Though kids often rely on the experience of adults to navigate life's challenges, the best advice often comes from others their age.
For 33 years, that knowledge has kept the ever-changing performances of the youth troupe MWAH! -- Messages Which Are Hopeful -- relevant and hard-hitting as it addresses such coming-of-age topics as bullying, suicide, racial stereotyping, substance abuse and abusive relationships.
The young performers touched on these subjects Monday at Robert Frost Junior High in Schaumburg through skits, songs and deliberately awkward moments made to look like unscripted outbursts from the audience and themselves.
After the performance, a 14-year-old boy and a 13-year-old girl talked with a reporter about how much the message resonated for them and their classmates due to the problems they encounter in their home and school lives.
They said the tragedy of young people taking their own lives as a result of temporary problems was the topic that probably stung them and their classmates the most.
In one example of an adult voice helping underscore the message, Jennifer Higgins of downstate Geneseo joined the presentation to speak of the anguish caused by the pointlessness of her son Joshua Wilson's suicide after sixth grade.
"I'm here as a mom who lost her son to say ask for help when you need it," she said. "It's a sign of strength to ask for help when you need it."
And because Robert Frost Principal Scott Ross had reported an increasing amount of hateful language among students aimed at Jews and Muslims, the MWAH! troupe invited Cantorial Leader Ilana Axel of Beth Tikvah Congregation in Hoffman Estates to speak.
She spoke of how she needs to keep bomb-threat protocols on her desk these days, and how such potential violence follows from the language students may be merely using carelessly at first.
"The only way we can fight this hate and stop all these things from happening is to get to know each other," Axel said.
The 90-minute presentation ended with a fun and energetic dance number.