Lutherville children's clothing store Wee Chic Boutique will team up with Baltimore Child Abuse Center this month to host "Tweens and Technology," a three-part speaker series at the shop, educating parents and "tweens," or early-age teenagers, on ways to improve online safety.
Wee Chic owner Bridget Quinn Stickline has been working on the project for almost a year and said that she was inspired to start the series after customers expressed concerns about the increased prevalence of technology and the Internet in their children's lives.
But after the recent stabbing death of 13-year-old Virgina teen Nicole Lovell, who first connected with the suspect in her murder on smartphone messaging app Kik, Stickline said the series is all the more necessary.
"I think it's an issue that has to be brought into the light and be discussed. As a parent, it's an uncomfortable topic, particularly when you're dealing with children who are 8 or 9 years old. But they are getting savvier," said Stickline, whose store serves children ages 7 to 14.
"It's a tricky time because I think children are trying to gain their independence, but at the same time, their privacy can be very dangerous to them," she said.
The first part of the series will be held exclusively for parents on Feb. 26 at 6 p.m. Baltimore Child Abuse Center staff will educate adults on the possible dangers children face when using the Internet on gaming systems, social networks and mobile devices, and how to communicate best with their children about these topics.
A teens-only session will follow on Saturday, Feb. 27 at 1 p.m., aiming to equip teenagers with the tools to identify and protect themselves from potential threats. A joint session with both parents and children is scheduled for Friday, March 4 at 6 p.m.
With the last meeting, Stickline said her hope is to bridge the lessons for both adults and children and open up a dialogue so each family can "go forward as a team" to create a safe online environment.
"If you hide things from your parents, you are in more danger than a child who is upfront with their parents," Stickline said. "And if you're a parent who thinks that they can police and stay ahead of kids all the time — that's not always possible."
Adam Rosenberg, the executive director of Baltimore Child Abuse Center, emphasized the importance of knowing how to use social media platforms.
"We wouldn't send our kid to the playground or mall without checking it out first. Just like now, with the online world, it's a digital playground that we're also required to monitor. It's a bigger playground to get in trouble in, and there are more people coming to the playground that can cause trouble," Rosenberg said. "Facebook and Kik and Twitter and Instagram are not the enemy. They're just the tool of the bad guy. It's our job to manage it."
Tickets can be purchased for $20 for all three sessions or $10 for session two or three individually. All proceeds will go to the Baltimore Child Abuse Center.
For more information, visit the Wee Chic Boutique website.