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State Police program teaches parent awareness techniques at Winfield High

By Ali Schmitz, Staff Writer
JUSTIN ROGERS | Putnam Review
Sam Holdren and Marsha Postle look at a variety of items during the Hidden in Plain Sight presentation at Winfield High School.
JUSTIN ROGERS | Putnam Review Jeff Carr, Rob Foy, and Rick Lightner check out the diplay set up at the Hidden in Plain Sight presentation at Winfield High School.
JUSTIN ROGERS | Putnam Review Diane Lumadue and Jamie Sprigle look through the set-up of household items that could hold a clue to a teen’s behavior. The display was part of the Hidden in Plain Sight presentation at Winfield High School last week.

Hidden in Plain Sight, a program from the West Virginia State Police Crimes Against Children Unit, made a stop at Winfield

High School Thursday.

The program allowed parents to go through a simulation of a teenager’s bedroom, and find signs of risky behaviors such as drug and alcohol use, sexting and eating disorders.

Parents dug through drawers, tossing aside stuffed animals, dirty clothing and more to find drug paraphernalia, condoms, and secret cell phones. While parents could find many of the items, some were hidden well.

After parents looked through the items, Ginger Haring, a forensic specialist for the WVSP and organizer of the event, showed parents where items were hidden and provided advice for parents on monitoring their children’s behavior.

This is the second stop the tour has ever made. They tested it out at multiple conferences before bringing it into schools throughout the state.

Haring, who works primarily in digital cases involving child pornography, said most parents don’t realize what their children are involved in. She encourages parents to “snoop” and maintain constant communication with their kids, especially with electronic devices.

“If you snoop and you know what to look for and you know where to look, I think you’re more likely to keep your child safe,” Haring said. “Ultimately that’s what it’s all about -- keeping your child safe.”

Haring said there are small things parents wouldn’t notice -- for instance, cans of whipped cream. Haring found out about people huffing whipped cream after her husband, who works in the restaurant industry, told her to lock up cans of whipped cream when their children were teenagers, after a coworker told him about it.

She said another unexpected problem sign is salt, which some teenagers are using for the “salt and ice challenge,” a new Internet trend that encourages children to burn their skin on dares.

“I think that a lot of parents don’t want to think that their kids would do a thing like that, but, at the same time, this gives them a

place to start to understand,” Haring said.

Haring said one of the biggest risks for children is online predators who encourage children to share illicit photos by grooming them, using words like “I love you.” In her job, she’s witnessed children as young as 7 being involved in online sexting.

“The predators are out there, and they are more than happy to take our kids,” Haring said.

She encourages parents to get passwords to all social media profiles their children use, read through text messages and to check to see which apps their kids are using. She said one sign of problem behaviors are if kids have two versions of identical apps, like flashlights or calculators. Some copycat apps are being used to store images.

Jack Luikart, a retired deputy with the Putnam County Sheriff’s Department, said Putnam County parents clearly care about their children, but sometimes forget they can be involved in dangerous activities.

“Our ignorance kills us,” Luikart said.

He’s witnessed parents hand their children cash, not asking them how they’ll use it. They’ll later find out they’re using it to buy drugs.

“Pay attention, and talk to your kids,” Luikart said.

Sam Holdren, a parent from Winfield who attended the event, said he has three teenagers. While he trusts his kids, he said he wants to make sure they don’t get pressured into doing something illegal.

He picked up multiple items at the event, examining a stick of deodorant for nearly two minutes, trying to figure out if something was stashed inside.

“Everything you look at and pick up, now it’s a new hiding place,” Holdren said. “If it hadn’t been here, I would have just seen it in the house and not thought about it.”

Reach Ali Schmitz at ali.schmitz@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-4843 or follow @SchmitzMedia on Twitter.


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