About 550 junior high and high school students had reason to squirm Wednesday. Booze, sex, fast cars and other forbidden fruits of the teenage world got a steely-eyed evaluation by reasonably cool people, attendees said, and some warnings seemed to sink in.
Risky business, complete with icky pictures and frank language, took center stage at the annual Friend to Friend Conference sponsored by Kaiser Permanente.
"They were really open about the dangers. It was good to get accurate information," said junior Yvette Gutierrez.
"It was understandable," said junior Briana Serano.
"They were talking, like, in our language," agreed senior Clarissa Cardenas. The three were from New Vision High in Stockton, talking after seeing a play called "Secrets," about the risks of being sexually active.
Questions from students after the presentation focused on HIV: Is it easy to catch? Can you get it even if you use different sexual positions?
Such delicate questions raised no eyebrows among the Secrets educational theater group.
"These are questions kids have all the time," actor Michael Wells said. The team consults doctors each year to be sure the information it passes along is current.
The actors keep up on the latest slang terminology, as well, said Wells, who answered a question about oral sex, adding without a trace of a blush, "You may have heard it called " and a list of terms that dropped jaws across the auditorium.
"Kids really do understand what's going on," he said, and the plain language helps keep it real. "It always surprises kids that it's not just a cheesy show. It catches kids off guard, but we keep it very relatable," Wells said.
Other presentations dealt just as frankly with other dangers.
A presentation on alcohol marketing and teen drinking made an impression on junior high students from the Tactical Character Academy run by the Stanislaus County Office of Education.
Several said they learned that drinking at a younger age brings greater risks. A.J. Barrera said he knew high school kids who played the drinking game "beer pong," then launched into a description of how drunks can die vomiting.
Other speakers covered the often shorter life spans of drug abusers and gang members, teen dating violence and, on a lighter note, staying fit with Zumba dance moves.
Doctors Medical Center trauma-services nurse Les-lie Antonis gave students a primer on the top three causes of death for teens: vehicle accidents, homicide and suicide. She said the goal is to connect the dots for impulsive young people between actions, such as texting or drinking, and consequences, such as wrecks.
"I want them to see the choices they make affect them today, tomorrow and the rest of their lives," she said.
For Empire district counselor Sandra Ortega-Ramos, the presentations and speakers such as Josh Shipp give good information at a good time for the seventh- and eighth-graders she accompanied to the event.
"It is motivational," Ortega-Ramos said. She picks student leaders to go, knowing they'll bring that information back to the clubs and teams they join. "We want them to spread the message," she said.