become so comfortable in our society that offensive lyrics were now OK to play on radio stations geared toward families.

I thought about the number of young girls who might be getting dressed for school this morning, listening to the same lyrics and how they may be taking the lyrics to heart. Then I began to wonder if anyone had stopped to let the radio station know that it's not OK to pollute the airways with lyrics that may be demeaning, offensive, suggestive and violent.

It's not enough for me to turn the radio off to shield my young daughter's ears; I need to do more.

As I thought of my response, I also thought of the young girls (and boys) who may still be listening and singing along to that tune and others like it which would follow. I wondered how many parents may have been totally unaware of the poison seeping into the minds and spirits of their kids.

Our youth today are faced with more challenges and conflicting messages than ever before through music, movies and the media. Constant messages implying that you must look, act and do certain things to be accepted. Are we to wonder why drug and alcohol use, depression, eating disorders and sexual immorality among youth are at an all-time high?

As a society, we need to refocus on the basics. Our youth don't need another iPod, Game Boy, cell phone or pair of expensive shoes. In my opinion, our youth need a hug, a listening ear and a voice telling them that despite what the world says, they are beautiful, bright and unique creations designed for a specific purpose. They need to hear that message repeatedly from loving and caring adults. They need to be taught how to stand in a world that tells them they have to conform to the status quo promoted by the media.

A campaign designed by local youth leaders kicks off this month to raise awareness among youth throughout Gwinnett County on how to identify and overcome peer pressure. The UNIQUE - Free Yourself ... Be Yourself Campaign will take place throughout the 2005-2006 school year and will focus on peer pressure specifically in the areas of drug and alcohol abuse, abstinence and teen pregnancy prevention, cultural awareness and violence.

The UNIQUE Campaign is sponsored by Diamond in the Rough (DITR), a nonprofit organization, and I AM BEAUTIFUL, two local leadership organizations that focus on building self-esteem and leadership among youth.

The campaign will kick off with a contest for all Gwinnett County youth from fourth to 12th grade. This contest will allow participants to express themselves artistically by designing a poster, poem, presentation board, essay or drawing that ties into the campaign theme.

All entries will be displayed in November at the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center and will be judged by a panel of community and youth leaders. Contest winners will be announced and special prizes distributed at a ceremony at the Gwinnett Justice Center at 7 p.m. Nov. 29.

The thought of youth embracing their uniqueness and standing up to the negative pressures of their peers and society excites me and gives me hope for the future.

I don't want to continue to be part of the silent majority by simply changing the station. I have a letter to write to the radio station. It may only be one letter from one concerned mother, but just imagine the possible impact if the radio producers and DJ's around the country were to receive just one letter, e-mail or call from every parent who was concerned about the words that casually blast through the airwaves.

I believe that offensive lyrics are more than just words; I believe they are like missiles that not only assault our ears, but the hearts, spirit and essence of our youth.

Nicole Steele is executive director of Diamond in the Rough, a faith-based leadership program that provides group mentoring, life-skills training and career coaching to girls ages 10 to 18. For more information, visit www.ditr.org or call 678-376-9676. "People Helping People" is a weekly column written by the executive directors of nonprofit organizations in Gwinnett County. Need help or know someone who does? The Gwinnett Helpline directs callers to the appropriate nonprofit agency. Call 770-995-3339.