Summit gives tips to keep kids safe

Parents talk about dangers such as the choking game

Posted: Tuesday, September 05, 2006

FAIRBANKS - Sharon Freeman described in detail for a group of a dozen or so parents and school officials the morning last March when she found her son, Andrew, dead in his closet.

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"Let me tell you, that's something you don't want to find," she said, fighting back tears. "You don't want to find your son or daughter dead. You need to talk to your kids."

Freeman was leading a discussion Aug. 29 at a safety summit held at Lathrop High School. She told parents about the choking game, in which the brain is cut off from oxygen to create a feeling of euphoria. There is danger of brain damage and death from taking part in this activity.

The choking game was just one of many topics discussed at the safety summit. The small group of parents who attended the summit were offered sessions on bullying prevention, Internet safety, inhalants and drug abuse, cold weather safety and cutting.

There were also booths set up with information from local organizations such as the Resource Center for Parents and Children, Fairbanks North Star Youth Commission, Hope Counseling Center and Parenting Anonymous. The district will be holding another safety summit Sept. 14 at North Pole Middle School.

The idea behind the safety summits was to give parents the knowledge and tools they need to keep their children safe, said Margie Kurzbard, the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District's director of the Safe Schools/Healthy Students program.

"There's a real sense that we're living in an unsafe world," Kurzbard said.

Freeman became emotional as she talked about her son, often referring to a picture of him in his North Pole Middle School wrestling uniform.

"I'm not angry," she said. "I just want parents to know. I don't want it to happen to someone else. I don't want to hear about another funeral."

Andrew was a straight-A student, Freeman said, and was successful on the wrestling team. She never even suspected her son was involved with the choking game, but with perfect hindsight, she said, there were signs. He had suspicious marks on his neck and she and her husband often heard Andrew fall down in his room, which can be a sign of a teenager passing out after choking themselves.

Other signs include blood-shot eyes, headaches, and ropes or belts lying around in odd places.

Freeman urged parents to know the signs and to talk to their kids about this dangerous activity before it's too late. If parents don't talk to their kids, she said, someone else mightsomeone, like another student at school, who doesn't have good information.

"Kids know about it, they are talking about it at the elementary schools," Freeman said.

Detective Peyton Merideth, a computer forensics expert with the Fairbanks Police Department, showed parents some of the dangers of the Internet. He showed the audience how just a little bit of information given out in a chat room could be used to find a wealth of information on the World Wide Web.

In one example, it took only 20 minutes for someone to find the full name, age, gender, names of other family members, home phone number, address and school, all from just a teenage girl's screen name in a chat room and a bit of cyber-sleuthing.

"They're not exaggerating how quickly you can do that with just a little bit of information," Merideth said.

Knowledge can be a powerful thing, that's exactly why the school district decided to hold the pair of safety summits this year, according to Maureen Kauleinamoku, the district's nursing coordinator.

"Talking to parents may save a child's life," she said.

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