Sisters Niki and Kristina Westfall watched with dismay the recent media coverage of the Lake Oswego teenager who faked her abduction from a park and went to Seattle with friends.
They were relieved when the teen turned out to be fine, but shocked at the reaction of most of the adults interviewed about the incident.
“They said, ‘What do you expect, she’s a teenager,’” Niki, 15, said. Those reactions, and recent experience with what they call teenage discrimination, motivated Niki and Kristina, 17, to take action.
Last week, they wrote a “statement,” gathered fellow teenagers together to sign it and went around Hood River getting permission at businesses and retailers to hang the statement in windows and on bulletin boards for the public to see.
“We as teenagers of Hood River County have noticed that recent levels of discrimination have increased,” the statement reads. “We are making this statement to clarify that we do our part in our community to help others and improve our self worth.” It goes on to list some of the school and community activities that those signing it participate in, including Teen Court, canned food drives and Community Work Day.
“Having read this statement I hope you understand that not all teenagers get drunk every weekend, always look for trouble, etc. So next time you see a group of teenagers, or even one teenager, please don’t think ‘They’re up to no good,’ because we could be on our way to clean up your local park.”
Niki and Kristina said they hope to raise awareness among adults that most teenagers are good kids — not the other way around, which is how they often feel adults think of them.
“We feel misunderstood,” Niki said.
“Especially if you have different colored hair or piercings,” Kristina added, “people automatically think you’re bad.” To prove a point, Kristina dyed pink stripes into her blond hair last week. She said people’s reaction to her ranged from dirty looks to avoidance.
Kristina, who will be a senior at Hood River Valley High School this fall, is involved in many school and community activities, including Teen Court and Positive Youth Ambassadors. She and another sister, Amber, have also started a non-profit clothing rental business, One Night Stand, where teens can rent formal wear for dances and other occasions for a nominal fee.
Niki, who attends school in California but spends summers and vacations in Hood River, is on her school’s cheerleading squad and volunteers at the local police station and at an elementary school.
“We can work 24 hours a day, seven days a week trying to help our communities, but a lot of adults wouldn’t see it,” Niki said. As for the hoax the Lake Oswego teen pulled, Niki said it was a bad decision.
“But there are a lot of adults who do worse things and they don’t get discriminated against like that,” she said. Niki said she and her friends aren’t trying to say they’re perfect. They make mistakes just like everyone else.
“To be a good teenager just means you have to have a passion to do something good,” Niki said. The point she and her friends want to make is that the majority of teens have that passion, and they want adults to recognize that.
“Teenagers are going to be the leaders of tomorrow,” Kristina said. “Adults should show us the respect we deserve.”