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Talk to your children, even if you think they're OK

November 16, 2005|by BOB MAGINNIS

Elsewhere on this page is a letter from Michael Ruck, father of a young Hagerstown woman charged with abandoning her newborn baby.

As The Herald-Mail said in a Sept. 29 editorial, it would be irresponsible at this point, in advance of a trial, to speculate on Kelly Ruck's guilt or innocence.

But as someone who served for six years on the board of Parent-Child Center, a United Way agency that works to prevent child abuse, I have to believe such situations can be prevented, if we can get the word out about the services that are available.

The first, designed for young women who have given birth but are unable to care for their children, there is Maryland's Safe Haven law.

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Passed in 2002, the law allows the mother to turn over a child up to three days old - without penalty - to any hospital or responsible adult, such as a member of the clergy, a physician or a police officer.

For those women who want to keep their babies, there is a Parent-Child Center program called "Right From The Start."

This program matches young mothers with volunteers who help them learn about nutrition and the need to nurture children by holding them, talking to them and even reading books to them.

For parents concerned that their female children might get pregnant, the center also offers "Teen Voices, Teen Choices."

In this program, teens who have given birth speak to school assemblies and other gatherings about their personal experiences. A few years ago, I heard a presentation at my service club from a young woman who later married the father of her child.

The child was healthy but hyperactive. After the young mother described all she went through in a day's time, she began to cry as she talked, saying that her life was over.

We assured her that was not the case, that there were services available, including parenting classes, to get her through this difficult period.

(Other local agencies, including the Family Center, also provide help, but I am more familiar with Parent-Child Center programs.)

The mystery is how to get the word out to young people that there is help available. And the greater difficulty may be how to get young people to believe what they're told and that they're not alone.

And yet I have interviewed young mothers who had sex-education classes, who were aware of what birth control was, but didn't seem to connect what they'd been told to their own lives.

They didn't think it would happen to them and when it does sometimes they feel utterly alone and believe that they have to deal with the problem by themselves.

In my young days, I was such a person, believing that the jams I'd gotten into were mine alone to solve and that no one, particularly my parents, would be sympathetic or helpful.

Remembering that, I told my two sons, now grown, that if they ever found themselves in no shape to drive home from whatever party they were attending, they should call us.

Our promise was that we would pick them up, no questions asked, rather than risk a fatal car wreck.

I hope my boys always knew that although we were not the kind of parents who would say "my child, right or wrong," we were not going to abandon them after one wrong choice.

My experiences, both as a parent and a young person, taught me that it's difficult to imagine all the things a child can get into, even a child who is raised properly and well-loved.

When my oldest son was going through a hard-headed phase at age 17, I called my mother and apologized for ever being 17. What goes around, comes around, they say, and my youthful transgressions were echoed by some of my son's actions.

So yes, the community needs to do a better job of publicizing the services that are available.

But no matter what you believe about how responsible and well-behaved your child is, it is not as waste of time to talk about sex and drugs and the peers who encourage bad behavior by saying, "Go ahead, I'm right behind you."

They usually are - laughing at the gullible kid who took their stupid suggestion.

Even if you believe your child would never do something seriously wrong, talk to him or her anyway. Young people sometimes believe they are invulnerable and In such a state of mind, they can make mistakes that will change their lives forever.

Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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