- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 7, 2003

Thirteen-year-old Elise Peterson wants to know why teenage boys don’t talk to her. Though the McLean girl tries to dress in the latest Britney Spears style, she has no luck. “Guys have nothing to say to you, because you dress sexy. The trick is to dress the way you want to be treated,” says author Haley Morgan, president of the teen think tank Hungry Planet.

“If teen girls dress sexy, guys will overlook their emotions, intellect and ambitions,” Miss Morgan explained at a recent youth conference on teen relationships in Washington.

Miss Morgan and fellow 20-something Justin Lookadoo — who frequently answer these questions online at www.hungryplanet.biz — founded their teen think tank last year to explore creative ways to reach the minds of young people. And now they travel around the country advising teens about relationships. They are currently promoting their latest book, “Dateable: Are You? Are They?” — a rules book for teen dating.

Miss Morgan believes that her group’s work is important because the problems teens face often are rooted in relationships.

“Ninety percent of the problems teenagers have with depression, suicide, anger, bullying and bad grades boil down to relationships,” she says.

Hungry Planet gives teens a forum to discuss their problems or get advice.

“Dr. Phil is fantastic, but teens need a cool Dr. Phil — somebody that can give them honest truths about their bodies, their relationships and their future that isn’t their parents,” says Miss Morgan, referring to TV therapist Phil C. McGraw.

“Our goal it not to change teens, but to give them options,” says Mr. Lookadoo, a former corrections officer who is vice president of Nashville, Tenn.-based Hungry Planet.

To keep up with trends, Miss Morgan and Mr. Lookadoo spend a lot of time doing research and studying teens.

“I watch them, study them and live with them,”Mr. Lookadoo says. “Plus I read ‘Cosmo Girl’ and ‘YM’ — everything teen girls read. Guys don’t read, so I watch what they watch.”

“Dateable,” the duo’s recent No.1 best seller on the Christian Booksellers Association List, tries to take old-fashioned, biblical principles on dating and make them hip.

“The book is for the ‘ADD generation,’” says Mr. Lookadoo, referring to attention-deficit disorder. He has spoken nationwide to more than 350,000 students at public schools and leadership camps.

ADD-generation teens were born while Ronald Reagan was president and are the first generation, according to Teen Research Unlimited, to surf the Web more than they watch television.

Some adults view teens today as stupid, lazy or needing pills, says Miss Morgan. To the contrary, today’s teens “are too quick, too intelligent and too energetic.”

“They can do five things at once. [Adults] are boring them,” she says.

To keep teenagers’ attention, “Dateable” is written in short, direct sentences with abbreviations such as “bf” for boyfriend, “gf” girlfriend and “EZ” for easy. The book engages teen readers with quizzes to test their “dateable” skills and graphs or doodles on every page for the teen who does not have time to read every word.

Regularly, the duo receives e-mails from teens responding positively to the new glossy packaging of old-fashioned principles, and saying how obvious the principles are and that “Dateable” is changing their lives.

Mr. Lookadoo was surprised to receive an e-mail from a girl who had assumed it was OK to “fool around” with a boyfriend. After reading “Dateable,” she wrote, she ended that relationship.

“Dateable” starts with the premise that teen dating relationships are doomed to end and advises teens not to invest all their time in these relationships. In its first few pages, it tells teens that “51 percent of teen marriages end up in divorce by the time they reach 24.”

The book then guides teens on how to deal with relationships by suggesting the setting of sexual and emotional boundaries, and directing effort to education, self-improvement and friendships.

According to Miss Morgan, the book helps counteract the current trend of “friends with benefits,” where platonic friends engage in no-strings-attached sex. The book also instructs girls who dress like pop stars to value their bodies and suggests a more-modest dress code.

Miss Morgan explains that the root of the problem is that teens are mesmerized by the media. Teens, she says, have fallen for marketing lies such as “If I have sex, he will like me better” and “Oral sex is not really sex.”

“The media is the most powerful force for teens and is making them into sexual, empty machines — they have given them no depth, no future, just the present,” says Miss Morgan.

Mr. Lookadoo says that because Hollywood’s latest trend is homosexual-themed shows such as “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” homosexuality is currently a fashionable idea among teens.

Hungry Planet is currently searching for two teen girls and two teen boys who will go through a year’s mentorship program to develop media skills and help change teen culture. The selected teens will travel the country to talk to teens and have opportunities to write articles and books.

“I have about seven years to go until I can no longer effectively speak to teens,” Mr. Lookadoo says. “We are looking for teens to pick up where we leave off.”

Applicants don’t have to be smart, cute, good or popular, says Miss Morgan.

“They have to have that ‘It’ factor, which draws other kids to them,” she explains. “A lot of times we look for the troublemakers who control all the kids in the classroom, because they have got leadership skills.”

There are busy times ahead for Hungry Planet. Following up on the new book’s success, five new books are in the pipeline for 2004, including catchy titles such as “The Dirt on Dating,” “The Dirt on Breaking Up” and “The Dirt on Sex.”

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