Dr. Wes: All good things must come to an end. So it is with Marissa and Double Take. Fortunately we still have five months to draw upon her wisdom before she retires to a leisurely life of the mind at Pittsburg State University. To replace her, we are going running a scholarly version of "American Idol." Today we offer an essay contest and get Marissa's reflections on what it takes to grab her job.
Marissa: The fact that my time with this column is coming to an end is bittersweet. On the one hand, I will miss it terribly. On the other, I couldn't be more thrilled to be able to shed some of the responsibility that goes along with the territory.
Writing for a newspaper at a young age is a wonderful opportunity. When I started last August, I knew that people would read it, but I had no idea the kind of effect it would have.
Being able to let loose in a public forum is both stressful and liberating at the same time. Knowing that my opinion will be read by thousands of Journal-World subscribers each Tuesday morning is a unique feeling. I've had people who I don't even know come up to me and say, "You're that girl who does that thing for the paper, aren't you?" And while it can be a little startling, it makes me feel important in a new way.
If there is any wisdom that I can pass on from my year of writing for Double Take, it would be that it requires a ton of patience, time management and self-discipline. It's a whole-hearted commitment. Not only do you have to put a lot of thought into it, but once you have, you have to be willing to stand up for what you said and support it.
There were times when I wanted to throw my hands up in the air and be done with it, but that was never an option. I have been dumbfounded, confused and a victim of severe writer's block. But I know that when I look back on the experience, I will feel a great sense of pride. It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I couldn't be more grateful for it.
Dr. Wes: Applicants for Marissa's job must be a 2006-'07 senior or exceptional junior at Free State or Lawrence High School who is a skilled writer and can commit to one year from August 2006 until summer 2007.
The candidate must exhibit maturity and sensibility. It's fine to have made mistakes through 17 years of living. It even generates empathy among those who write in. But kids still caught up in serious drinking, drugs, abusive relationships, etc., won't be credible with our audience.
You must have opinions and be willing to share them, while at the same time being open-minded to the problems of adolescence. Extreme views, be they liberal or conservative, do not fit well in this format or demographic.
The new writer should be able to work in a team environment. Marissa critiques me, and I critique her. She always puts those smiley things afterward, so I assume she is trying to blunt the blow to my published-author's ego. However, I take her input very seriously. We don't have to agree, but we do have to work well together.
The candidate must be able to get the job done. This can be a bit grueling at times, churning out a 350-word column per week. We try to work ahead, but sometimes we are right on Friday's deadline for the following Tuesday.
Altruism is a necessity. Sorry, there's no pay for this job. We do it because it's an important forum for teens and parents. However, it tends to look pretty darn good on a college application - spectacular if you're going into journalism or a similar major.
One more requirement: agreeable parents. The folks must agree to allow their child to write the column. This is a high-profile and occasionally controversial job. Parents should review previous columns if they have any qualms.
The challenge question
Interested in taking Marissa's place on the Double Take team? Try your hand at this question:
My boyfriend and I have been together for almost a year. He and I are really close - closer than any of my friends are with me. Through the past couple of months, he's started not being so nice to me. He'll call me names and recently shoved me in an argument. My friends say that I should get out, but I don't think it's really that serious. This is the first guy I've ever slept with, and I take that seriously, so I don't want to throw the relationship away.
Application guidelines: Submit a 400-word essay responding to the challenge question. Offer your best advice on how the writer should deal with her problem. Consider both sides of the issue, not just what seems obvious.
Paste your essay into an e-mail and send it to email@example.com or mail it to 2601 W. Sixth St., Suite C, Lawrence 66049, attn: Wes Crenshaw. Dr. Crenshaw will paste it into a document without your name. Journal-World arts editor Mindie Paget, Marissa and Crenshaw then will select the top five entries without knowing who wrote them.
The top five will be matched to their e-mails and contacted for an interview at Crenshaw's office. We will select a winner and a runner-up and publish both essays in a future column. If the winner cannot complete his or her term, the runner-up will be selected. Submission of the essay releases the Journal-World to publish it.
Do your own work; the top entries will be searched on the Internet to be sure they are original.
Next week: A young teen wonders what to do when her friend is starting to cut herself.
- Dr. Wes Crenshaw is a board-certified family psychologist and director of the Family Therapy Institute Midwest. Marissa Ballard is a Lawrence High School senior. Opinions and advice given here are not meant as a substitute for psychological evaluation or therapy services. Send your questions about adolescent issues to firstname.lastname@example.org. All correspondence is strictly confidential.