Wes: This week we begin the annual Double Take essay contest to find the sixth author for the column. Again this year, the Family Therapy Institute Midwest and Central National Bank will offer a $1,100 scholarship for the co-author’s freshman year of college. The fund cannot be released for any other purpose. More valuable than the scholarship, however, is line-item on the author’s college application and résumé, especially for those interested in journalism.
This year’s qualifications for the Double Take author are as follows:
• A 2009-2010 senior or exceptional junior at a Douglas County high school. We’ve now had three students from Free State, one from Lawrence High School and one from Bishop Seabury Academy.
• Can commit to one year from August 2009 until summer 2010.
• Skilled writer for class projects or the school paper.
• Maturity and sensibility. It’s fine to make mistakes over 17 years of living. It even generates empathy for those who write letters. However, kids currently caught up in serious drinking, drugs, abusive relationships, etc., will have a hard time being credible and may be subject to public critique.
• Have opinions and be willing to share them but be open-minded to the problems of adolescence. Extreme views, be they liberal or conservative, do not fit well with this format or demographic.
• Able to work as a team over the Internet. Over the years, we’ve developed an online system for writing the column that works well.
• Able to get the job done. This can be a bit grueling at times, especially the second semester. You have to churn out one 350-word column a week by Thursday including revisions, about 50 weeks out of the year.
• Have 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 application guidelines have changed a bit this year:
• Submit a 400-word essay responding to the challenge question at the end of the column. Offer your best advice on how the letter-writer should deal with her problem. Good answers may not be obvious ones.
• Submit a list of at least 10 topics and preferably more that you would like to write on as an author of Double Take. Take your time here, because you’ll likely be assigned many of those topics.
• Ask a teacher or other knowledgeable adult to write us a brief e-mail of recommendation to Double Take e-mail address.
• Paste your essay into an e-mail and send it to email@example.com. We’ll paste this into a document without your name for blind review. Kelly and I will review each essay and invite the best of the group for an interview.
• The interview process this year will take two hours and will include an assignment.
• From this group, we’ll select a winner to be published in late May. Runners-up will be posted online. If the winner cannot complete his or her term, the first runner up will be selected and will receive the scholarship. Submission of the essay releases the Journal-World to publish it.
• Do your own work. Plagiarism will not be tolerated. The top entries will be searched on the Internet to make sure they are original.
• Deadline is May 5 — two weeks from the date of publication.
Kelly: When I was younger, I was an avid reader of the Dear Abby advice column. I don’t know if this foreshadowed my senior year as a teen advice columnist, or if I was just a nosey girl wanting to find out about other people’s problems. Reading the variety of Abby’s topics, I couldn’t even fathom being able to give advice.
Fast-forward a few years, and I was in Dear Abby’s shoes. When I saw the advertisement for the new writer, I immediately jumped on the opportunity. I was unsure how the public would receive me, but I was ready to take on Lawrence.
Writing a column is no walk in the park. It takes patience, dedication and competence. Deadlines have to be met, some of which keep you up late at night, scrambling to put together a valid answer. There’s a lot of the time when there will be no obvious or direct answer.
And that’s where research comes in. Yes, research. There will be times when you have no experience with the subject. This was the case for me on numerous topics. So I did my own research. This included talking with family and friends, gathering their point of views and trying to utilize those in a 350-word response.
An advice column is not all about giving your opinion. It’s about trying to help the public search for the solution. It isn’t always easy. When looking at a question, try to analyze both sides of the situation. Remember there are two sides to everything, and usually both are reasonably valid. It’s also necessary to write with caution. This column is open to the pubic, and they’ll be your biggest critics.
This opportunity has opened a lot of doors for me. It’s given me the ability to understand people and look at the world through a different pair of eyes. Seize this opportunity. Trust me, you won’t regret it.
The Challenge Question: I’m a 14-year-old girl, and I’ve just started into the world of hanging out with guys. I see a lot of boy drama with my friends. What advice would you give me on how to get with someone who isn’t going to cheat on me or treat me badly, and who really will be interested in more than my body.
Next Week: The problem of bullying.
— Dr. Wes Crenshaw is a board-certified family psychologist and director of the Family Therapy Institute Midwest. Kelly Kelin is a senior at Free State High School. Opinions and advice given here are not meant as a substitute for psychological evaluation or therapy services. Send your questions about adolescent issues (limited to 200 words) to firstname.lastname@example.org. All correspondence is strictly confidential.