Tian Foss, executive director of Houston County Family Connections, talks about her organization work helping youngsters make good choices.
Residence: Warner Robins
Q: You usher Houston County eighth-grade students through life-choice mazes — what’s going on?
A: Our spring Teen Maze, a chance for county eighth-graders to explore potentially risky behaviors and life-like situations and the consequences that come from various choices. The goal is that they become more aware and informed so they make better choices when they face the real thing. They go through Teen Maze scenarios without the real-life permanency of bad choices but still learn from them. Teen Maze also fosters questions and discussions and — this is so key — Teen Maze can open doors for talking with parents and trusted adults.
Q: How old are eighth-graders?
A: Generally 14, 15.
Q: So Teen Maze gets them to make choices and see the results?
A: They don’t actually make choices in the maze. What they do is draw their fate out of a bag representing different choice possibilities and where they can led. They experience the consequences in a safe, controlled environment.
Q: What are some of the scenes and scenarios?
A: Things like drinking, drunk driving, auto accidents, going to the emergency room, to jail and juvenile court. It includes scenarios involving relationships and dating, abuse, living in a safe house, having sex or not, STDs, using protection or not, pregnancy and having a child. Some may graduate high school, others may have a baby, and still others may be sitting in jail versus graduating. They cover a lot of ground, including peer pressure.
Q: Family Connections puts on Teen Maze, but is it a national program?
A: First, Teen Maze is a collaborative effort, not something Family Connections or any one agency could do by themselves. It’s really a team effort with Houston County schools, law enforcement, emergency agencies like fire and EMS, medical professionals, behavioral services specialists — I know there are 50-plus agencies and entities helping out. They recognize it’s for the good of our communities and the kids and want to help kids do a good job facing difficult choices.
Q: How many students have gone through Teen Maze? What’s its history?
A: The first was just in 2017. It was a little different and open to eighth grade and high school students. The first was a chance for people to see what we were doing. This is year two and we do fall and spring Teen Mazes just for eighth grades. It replaced a teen forum where students just sat and listened. This gives hands on participation and is more engaging.
Q: How many students are involved this year?
A: In the fall 1,062 over three days and it looks like 1,300 here in the spring. It’s May 8-11 since we’re doing an extra day. Ninety-eight percent of kids doing our survey say they enjoy it.
Q: Where is it?
A: The gym at Central Georgia Technical College on Cohen Walker Drive.
Q: What are comments you get?
A: We hear things students get from Teen Challenge like, “If you drink and drive you are putting other people in harm’s way;” “You can kill someone if you are distracted;” “Everything you do has consequences;” “DUI can mess up a lot of lives;” “Being pregnant is harder than I thought;” “Being abused is not the only type of unhealthy relationship;” and things like, “I learned that I have somewhere to go if something does happen.”
Q: So students learn about resources as well as results of choices?
A: Yes. And people representing many of those resources are the ones at Teen Maze. I like that kids get to see that these agencies and resources are people, not just buildings. We want them to realize there are helpful people in the community.
Q: You said resulting discussions after Teen Maze are important. How do you foster them?
A: Yeah, we want parents to go, “Hey, did you go to the Teen Maze? What did you do? What did you think about it? What did it feel like when this or that happened?” What it felt like to be pregnant in high school and raise or give up a child. What is court like? We give students what we call road maps with all they did on it. Parents can see it and let it open a conversation. Really, that’s what it’s all about: a starting place for parents and adults to talk with kids.
Q: And your open house?
A: We have one before students come to the Teen Maze so the community can see and experience what it is. Adults can take from it and talk with students, their children or kids in their lives. If kids aren’t talking with trusted adults — parents, guardians, youth leaders, pastors, teachers, counselors and others — then what they’re getting is just from peers and movies, books, television, music and whatnot. The dialogue should be in safe relationships and environments and children always need to know they can talk about choices and decisions.
Q: Your contact?
A: Contact Family Connections at 478-302-5577, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Answers may have been edited for length and clarity. Compiled by Michael W. Pannell. Contact him at email@example.com.