It’s 10 p.m. … Do You Know What Your Teens Are Up To?
Young people’s concerns prompt a look at JCC Teen Center’s public dances.Editor’s Note: This staff report contains no actual names because teens and parents asked for anonymity. The intent is not to stop Teen Center parties or activities, nor to fault the Jewish Community Center. Our goal is to make parents aware and to keep teens safe.
“A drunk girl stumbles into me on the dance floor, slurring a confused apology before careening her way to the other side of the room. Two minutes later, I watch three security guards escort her out of the building. Taking a break from dancing, I go to get myself a glass of water.
“After having my behind pinched by anonymous males on two separate occasions, I find a seat on the outskirts of the dance floor. The guy on my right reeks so strongly of marijuana I myself begin to feel lightheaded, and the almost-horizontal couple to my left seem to have forgotten they are occupying a public space. Guess where I am, reader. A club? A bar? A music festival? Wrong, wrong and wrong again. I cordially welcome you to a Saturday night dance at your local West Bloomfield JCC’s Teen Center.”
(not her real name), a local teen
Teenagers and dance parties are a natural combination, so it is no surprise that hundreds of teens flock to the dances held several times a year at the Wagner Teen Center, adjacent to the Jewish Community Center in West Bloomfield.
What is unexpected is the presence of teens who appear to be high on drugs or alcohol, or who overdo public displays of affection.
The Jewish News learned about the unexpected teen behavior at these dances from Joel (not his real name), a local teen who has attended these dances and expressed his concerns in an email to JN editors. He echoed Rachel’s observations about teens that seemed to be drunk or high, and said he smelled marijuana when he used the restroom. He also was disturbed by how many non-Jewish teens were at a dance he attended in the winter, estimating that the number of non-Jews was almost double the number of Jewish attendees. He said he observed several cars in the parking lot with crucifixes hanging from rearview mirrors.
Rachel guessed the number of non-Jewish teens comprised about 25 percent of the total number of attendees the night she was there.
These teens — and perhaps some of their parents — were expecting attendees at the dance to be Jewish and likely were not aware the JCC does not restrict most of its events according to religion.
According to Tal Siegmann, director of the JCC’s Teen and Youth Department, the JCC policy is that non-Jews cannot be excluded from membership or participation in its various classes and programs, including preschool and day camp. He added that there is no viable way to determine how many teens at the dances are Jewish.
Siegmann says the periodic dances held during the academic school year were instituted to give teens a safe, supervised environment and a place to gather to meet each other. They also provide another use for the JCC’s well-appointed teen center, which opened in 2009.
(These dances are not to be confused with the various youth groups and organizations that hold private events there for their members. The teen center also can be rented for private parties.)
Siegmann said the staff is aware of past problems at public teen center dances and has numerous security measures in place to prevent problems such as those described by Rachel or Joel.
In addition to private security personnel and a parking lot patrol provided by the West Bloomfield Police Department, parent volunteers and JCC staff members serve as chaperones. Siegmann said there are usually 12-15 adults at each dance, which is an increase from past years.
“We are trying to be proactive,” Siegmann said. “The adults are constantly roaming, and anyone who is acting inappropriately is escorted out. Some kids have driven away after seeing the police cars in the parking lot.”
Marla (not her real name), the parent of three local teens, has trepidations about allowing her kids to attend teen center dances. She remembers an evening last winter when a dance fell on the same night as a program at the Berman Center for the Performing Arts. She attempted to redirect some teens that had left the dance and wandered into the main lobby of the JCC.
“They were quite rude, and they appeared to be high or drunk,” she said. “If I did allow my kids to go to one of these dances, I would tell them they were going to be drug-tested when they got home.”
Other parents did not share this point of view.
“I trust my kids to make good decisions, and I would not forbid them from going to a party at the JCC just because some other teens might not fall into the same category,” said a mother of two teenagers. “I know it’s a safe, supervised environment.”
Another parent whose son has attended several dances in the past two years said she was not aware of any problems.
“My son mentioned there were some kids at one dance who were causing trouble, but they were removed by security,” she said. “Other than that, I’ve never heard anything bad. When he goes, he comes back happy. I feel very safe and comfortable letting him go.”
According to Lt. Tim Diamond of the West Bloomfield Police Department, there have been two reported incidents at teen center dances in the past six months. Police were asked to assist with crowd control at a dance in November 2011, and police were called when an intoxicated 15-year-old girl was taken to a nearby hospital during a dance on Feb. 25, 2012. Siegmann said JCC policy is first to call the parents of any teen involved in a questionable incident, unless the situation requires emergency intervention.
“We have a great working relationship with the JCC; their staff is excellent,” said West Bloomfield Police Chief Michael Patton. “We provide extra patrol in the parking lot and sometimes inside the teen center during these dances, but we do that at any large event at the high school-age level.”
Adults stationed at the entrance have been trained to perform visual inspections, in addition to checking purses or pockets if necessary. No outside liquids, including water bottles, are allowed inside. They are supposed to check identification, although Rachel did not remember being asked to present any form of ID at the door. There is no alcohol allowed inside the teen center during a dance, but Rachel said many teens drink alcohol or use drugs before they arrive, known by teens as “pre-gaming.”
“If anyone looks, acts or smells drunk, they are not allowed in,” said Siegmann, adding that [as an extra precaution to prevent teens from imbibing in their cars or outside,] teens are not allowed to re-enter the teen center once they have left. The dances begin at 9:30 and end at 11:30 p.m.
“It’s our experience that nothing good happens after midnight,” Siegmann said.
Also, the outer doors close at 10 p.m., or earlier if the crowd has reached a maximum capacity of 500. Access to the rest of the JCC and the rooms adjacent to the main area of the teen center is blocked.
“As a parent, I would be very comfortable sending my kids to one of these dances,” said Siegmann. “It’s a great place to hang out and have fun in a Jewish environment.”
Siegmann said that attendance at the dances has increased, despite a recent raise in the entrance fee from $5 to $10. The teen dances are on hiatus for the summer and will resume in October, after the High Holidays.
“To me, it seems we’re doing something right,” he said.
Keep Dances, Be Aware
Rachel agrees there are many positive aspects to the dances in spite of the problems.
“ … everyone there seems to be having fun, dancing, meeting new friends,” she wrote. “For a lot of the underclassmen, these parties are big social events, so almost all of them go … Kids in high school like to dance and get ready for parties together and have something to do on Saturday nights … I don’t mean that every kid at the party is drunk or high, because a lot of the kids really just want to go dance and hang out with friends.”
Perhaps the questionable teen activities should act as a clarion call to parents.
A mother of two teenagers urged parents to pay more attention to where their kids are going before a dance or any other event.
“If the dance starts at nine o’clock and your son leaves the house at seven, ask where he is going and with whom,” she said. “If a group of kids is gathering at someone’s house, find out whether a parent will be there. And make sure they know never to get into a car with any driver, teen or adult, who has been drinking or using drugs.”