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Teen Maze shows results of risky behavior

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

At the start of the Clayton County Teen Maze, members of an unsuspecting group of school children are led into a party atmosphere and given cups of various colors. Before long, the music stops and local sheriff's deputies show the kids holding green cups what it is like to spend a night in jail for underage drinking.

The Teen Maze is a partnership between the Crossroads Comprehensive Youth Development Center, the Clayton County Board of Health, the Clayton County Sheriff's Office and fire department, and several other sponsors. It is an interactive labyrinth which attempts to show students the consequences of their actions.

The maze is free, and open to the public, today from 9 a.m., to 3 p.m., and Saturday from 10 a.m., to 3 p.m., at the center, located at 737 Veterans Parkway, Suite 600 in Jonesboro.

Willie Simpson, pastor of Destiny International Foursquare Church in Jonesboro and executive director of the Crossroads Comprehensive Youth Development Center, said the Teen Maze is part of the development center's Abstinence Becomes Character program. It was started in 2008 with a two-year, $862,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Simpson said the maze physically shows young people how engaging in underage drinking, drugs, gang activity and premarital sex, can have an impact on their future health and finances.

"This is the first time we have done this program," Simpson said. "You can teach from a book, and you can retain a lot, but if you can interact with it, you will learn a lot more. This allows them to feel, touch and see what can happen," she added.

During the maze, students walk through 12 different stations, which illustrate various scenarios in which students face peer pressure, including "Peer Pressure Alley," an area filled with suggestive advertisements; an STD (sexually transmitted disease) Station, which features an "STD Roulette" wheel which students can spin to see what the untreated effects of certain STDs are; a Drug and Alcohol Station, showing how drug addiction can rapidly age people and destroy their organs; a drugstore, in which students can buy "contraception" in the form of candy; a Pregnancy Station in which students wear a pregnancy suit if their contraception is unsuccessful; a graduation station for people who make good choices; a jail and a car-wreck scenario for people who make bad choices; and a funeral home for people who make the worst choices.

The fate of the students depends on a combination of chance and the choices they make through a series of games. Board of Health Spokesperson Veronda Griffin said the maze mirrors many of the efforts made at its Adolescent Health and Youth Development Center in Forest Park.

"It basically gets them prepared for dealing with real life," Griffin said. "These are different situations that they may encounter when they are hanging out with their friends. They need to be aware of the so-called pitfalls in life. This helps give them all the information they need so they can make the best decision and not fall victim to peer pressure."

Simpson said she hopes the maze attracts parents and students who may have little to do during spring break. She believes the maze can be a good thinking exercise for children while they are out of school.

"The frontal lobe of the brain [which controls judgment] doesn't really mature until their mid-20s or early 30s, so when we see our teenagers doing irrational things, it is because that part of the brain is not developed," Simpson said. "The whole thing is to get them to think. If you know better, you will do better."

For more information about the Teen Maze, call (770) 756-9100.