Seminar focuses on kids' safety

Parents urged to be aware of online habits, interests of children

March 04, 2007|By Arin Gencer | Arin Gencer,Sun Reporter

As one speaker after another stood before the parents gathered at Francis Scott Key High School, a theme quickly emerged.

"Parents, you are the ones that kids need to be talking to constantly," said Angela Chmar, a licensed social worker from the Carroll County Youth Service Bureau, as she discussed signs of teen depression. "If you don't ask questions, they may not tell you."

Or, as Cpl. Worthington Washington of the county sheriff's office said in an Internet safety talk that showed how 20 minutes and an online profile can yield a wealth of information for predators: "You have to watch your children. ... You have to be one step ahead of them because they're one step ahead of you."

That advice became a refrain of sorts at a parent seminar on student health and safety at Francis Scott Key last week. The northwest regional meeting was held for elementary, middle and high school parents.

It covered issues that included community, school, Internet safety, teen sexualityand substance abuse.

It provided parents with an overview of major issues students could face, ways to combat them and offered resources.

"The parents are doing their job as parents, and it's our job to basically make the parents aware of what's happening in the community," said Anna Bible, the district's safe and drug-free schools coordinator, who organized Wednesday's seminar and a session last fall at Winters Mill High School.

The issues discussed in the pilot program are important to all age levels, Bible said.

A police officer, social worker, school administrator and nurse practitioner shared the same pieces of advice: Talk to your children. Learn their lingo. Get into their world.

That kind of parenting, the speakers suggested, could help prevent criminal activity, Internet harassment, drug abuse or risky sexual behavior.

While illegal drug use is a concern, youth are also experimenting with over-the-counter substances, such as cough syrup, for "an inexpensive way to trip or alter conscious," said John Bosley, clinical director at Junction Inc., which specializes in drug treatment and preventing substance abuse.

Bosley and Bible described how teens use the cough medicine for one of its ingredients, a suppressant called dextromethorphan.

Last summer, the New England Journal of Medicine also highlighted "bagging" - or inhaling mothball fumes - as another teen practice.

Risky sexual behavior is another area that parents should be aware of.

Cindy Marucci-Bosley, manager of the women's health program at the county health department, detailed the large gap between the average age for puberty - about 12 - and the average marriage age of about 25.

"They have sex in their faces 24 hours a day, seven days a week," Marucci-Bosley said.

Parents must step in and fill the void, she said, setting clear boundaries.

"You are the primary sexuality educators of your children," Marucci-Bosley said. "You are responsible for telling them what to do."

She emphasized that such conversations should be organic, not the awkward "sex talk" but little snippets from birth that later extend to things they observe and hear in the media.

"You need to stop and say to your kids, `Did you just hear that? What did you think about that? Let me tell you what I think,' " Marucci-Bosley said.

Although Roger and Jodi Keller said they weren't "rookies" and regularly kept track of their 14-year-old son, they still wanted to get a sense of what he should expect when he starts high school next year.

"If you can't be aware of what's going on ... you're not going to be up on things," Roger Keller said, adding that he found the seminar interesting.

Keller and other parents said they were disappointed to see so few parents - 15 or so - at the seminar.

"It was in our community - there was no reason" not to attend, said Michelle Legnaioli, who has a freshman at Francis Scott Key and a fifth-grader.

Legnaioli said she was struck by the amount of information one can get from an online profile and search engines: a student's name, address and perhaps even a sense of the time they are home, according to Washington's presentation.

"It's actually kind of scary," Legnaioli said.

Bible said she would consider changes to the program over the summer. She would like to work with parent-teacher groups to reach more people.

"If we help one parent to help one child, that's what's important," Bible said.

arin.gencer@baltsun.com

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