2010-02-18 / News

Free program will help parents keep kids safe

By Dara Chadwick

Lindsay Burke Lindsay Burke Even if you’ve never said it out loud, you’ve probably thought it: “That wouldn’t happen to my kid.”

It’s a common belief. But it’s also a dangerous one.

That’s why the Jamestown PTO, Jamestown Student Assistance, the Prevention Coalition and Jamestown schools have gathered together to offer “Keeping Kids Safe: A Parent Dinner Conversation” this Tuesday, Feb. 23, at 6:15 p.m. in the Lawn Avenue School cafeteria.

The free event will feature two local safety experts speaking about some of the toughest safety issues parents of tweens and teens face – keeping kids safe in romantic relationships and keeping kids safe in the online world.

Whether your child is already dating or just beginning to look twice at the opposite sex, relationship safety expert Ann Burke says it’s not too soon to begin thinking about how to teach kids – and yourself – to recognize the warning signs of an abusive relationship.

“The time to educate your child is before they’re in the situation,” she said. “Parents are usually the last to know.”

Burke knows first-hand the devastating effects that relationship violence can have on a family.

In 2005, her 23-year-old daughter, Lindsay, was murdered by her boyfriend after trying to leave the relationship.

“Lindsay and I were so close,” she said. “The warning signs I saw made me realize something was wrong, but I didn’t know what it was. I didn’t understand why my daughter was changing. I didn’t understand why she was acting in different ways.”

Today, Burke, a North Kingstown resident and health teacher in South Kingstown, presents workshops designed to educate parents and teachers on how to protect children from relationship violence. In 2007, the Lindsey Ann Burke Act became a Rhode Island law that requires school districts to create dating violence policies and to offer an age-appropriate dating violence curriculum in health classes for grades 7 through 12.

“Jamestown has done a fine job of stepping up to the plate,” Burke said. “But education works best when it’s reinforced by parents at home. Parents need to have a knowledge base.”

Burke’s presentation on Tuesday will offer strategies for parents, including how to recognize the warning signs that your child is in an abusive relationship, as well as the dynamics of abusive relationships and the effects of this behavior on the victim.

“There’s often a lot of shame, and a belief that parents won’t understand,” Burke said. “Kids don’t want to let their parents down.”

Dating violence is more pervasive than many parents might imagine, she said. According to Burke, approximately one in three teens experiences some sort of abuse in their romantic relationships and one in five teens experiences physical or sexual abuse in relationships.

For parents, Burke said, knowledge is power.

“Had the education been there, it would have helped my daughter,” she said. “I wish someone had done this for me.”

Above all, Burke said, it’s important that parents recognize that dating violence can happen to anyone.

“Don’t fall into the trap of thinking, ‘It’s not going to happen to my kid,’” she said.

The second presenter at Tuesday’s event, Dr. Lawrence Filippelli, shares the same sentiment when it comes to kids and online safety.

“Parents think it’s not going to be their kid,” he said. “But you can have a great kid who doesn’t drink, doesn’t party – even really great kids make bad decisions.”

Filippelli, assistant superintendent of schools in Scituate and former middle-school principal in the town, said his presentation changes approximately every six months, thanks to changing technologies. This time, he will focus on cyber-bullying and on “sexting” – a situation in which one party sends inappropriate pictures to another party, a practice that he calls a “growing problem.”

To teach parents about Internet safety, Filippelli will use videos and real-time examples to illustrate just how vulnerable kids can be online, he said.

“We’ll go to sites and I’ll show parents how easy it is to go online and pick off information,” he said.

Filippelli will also offer a tutorial of sorts for less tech-savvy parents.

Parents need to monitor and manage their children’s online activities, such as Facebook and MySpace, he said, but he realizes that the task is daunting to parents with limited tech skills.

“There are plenty of smart, intellectual parents out there who just aren’t tech savvy,” he said. “Their kids have it all over them. Your kid is a digital native and they are light years ahead of you.”

Filippelli said his presentation will help parents learn to manage tools such as privacy settings and make them aware of how kids can use technology in harmful ways.

“If you’re at a party and behaving inappropriately, someone can take a picture,” he said. “Think about a Polaroid. That’s one picture that can be destroyed. With digital media, it spreads like a virus through a school.”

Dinner will be served at Tuesday’s event, and all parents are welcome. To register, RSVP before Monday, Feb. 22, to Student Assistance Counselor Stephanie Nocon at rid24640@ride.ri.net or Robin Tregenza at jrjcmt@aol. com or by phone at 560-0269.

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