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Elizabeth Forward area summit addresses family, youth concerns

| Thursday, Oct. 3, 2013, 4:26 a.m.
Cindy Shegan Keeley | Daily News
Elizabeth Forward School District superintendent Bart Rocco talks to clergy and lay people from the district during a family and youth summit Wednesday at Mount Vernon Community Presbyterian Church.
Cindy Shegan Keeley | Daily News
District Magistrial Judge Beth Mills talks to clergy and lay people in the Elizabeth Forward School District during a family and youth summit Wednesday at Mount Vernon Community Presbyterian Church.

Public officials, clergy and lay people from the Elizabeth Forward area gathered on Wednesday to discuss issues facing families and children, and what can be done to ease those problems.

“Children today are a different breed,” Elizabeth Officer-in-Charge John Snelson said at Mount Vernon Community Presbyterian Church. “They have more money, more freedom, less fear and more access to technology then we ever had. Children don't have respect like they used to.”

He said there is not one particular reason for many of the changes, but said a lack of discipline may play a role.

“Parents are allowed to correct their children,” Snelson said. “You can paddle a child if it is warranted, but not with a club or a 2-by-4. Some parents think that unless you are giving them a hug you can't touch them.”

Magisterial District Judge Beth Mills said parents often are afraid to exercise their rights.

“Parents have the right to look at a child's phone any time they want,” she said. “Freedom of speech applies in the United States, but it may not apply at home. A cell phone, like driving, is a privilege.”

Elizabeth Forward School District Superintendent Bart Rocco said he agrees with the need for discipline.

“You have to discipline and correct children, but you have to give them a hug at the same time,” he said.

Navigating the potentially treacherous and still largely uncharted waters of social media is another concern for youth.

“A child who sends a naked picture is disseminating child porn,” Mills said. “They don't realize that when they go for a job interview, their name is put into a computer and everything comes up, including what they put on social media. Once it's there, it's always there.”

Rocco said children must be made aware of those pitfalls.

“Kids do stupid things on social media and our job is to teach media etiquette,” he said. “That's not always being done by the parents. So it becomes the responsibility of the schools. It's one more ball we have to juggle.”

Rocco said he has seen a decrease in serious drug and alcohol problems, but he knows they exist.

“There are problems out there because kids model what they see adults doing,” he said. “But I'm a believer in our kids, and there are so many children doing great things in the schools and community.”

Snelson said many problems stem from the family.

“The family model has changed,” he said. “Parents are younger. Parents may not be married. Maybe they didn't get along when they were dating and the child didn't help the situation.”

Roy Kelly, pastor of the Elizabeth Wesleyan Church, said a problem he sees is children controlling their parents, something Snelson confirmed. “Parents are afraid of their kids,” Snelson said. “We've had kids call Children, Youth and Families on their parents. I don't know what changed or when it changed, but something definitely changed. There are some really good parents out there, but there are some who don't want to be bothered.

“Communities have changed, families have changed and kids have changed and I don't see it getting any better in the near future.”

Mill said youths who are involved in an organized activity generally do not get in trouble.

“If a child is involved in one activity, I will probably never see them,” she said. “For those involved with churches, the more kids you reach, the fewer I will see.”

The Rev. Walt Pietschmann of Bethesda Presbyterian Church in Elizabeth questioned what youth can do if they are not involved in sports.

“What can we do to create a safe place for kids?” he asked.

Snelson said creating activities for kids can be done, “but once you get them there and they show interest, then it gets hard because you have to figure out what to do to keep them coming.”

The Rev. Dr. William K. Little of the host church said the key to reaching youth is to go where they are.

“Barb Mima is doing that with Young Life,” Little said. “She is out in the community and she is meeting kids where they are.”

Little said there are 2,400 students in Elizabeth Forward schools.

“How many of them are in church? Ten percent? There are not 240 kids in churches in Elizabeth Forward,” he said. “We are not scratching where families itch and I don't know what the answer is.”

In an attempt to find the answer, those at the summit agreed to cover Elizabeth Forward communities in prayer every day for the next three months.

“There will be someone praying every day at the four boundaries of the school district,” Little said. “We will meet again in January and see what God is leading us to do.”

He said he hopes clergy who did not attend the gathering will get on board to help families and youth in the community.

Carol Waterloo Frazier is an editor for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1916, or