Coned heads

August 11, 1993

Every generation delivers new trappings and challenges for youth. Today's kids are asked to be more independent than were their parents (though probably less so than their immigrant great-grandparents). Television and technology make them more worldly wise. They're creatures of pop culture to a degree unknown to their ancestors. And, the odds are that they will have to make their way in a less stable world than their parents found.

Yet for all that's different about childhood through the ages, kids will be kids. They will always crave attention and recognition.

Ellicott City's Janet Brown understands this. Thanks to her, yogurt shop owner John Picciano and the Howard County Police Sergeants Association, 150 children will get a token of acknowledgment -- a coupon for free frozen yogurt -- when police see them wearing their bike helmets.

Mrs. Brown herself overcame a severe head injury that she received in a bicycling accident years ago while not wearing a helmet. She recently approached Mr. Picciano about donating the desserts to encourage children to wear helmets.

He graciously agreed, the sergeants association printed the coupons and the giveaway began last week.

An ice cream treat, a pizza, a trip -- such modest rewards constitute big goals for children. Pizza Hut, for instance, has had immense success with its "Book It" program, awarding small pizzas to elementary and middle schoolers who read a set number of books. Baltimore's National Aquarium also awards coupons to young readers.

The Howard County government won a pat on the back three years ago when it passed what was then the most extensive bike helmet law in the country. The law requires that everyone under 16 wear a helmet while cycling on county roads or other property.

Police have issued 50 warnings in the three years, but haven't had to issue any citations. "When we first started, most kids thought [the helmets] were ugly. But it seems to me that the kids are beginning to feel they're the 'in' thing," says county police Sgt. Bo Haslup, who heads a youth drug education unit.

Just as education and enforcement efforts on a statewide level have helped make Maryland a national leader in seat-belt compliance among adult motorists, efforts like the yogurt coupons will help encourage another life-saving habit among young riders.

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