Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Teenagers Cast A Vote for the Family

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Teenagers Cast A Vote for the Family

Article excerpt

ASK sociologists and other professionals about the state of the American family and the typical response could hardly be gloomier. Never, say the experts in their most despairing voices, has the family been more fragile, more troubled, more dysfunctional.

But put the same question to teenagers - potentially the severest judges of all - and a more heartening picture appears. Their families may be far from perfect, but even in adversity many still provide an anchor, a refuge, a source of strength and hope to those within their circle.

That at least is the conclusion that emerges from essays written by Massachusetts teenagers for a literary contest on "Family Life: Ties That Bind." Nearly 800 high school students - a record number - submitted fictional and nonfictional works to the annual "Words by Kids" competition, sponsored by the Wang Center for the Performing Arts in Boston.

Some of the 15 winning essayists, who received their awards at the Wang Center last week, pay tribute to earlier generations. Michelle Ruth, a high school sophomore, tells about a teenage girl who balks at visiting her "ancient" great-grandmother, then discovers "that Nana had three generations of family love to give, like a precious gift."

Other students discuss issues ranging from teenage suicide and domestic violence to foster families and the cultural gaps between immigrant parents and children. With piercing honesty and touching resilience, winners describe families rocked - but not destroyed - by unemployment, bankruptcy, the accidental death of a teenager, and a premature birth.

"We needed to be strong together in order to get through the hard times with David," writes Beverly Mather, a high school senior, of her baby brother. "If we had continued to fight, our home would have fallen apart."

Dan Nguyen Tran, a junior whose sister committed suicide, states, "It was a miracle my family hung through the ordeal still standing. Stumble, stagger, but still standing, we depended on each other to keep us in line and not to circle fast in the past and fall. …

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