McCann senior Robert Foster talks during this month's Northern Berkshire Community Coalition forum on Friday. This month's forum focused on teenager safety and supervision.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Better communication between parents and teenagers, safety practices while walking the streets at night and knowledge of curfew rules and laws highlighted this month's Northern Berkshire Community Coalition forum, which focused on teen safety and supervision.
The forum, which took place Friday morning at First Baptist Church, was led by high school students from throughout North County who are participating in the coalition's UNITY Youth Leadership Program.
The students shared with about 75 in attendance stories about times strangers followed them, sometimes at night, and even at times asked them for drugs or harassed them with catcalls.
Only one of the students, however, went to the police to solve the situation — after a protective order was issued, his sister wasn't followed again.
But why only one?
Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts student and UNITY intern Lynn McEnaney, said that as a teenager or even a young adult, it's easy to be intimidated by overreacting and calling 9-1-1 over nothing.
"[But] calling emergency numbers without having an emergency is a complete no," McEnaney said. "Like you can't do that, you can't risk there being a fire downtown and you're scared about this guy catcalling you, or following you and you're not even sure it's a problem."
Joseph Butler, a ninth-grader from Drury High School, said sometimes the first reaction is just to get away.
Kathy Keeser suggested that everyone note one of the two local numbers to the dispatcher to call for these situations. Those numbers are 413-664-4944 and 413-664-4945.
Police Detective John LeClair reminded the room that for younger teenagers, 15 years old and younger, there is a 10 p.m. curfew in effect, seven days a week.
LeClair said encounters for calls on young teenagers isn't a "negative experience" but rather a check-in on what they're doing and to get them to go home.
He shared some safety tips for going out at night:
Stay alert of your surroundings.
Wear bright clothes, carry a flashlight and a cell phone.
Stay in lit areas. Don't take shortcuts across a dark back yard.
Don't put yourself in a harmful situation.
Walk with a purpose to appear powerful and strong.
In regard to curfews and supervision, communication is key. Barbara Clish, a senior at McCann Technical School, said if she is running past her curfew that she stays in touch with her parents and lets them know.
Police Detective John LeClair gave safety tips and explained curfew rules at the forum.
"Let's say I was going to the movies with a friend and the movie ended up being longer than I thought it was going to be," Clish said. "Well I would shoot them a quick text saying, 'Hey, I'm going to be out later than my curfew, let me know if you want me home right away or if it's OK.' I think that's important to have communication, that either, A, it's going to be OK, or, B, I want you home before."
Al Bashevkin, the coalition's executive director, agreed with Clish's assessment on communication.
"As a parent, I think if my sons were out after 10 o'clock, I would worry about them," Bashevkin said. "Just let me know what you're doing. I think from a parental perspective it's very helpful to know that you're communicating with your child ... As long as we have that communication then it feels like it's a safe activity and that really does work."
Lois Daunis, the coalition's program coordinator, said the lessons of communicating and staying safe goes beyond adolescence.
"When I think of safety and supervision I see that as things we can all do no matter how old we are," Daunis said, noting that it's important regardless of age to use the buddy system and make sure others know where you are.
Although much of the forum focused on setting curfews, keeping an open line of communication and staying safe on the streets, LeClair reminded the room that the city is still safe and teenagers are rarely the victims of crime.
"It's not as pervasive as some of the stories... maybe one or two due to the lack of reporting," LeClair said.
LeClair also said the community is still very safe, despite some feelings suggesting otherwise.
"Unfortunately we went through a sudden uptick and incidents and they were widely reported in the media, so I think there was a belief by some that we have crime spinning out of control in North Adams which we did not," he said.
LeClair said media like Facebook and texting gets stories "embellished" and when people want more information and when it's not shared, a conspiracy arises that there's more occurring.
"Everybody down the line... is all committed to your safety and your security," LeClair said.
Berkshire Arts and Technology Public Charter School junior Caitlin Mayes and McCann senior Robert Foster moderated the discussion.
The UNITY Youth Program, in its ninth year, runs for nine months, one night a week and is open to students from the Northern Berkshire region.
The next coalition forum will take place on Feb. 14 at First Baptist Church's Eagle Street Room at 10 a.m. and focus on regional health care.