Talk about leaving a legacy! Lucy Martin-Gianino has moderated NYC-Parents in Action’s Teen Scene since its inception in 1986. As the Teen Scene moderator, Lucy oversees a teen panel offering parents a chance to hear high schoolers speak candidly about the academic, social, substance abuse and mental health issues they face growing up in the New York City independent schools. Lucy, an actress and trained facilitator, joined NYC-Parents in Action four decades ago with a desire to support PIA’s commitment to serve parents of the New York City independent schools.
Teen Scene has certainly stood the test of time. From its original audience of 30 parents, the event has grown to a sold-out favorite with 500+ attendees. (Last year, NYC-PIA offered a virtual variation of Teen Scene, QuaranTEEN Scene 2020, viewed by nearly 1000 unique visitors.)
After 35 years, there’s not much Lucy hasn’t heard! To celebrate 35 YEARS of Teen Scene, for the latest Q&A Corner: “Ask The Expert,” we chatted with Lucy, fondly dubbed a “Lifer for Parents in Action.”
Q: How did Teen Scene come to be?
A: An incident occurred almost four decades ago. A young woman, a senior attending one of the girls’ schools with an Ivy-League-bright future, was leaving a bar with friends at 3 a.m. on the Upper East Side and was killed by a hit-and-run driver. It sent shockwaves through the entire independent school community. She was head of her school’s student government, considered to be a “good girl,” so people wondered, how could this happen? At the time, the teens felt neglected because no one spoke directly to them about the incident, and they wanted to have a say, to explain they weren’t bad kids, alcoholics or “ladies of the night.” Teen Scene was PIA’s answer to give these teens a voice and a way to speak out on behalf of their peers.
Q: How do you think that your professional and personal background prepared you for the role of Teen Scene moderator?
A: It’s likely a combination of being an actress, previous training to be a moderator, learning how to ask questions to make people feel engaged, (having three children of my own and now grandchildren), and being a PIA board member – all of which give me a sense of what’s out there. Kids are smart, if they know you’re interested in them, they’re going to share because they want to be heard. They want to tell it like it is!
Q: Do you have an example of when a teen tells it like it is?
A: We were talking about universal bathrooms being installed in schools and what that means, and one student just quipped, “You know, it just doesn’t matter [what the bathroom is called] because when you gotta go, you gotta go!”
Q: What do you remember about moderating the first Teen Scene?
The questions were definitely more cautious back then…. 35 years ago I probably wouldn’t have used the word b***j**. Now we talk about things like hooking up and slut shaming. Years ago, the big topic was the AIDS pandemic (yes, another pandemic) and protection, but the conversations were less specific. Sexual freedom is more widely spoken about now.
Q: Why do you think these panelists open up to you, knowing parents are listening to them?
A: We search for articulate teens who have an ear to the ground and know what’s going on. I tell them to tell the truth because that’s what the parents are here for—to hear the truth. They are usually tentative at first, but then they start to open up. When the panelists get laughs, it’s clear the audience is friendly to them and wants to hear what they have to say.
We tell the teens in advance that Teen Scene is not an expose, not a place where they have to confess every little dirty deed, but instead, it’s a service to the parents of our independent school community. We have procedures to protect them, like only saying their first name and grade, but not the name of their school because parents can be really competitive. We want parents to hear the music, the message of the teen’s words, not get bogged down in who goes to what school. They also receive ten hours of community service, which they should receive because it takes a lot of courage to step on stage scriptless in front of that particular audience.
Q: Are there emotional moments that stand out, in your memory? Shocking moments?
A: After 9/11, the teens spoke about their love of their country, our city and life, and how we should all move forward from here. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room. Another emotional moment was this past year, when we did a virtual version of Teen Scene, QuaranTEEN Scene 2020. One panelist said, “It’s been great getting to know my grandparents and learn what wonderful people they are,” and that touched me… and is making me cry right now.
Years back during the Monica Lewinsky incident, the teens talked about b***j*** and whether it’s considered having sex. One parent said, “There’s all this talk about b***j***, but what are you guys doing to satisfy the girls?” That had people talking the next day!
Q: Do you feel like the panelists have changed over the years? If so, how?
A: Years ago, I remember a boy saying he had to sneak out a window at night to go and party. Now kids aren’t sneaking like that. Were the rules stricter then? The parents know that there’s going to be sneaking around, so there’s less sneaking around. There are also more tragedies like suicides amongst our young people now. Maybe it’s just that people didn’t talk about it back then. Everything seemed gentler or more hidden 35 years ago. People openly talk about their social habits now and there’s more acceptance of sexual preference. That didn’t used to be talked about at all. Overall, there is more conversation between parent and child, so less is hidden, yet sadness still occurs.
The teens want to make their own decisions, and in a funny way they’re like mini adults, talking and acting with a maturity that wasn’t as evident when we first started Teen Scene.
Q: If you were to advise a future moderator on how best to elicit responses from the teens, what would you say?
A: You’ve got to do your homework to prepare.
Q: What do you think the teens have taught you over the years?
A: I’m in awe of their ability to speak out. The kids want so desperately to shine for their parents. One teen once said, “I want to say to my dad, who was valedictorian in his Ivy League class, ‘Hey Dad, I really respect you and love you, but I’m just not going to be you.’” These teenagers throughout the years really, really, really, want to succeed, please and make their parents proud.
The teens know that they are privileged whether they’re on scholarship or not, and no matter their background, ethnicity, gender or skin color, they want to make a difference in their world. That is something we parents should all deeply appreciate and applaud.