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Boot camp lends middle school survival tips

POSTED: August 9, 2007 5:03 a.m.
With the first day of school drawing near, parents of sixth graders starting at Snelson-Golden Middle School in August recently filled the campus media center for the third and final middle school boot camp survival-training workshop.
Intended to inform parents of the new challenges facing young people during the middle-school years, Snelson-Golden has hosted the event throughout the summer to teach parents how to deal with the issues as their children transition into the next level of their young lives.
While the previous two-hour seminars covered areas such as studying for a new curriculum and parent involvement, the last session focused on something more serious — Internet sexual predators.
“Kids are learning the Internet faster than their parents are,” Hinesville Police Department Det. Melvin Kesner told parents. “If you can’t check your child’s history on the computer, you’re already behind the curve. You’ve got to learn how to do that because you don’t know who your kid’s talking to on the Internet.”
Kesner, a child crimes specialist for the department, presented statistics detailing the high percentage of children receiving unwanted Internet sexual materials or requests, while sharing stories from his years of work in the field.
“Within the first five minutes the detective sitting to my left was chatting with a soldier in Iraq who was stationed at Fort Stewart,” the detective said, recounting one of his training classes with the Internet Crimes Against Children agency. “And within 10 minutes he had his penis out on a web cam revealing (himself) to this supposedly 13-year-old girl he was talking to.”
Kesner said parents learning more about the dangers lurking on the Internet and installing programs to block Web sites with adult content have proven to slightly decrease the percentage of children exposed to sexual predators online, but the most effective tool has been communication.
“The most important thing I can tell you tonight is talk to your kids. You need to talk to your kids about the Internet, especially these children starting the sixth-grade,” he said. “That’s the most important thing I can tell you tonight, please talk to your kids.”
Helen’s Haven director Terry Liles agreed and said open communication between parents and children also plays a key role when discussing the sexual issues that arise during the middle school years.
“I think you need to be the one giving them the information,” she said, noting the misinformation children normally give each other. “Your kids aren’t prepared and its important to talk to them not just about the physical part of sexuality, but the emotional part and the other risks that go along with it.”
According to the director, putting off “the talk” until students enter high school is increasingly putting parents at a disadvantage.
“The sexual activity rate of middle school students is phenomenally high,” she said. “Approximately one in five adolescents get engaged in sexual intercourse before their 15th birthday. If you’re not talking to them now, it’s too late then.”
Liles, whose organization works with sexually abused children, also reminded parents about the soaring rates of child sexual abuse and the importance of listening to children who believe they have become victims.
“The reality of it is that one in three girls and one in seven boys will become victims of sexual abuse by the time they’re 18,” she said. “But I can’t tell you how many times children are not believed when they do disclose and report abuse.”
As the session ended, Snelson-Golden academic coach Susan Avant described the final seminar, along with the two previous sessions hosted this summer, as a huge success. She said administrators are planning now for more workshops during the upcoming school year.
“We’ve had great support from parents all summer and it’s been beneficial for both us and them,” she said. “We will definitely have more of these types of events during the school year.”
 

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