With the Steubenville teen rape case that made national headlines fresh on their minds, a few dozen local parents Wednesday learned strategies to help their own children develop healthy relationships and make smart choices.
Katie Koestner, founder of Campus Outreach Services, visited The Linsly School - first working with students during the day and then talking with parents in the evening. Koestner started the national conversation on date rape in the 1990s after speaking out about being sexually assaulted in her dorm room at the College of William and Mary. Instead of following her original plan to become an engineer, Koestner subsequently decided to turn her experience into something positive that she could use to help people across the nation.
On Wednesday, Koestner led an interactive presentation, asking audience members to think about boys' and girls' gender roles and to list positive and negative terms used to describe them. She pointed out that adolescents are constantly working to answer the question "Who am I?" and said the stereotypes they see in movies, video games and during other "screen time" play a big role in their conclusions.
Koestner told the parents that the more objectified their children feel, the less human they become. She encouraged parents to think outside of the boxes they had drawn at her request to represent males and females and to teach their children to focus more on character and morals than on appearance. She suggested children be raised to be concerned that they are kind and thoughtful rather than attractive and popular.
"If you want to build stronger, more-confident kids, the box is not the way to go," Koestner told them.
Participants also heard about the role drugs and alcohol can play in young people's decisions. Koestner said 90 percent of sexual assaults involve drug or alcohol use by at least one of the parties involved. She also said males typically drink to fit the mold of a tough guy who can handle his alcohol, while females may drink in an effort to create an excuse to behave in a more aggressive or sexual manner than usual. She said both patterns can be problematic and urged parents to talk with their children about alcohol use and its potential consequences, including non-consensual sex, sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy.
Rather than scare tactics, though, Koestner urged parents to tailor their message to their children's interests. For example, while a high school athlete may not be impressed with the message that they could kill someone by drinking and driving, the idea that alcohol could affect their athletic performance could have a lot of impact.
Linsly spokeswoman Stacey Creely said Koestner's visit came after Koestner reached out to Head of School Chad Barnett regarding participation in her new programs, THINKDrink and THINKLuv.
A total of 25 independent schools and 25 colleges nationwide will form a consortium of institutions utilizing the program. THINKDrink/THINKLuv provides two 30-minute interactive modules that allow students to enter personal information and then make choices that lead them through what becomes a personalized experience with 720 different possible outcomes.
Students at Linsly will begin using the programs in the fall, and Linsly may even become a hub for the consortium and eventually host a national conference.