03/15/10 — Program will address sex, teens and choices

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Program will address sex, teens and choices

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on March 15, 2010 1:46 PM

As teen director at the Boys & Girls Club on Royall Avenue, Willemina Williams sometimes finds out more than she wants to know -- like when she overheard one 8-year-old explaining to another about French kissing.

Or when she learned about a 12-year-old in the community who had given birth.

"What's that, middle school? Sixth grade?" she said. "It used to be high school. If these kids are seeing it in middle school, they're going to start thinking it's OK. ... If we don't start addressing it where it begins, we won't be able to turn it around."

The age group for getting sexually active is getting younger all the time, Ms. Williams said. Which means that education on the topic needs to start younger, even in elementary school.

"I want to reach that age group and give them as much information as we possibly can to help them make positive choices," she said. "I'm believing that if we start with the females, that we can start to make an impact -- start educating them while they're young and be committed to making a difference.

"At some point we may be able to slowly turn this thing around."

It's a challenge working with young people these days, Ms. Williams admits, but it can't simply be boiled down to "bad parenting" or peer pressure. Some of it is about creating an atmosphere of awareness, one that will foster self-esteem and confidence.

But make no mistake, she said, youths are exposed to much more than they used to be, and parents can't assume their children are immune.

"We hear all the time parents saying, 'My children don't do that,'" she said. "Today we don't know what our children won't do."

The Boys & Girl Clubs around the county make it their business to try to know, and respond accordingly. Many might think it's a glorified "baby-sitting service" for children after school, she said, but the efforts go far beyond that.

The activities and structured programs are designed to impact, inspire and engage youths to make right choices.

One of those programs is Smart Girls Supersession, which addresses some of the prevalent issues young girls face -- teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, lack of parenting and education.

Several have been held in the past, and Ms. Williams said they were well-received, prompting a request for her to resume the sessions.

"The girls in the program, they're more open about things like their sexuality. ... They seem to have increased their self-esteem," she said. "They don't feel like they have to be validated by their friends or a male. I see a lot of them coming into their own personality."

The introductory meeting is being held this afternoon. There will be 12 sessions in the program, with a variety of activities -- life skills workshops, mentoring and team-building, speakers and field trips.

Groups are divided by age -- 8-9-year-olds, 10-12 and 12 and up -- with eight to 12 in each group.

Ultimately, Ms. Williams said, she would like to expand it to benefit parents as well.

"I'm hoping to see come out of this a way to get parents, mothers, to come out here, get an opportunity to speak to the parents," she said. "We don't want to make them feel like they have a lack of parenting skills. But we would like to find a way to enhance the parenting skills, to raise a strong, productive, responsible person."

For more information on the Smart Girls Superses-sion, contact Ms. Williams or Jill Oaks, outreach coordinator, at 735-2358.