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State Launches Public Awareness Campaign to Teens on Healthy Interactions
By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff
05:52PM / Thursday, June 13, 2019
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Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito spent about a half hour discussing the issues with local teenagers.


The roundtable (more like rectangular table) conversation drew a large group.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Sometimes a teenager will take to social media to complain about another. It causes riffs between the two individuals.
 
The original poster's friends ask what it was all about and they respond they were just venting. That's when the friends should step in and tell the poster to go talk to the individual about it. That is a better way to solve problems.
 
Such a scenario takes place within 30 seconds and in animated form through a series of videos recently released by the state Department of Public Health. Another shows someone intervening in a bullying situation. And another focuses on a couple in which one was constantly checking up on the other and just talking about it with a friend eased the situated.
 
The videos are targeted to teenagers across the state in a public awareness campaign — dubbed RESPECTfully — to teach people how to build healthy relationship, something Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito said is even more important these days when so much time is spend using technology and not human interactions.
 
The plan is to use social media to spread the messages about healthy relationships.
 
"It should be through social media, that's how we exchange information and that's we gain information. We made short videos — short meaning 20 seconds, 30 seconds — so you can view it and share it," Polito said.
 
In just a few weeks the state received some 91,000 views on YouTube, 11,000 views on Instagram, and some 5,000 completed views on Snapchat, according to Kelly Dwyer, executive director of the governor's council to address domestic violence and sexual awareness. 
 
"We're hoping those numbers keep rising, especially in the summer," Dwyer said.
 
The videos will be accompanies with posters to hang in areas teens gather and other educational material. Polito said this is first public awareness campaign targeted to teens in more than 20 years. 
 
"It is about prevention, awareness, and education," Polito said.
 
The material is just one step, though. Officials are hoping teens will become leaders and use and spread the lessons among their peers. Polito said teens will only listen to adults so much and peer to peer is a more effective way to make an impact. 
 
On Thursday teens from the Boys and Girl's Club, Girls Inc., ROPE, and Richmond Consolidated Schools joined Polito and District Attorney Andrea Harrington to talk about they can bring the message to their peers.
 
The students talked about showing it the younger children to say "this is what we are about now" and promote it make it popular. 
 
"If we make this popular then more and more people will jump on to the message," one student said. 
 
Another suggested bringing it to school groups and build momentum that way. Another mentioned bringing the videos and the posters off social media and into local places where teens congregate. 
 
The videos may be short, but the students were responsive to them saying they were "prime examples" of real-life situations.
 
North Adams Mayor Thomas Bernard was impressed by the students.
 
"I'm hearing this rich thinking about making amends or apology a habit and a practice and how you do that," Bernard said.
 
Polito, Harrington, and other state and local officials chatted with the students for a good half hour about how important the message of healthy relationships are and how to spread it. 
 
The hope is that the awareness campaign inspires teens to do the right thing and give them the tools to actually do it. 
 
"This is hard to do. It takes a lot of courage. But what I am hearing of you today, the fact that you are here, is an example of courage, that you are willing to have these conversations with your friends, that is an act of courage. Sometimes it is hard, sometimes you are scared, but just be brave and do it anyway. You can be leaders at your schools, at your camps, in your community," Mayor Linda Tyer said.
 
Sheriff Thomas Bowler said the message won't just be good for teens but the teens will set the example to the adults.
 
"Traditionally parents or adults are the ones teaching the children. This is a great opportunity with this campaign for the kids to teach the grown ups. Everything you watch in those videos, grown ups do. It is just not the kids. The adults are doing the exact same thing," Bowler said.
 
Harrington said she supports the effort as it is a way of prevention. She said a better practice is to teach kids resiliency and life skills so they don't end up on a path of crime and have to be prosecuted.
 
"We know we have some significant challenges but we have partnership with our lieutenant governor and a partnerships with our state legislators, with our sheriff, in really working together on prevention and really keeping people safe," Harrington said. 
 
"In this office we are very good at accountability. We are very good at getting convictions of those who have harmed others and we are getting better. But I see that as a failure in our community when we have people who are committing crimes, getting convicted, and getting jail time. What the goal is is public safety and prevention and that's what this program is doing."
 
On Thursday, Polito also touched on another social media based issue — sexually explicit visual material. Polito said the administration is proposing a law that will make it so teens who engage in peer-to-peer distribution of sexually explicit visual material be subject to prosecution. 
 
"Delete is not delete. You might see it and not see it the next second, it is still there. Everything you do on social media creates a permanent record for your future — everything, your text messages, your sharing of videos, everything. It will impact future opportunities. There will be a scan of your social media activity because it is part of who you are," Polito warned the teens about the use of social media.
 
That is more of a post-incident response whereas the public awareness campaigns are aimed to help provide a better understanding of what is healthy and what is inappropriate or inappropriate so it doesn't get to that point.
 
Others in attendance included state Sen. Adam Hinds, state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, representatives from the Elizabeth Freeman Center, the Central Berkshire Regional School District, and Railroad Street Youth Project. 


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