SMOKING, alcohol, drugs and sexually-transmitted diseases are all potential pitfalls for modern teenagers – and without the proper guidance, it’s obvious their chances of growing up healthy and successful are hampered.
But an enterprising website developer from Sheffield is hoping to put young people on the right track with an innovative website filled with videos containing positive messages about keeping fit, living healthily and making the right decisions.
The resource – called Thinking Teenagers – is the work of Jack Vennard, a former Royal Marine and pharmaceutical salesman who wanted to help ‘nip problems in the bud’ among youngsters, ploughing more than £20,000 into the project.
His venture was revealed in The Star in January, but he now wants more internet users to discover the information on offer in his site.
“This is not for teenagers with problems,” he said.
“Some teenagers might have a really good life but not really be doing much exercise, or might have just started on the sexual relationship side of life. In a sense, kids could use this as a reminder. We get taught these things in school maybe once, so it’s always good to hear them again.
“There are always ways to better yourself and make better decisions.”
The videos on Thinking Teenagers are split into six categories – Healthy Living, Sexual Awareness, Staying Safe, State of Mind, Getting on in Life and Being a Decent Person.
Jack has personally created 42 short films, ranging from lighter topics, such as advice on a balanced diet, to harder-hitting fare, including an interview with mum Vicky Unwin, who lost her daughter after she took ketamine at a party.
“That’s quite a sad one,” he said.
“A lot of nice teenagers take these drugs because they’re party drugs, but as Vicky says, you don’t really know what you’re putting into your mouth, even if a friend has given it to you.
“That situation can happen to anyone. I think that’s one of the best videos.”
Jack came up with the idea for the site after watching news bulletins, and realising that many typical stories could be used educationally if presented in a slightly different way.
“That’s really where it sprang from,” he said.
“I began to look at what was available and if there was room for something aimed at teenagers. I tried to look at what was relevant to all youngsters, and what kind of information they need to make good decisions for themselves.
“The obvious ones sprang to mind first – drugs, alcohol, smoking and sexual health – but I’ve looked at other things, like a video about the Duke of Edinburgh award. There might be teenagers who aren’t doing anything like that at all, it might encourage them to join a sports club or something like that.
“Then there’s a video about being proactive, I spoke to a young guy who has set up his own business and tried to relate his story to teenagers – how they need to take the first steps if they want things to happen.”
Jack, aged 31, from Ecclesall, grew up in Chapeltown and joined the Marines at 19.
“When I was at school I wasn’t really interested in being there, I was being a bit of a ‘jack the lad’,” he said.
“I decided to join up for the Marines one day when I saw a presentation at college. I went home and told my mum I was joining the forces – she wasn’t happy at all!
“I learned a lot about myself as a Marine, about my abilities, drive and determination and what I was capable of achieving.”
After leaving the Armed Forces in 2003, Jack studied for a degree in business management at Gloucester University, then spent a year-and-a-half working for healthcare firm Johnson and Johnson.
“It was a good job but I felt like I had more to offer. I decided to take the risk and launch my own venture,” he added.
Just over two years ago, before leaving the firm, Jack bought some professional video equipment and started work on the website.
“I picked up the phone to the NHS and different charities and just started networking. It was a lengthy process, though. “I first invested about £6,000 into the site, then got a further £6,000 from some market research I did. I took out a £10,000 loan which went into the business, and had to work four nights a week in a restaurant, so I’ve given up a lot of time and finances to do this. It’s been a big project, really.”
Jack said he hoped parents would sit down with their children and watch the videos together, adding: “Teenagers will probably be aware of things going on in their lives that their parents may or may not know about.
“For example, talking about sexual health is an important conversation that parents don’t have too often with their children.
“The more times we hear these important messages from different people the more likely we are to act positively on them.
“It’s just like giving your teenager a good book of life to look at and be inspired by.
“The message I want to stress is that there’s something for every teenager here.
“It’s about preventing problems from ever arising and encouraging more positive living.”
Visit www.thinkingteenagers.tv to see Jack’s website.