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Conference focuses on building girls' self-esteem, leadership

My 4-year-old daughter loves the water and won't let a day go by during the summer months when she won't ask to go swimming. In her young mind, she thinks she can swim with the best; however, as loving parents, we know that even with her best efforts we would never allow her to swim unattended or unprotected without a clear understanding of the consequences and the ability to make wise choices in situations of life or death.

Yet as a society we throw our youth into a world saturated with sex and pornography with a pat on the head, a silent prayer and hope they will survive.

We've done a great job of setting up laws that protect youth from the dangers of drugs and alcohol. We put measures in place to ensure that our youth don't get behind the wheel of our cars to maneuver traffic on Interstates 85 or 285, yet when it comes to the issue of sex, we have become passive and have allowed a predator to emerge from our silence, fear and denial.

From cartoons, toy characters and fashion to music, television and other forms of media, unsolicited vulgarity, sexual innuendos and female exploitation continue to be thrown in the faces of children and families across our nation - unwelcomed, unsolicited and unwarranted. In many cases, kids are confronted and put in a position to make adult decisions before they are physically, financially, spiritually or emotionally mature.

We can no longer look the other way and pretend the issue is not real, nor can we sweep it under the rug. It's time we deal with the proverbial elephant in our living room by standing up and taking responsibility for the youth and young adults we are entrusted to guide and protect.

In the age of technology and information overload, youths think they know it all. As young adults, most of us thought we knew it all, too. But with age comes wisdom gained from bumped heads, bruised bottoms and broken hearts.

It's not just about giving youth more information and a false sense of security; it's about creating environments where youth can talk comfortably and ask questions without condemnation. We must create a place where they can learn the real physical, emotional, spiritual and financial consequences of premarital sex and be equipped with the tools to make wise decisions about their bodies and futures. In addition, parents need to be provided the tools to address the growing needs of today's generation.

For the second year, Diamond in the Rough and I Am BEAUTIFUL, two organizations that build self-esteem and leadership among youth, will be hosting the Girls of Greatness Abstinence and Teen Pregnancy Prevention Conference. The conference includes motivational speakers, workshops and panel discussions. In addition, there will be workshops for parents on effective communication, youth culture and the media.

The Girls of Greatness Conference will take place from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Feb. 17 at the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center in Lawrenceville. It is open to girls ages 10 to 18 and their parents or chaperones. Conference attendees must register in advance by visiting www.girlsofgreatness.com for registration forms.

Nicole Steele is executive director of Diamond in the Rough, a faith-based leadership program that provides group mentoring, life skills training and career coaching to girls ages 10 to 18. For more information, visit www.ditr.org or call 678-376-9676.

Need help or know someone who does? The Gwinnett Helpline directs callers to the appropriate nonprofit agency. Call 770-995-3339.