the lost children of rockdale county
Discussion: Teens & Parents: What do you think went wrong for the teens of Rockdale County who were caught up in the strange events of the spring and summer of 1996?
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Dear FRONTLINE

When I first viewed this program in January of this year, I was utterly frightened and appalled...becuase I have a fourteen year old sister who is indeed sexually active.

The two of us were brought up by the same parents in the same neighborhood, with relatively the same talents, interests, and rules, however, we are complete polar opposites concerning morality, values, and self-worth. Some of my sister's actions have been ignored with the attitude of "It's just a phase..." but now I realize that ignoring the problem is the most harmful catalyst to this "phase."

We must pay especially close attention to our youth at these most impressionable years in life... As proven by my sister and myself, parents are not the only culprits to the crime of stealing one's youth...

Pre-teenagers are the most impressionable age group, and until they reach a point of social maturity, there is nothing wrong with a little extra shelter and positive attention from adult role models.

Elizabeth Pociask
Schaumburg, Illinois

Dear FRONTLINE

I was 12 when all of this stuff happened but just this past year I saw the video. I come from a pretty good part of town... I had no idea that stuff like this went on in areas like the one I live in.

We had a descussion about it in one of my classes and we even watched some of the video. It was kinda scary for some people because they do stuff like that.

It was a wakeup call for a lot of people. I think that we needed that. So I guess I just want to say thanks...

Breanna Stallworth,17
Marietta , GA

Dear FRONTLINE

As a future teacher, I think that the problems of Rockdale as well as across the country can't be summed up quite so easily. However, I do believe that parents play a big part in the problem instead of their kids lives. Far too many young people are having children without taking into consideration the enormous responsibility they have taken on.

As an educator, it is also a tremendous responsibility to equip these kids with the tools to make appropriate choices for themselves. I must agree with the educator who stated that we come from a generation that teaches our children they need no rules and that rules limit student creativity... we should teach them self discipline, responsibility, and respect...

Without communication, we leave our children powerless. I intend to do my part in the classroom; however, it does take a community to raise a child.

Pamela Bolton
Baton Rouge, LA

Dear FRONTLINE

I had the opportunity to watch the program in my English class and at my church youth group, and what I saw opened my eyes. It made me realize, that group sex, binge drinking etc. can also happen at my school.

I think that what is terribly missing is a relationship with God, and a closeness with the family. It shocked me to see girls smoking on their beds while giving interviews...

The parents are responsible to check up on their children and see if everything is okay. We live in a society where anything goes. However, that is not the way it is supposed to be...

Parents, I urge you to get to know your child. Have dinner with them. Give them a hug and let them know you love them. That is the least that they deserve.

Wheaton, Illinois

Dear FRONTLINE

I happened to stumble upon your program about lost kids of Rockdale County. It caught my attention immediatly because I have a little sister that age doing the same thing. My family is confused, and hurt because of her. Don't get me wrong we know how it happened, bad parenting. Unfortunately my little sister didn't get to live with my older sister, my mother my step-fathtermy little sister's dad, and me...

What I don't understand is when did this all start? I'm only 19. I did a lot of stuff when I was in high school, I lost my virginity, I drank. My friends did the same. But nothing like these kids. They are out of control. I knew of maybe one or two kids when I was in high school who acted like the kids in the program. But now they seem to be everywhere.

I wish I had a video camera to follow around my little sister and her friends. I would show it to her a couple of years later and hopefully at that point she would realize how stupid she is being. Hopefully the kids of Rockdale County will be able to look back at this and realize how ridiculous they are.

Anna Smith
Albuquerque, NM

Dear FRONTLINE

As I watched the documentary in my Sociology class, I was really shocked and very sad. Teen sex needs to be addressed, and addressed by the parents. I hope every adult who saw this can understand it can happen to their family if they do not take the time to be part of their childrens lives.

Why do you think these girls behaved that way? They wanted attention, they wanted someone to love them back. To feel it. Not with new sneakers, cd players and Sega. They wanted someone to notice...these children are our future, pretty scary when they are raised without guidance, love and morals. Take responsibility, because you parents who don't bother are accountable!

Manchester, New Hampshire

Dear FRONTLINE

Having read through the comment thread I find it interesting that most of the reactions focus on what might be called "cultural" factors that contributed to the crisis in Conyers Georgia: lack of parental supervision, involvement, and a lack of "cultural" alternatives for young people in the suburbs. Having grown up in a suburban environment I would not dispute any of these things.

However, there is an element that I would like to add to the discussion. It seemed to me that all of the adults interviewed in this documentary were relatively affluent. Since the 1970s affluence has increasingly come with a price: longer work hours, less time spent at home, etc. I might point out that this condition of "overwork" is also typical of the working poor. In other words, time spent at work away from home and family is a ubiquitous social phenomenon.

We have been conditioned to accept work weeks of 60 or even 70 hours as "normal". Is it any wonder then that parents lack the energy/time to put into the work of raising children and young adults? Is it any surprise that children raised in such an atmosphere would value "things" above relationships and perhaps even come to regard their bodies as a thing?

Stephen Healy
Amherst, MA

Dear FRONTLINE

Although the documentary was very disturbing, it was not shocking to me. I worked with young women through crisis pregnancy centers for almost 15 years and that experience brought me to the reality that parents are usually the last to know or admit that their children are involved in risky behavior.

Many times after the initial shock wore off when a parent found their daughter was pregnant, they talked themselves into believing this was an isolated situation, just as the parents of Conyers seemed to feel.

They went back to their same "non-parenting", giving their daughter the same freedom, maybe more if she decided to parent her child. In most cases the daughter was pregnant again within the next year...

Although the rampant teen sexual activity that is happening all across America may be in the news and on TV today, my question is, What can we do to change the almost "status quo" of minimal parenting? I do not believe parents want to be uninvolved, but they don't know how to start...

Carole Walters
Lexington, SC

Dear FRONTLINE

I graduated from high school 4 years ago in a suburban community just like Conyers. I faced the same pressures of drinking, drugs and sex just like all these kids did. However, I graduated high school not to mention college without having sex, taking a drink or doing one drug. Why? What's the difference? Am I that special?

Of course not. I can remember thinking to myself once when a beautiful girl wanted me to have sex with her, "Ok, this is where the rubber no pun intended meets the road. What do I do?"

Why did I make the decision that I did?

I believe it was two things--that were missing in those families in Conyers.

The first is a non-religious personal relationship with the one true God. By this, I mean, not a set of rules and not just a code to live by, but a way of living that is lead by the living Spirit of God. The key here is the word non-religious. What more is religion that a dead set of rules that keep people bound? Humans love to break laws! But a relationship with the Creator where He speaks and leads us is what kept me from doing those things. Not a law that said "don't do this," but a relationship with Jesus in which I said "I love you too much to do this." Of course, I will be ridiculed for saying that, but before you laugh or scowl- think again. I made it. I survived the environment that these kids didn't. If I didn't know Christ I would have been participating in all that stuff too. I'm not special, but that relationship sure is.

The second thing is family life. My family got up early every morning and we ate breakfast together. My parents both worked, but they made time for us. That was more important than money or success of which they had plenty. They cared and we knew it. I can remember thinking "I can't do this," when confronted with peer pressure, "it would kill my parents."

Anyway, thats my opinion for what its worth. Before you discount this, remember, I came from the exact same background with the exact same pressures and survived that environment.

Jamie Nunnally
Birmingham, AL

Dear FRONTLINE

Your documentary genuinely diplayed the true core of the dynamics that working families are encountering today. This program needs to be shown to all schools and policy makers so that a more comprehensive approach be

taken to save the American Family.

As a father of three teenage boys I truly identify with this program. Well Done!!

Carlos Morales
Orlando, FL

Dear FRONTLINE

What's my opinion of what went wrong? I have been convinced for a long time that the seeds of our present teenage crisis were sown many years ago. I shouldn't pretend that I was there, because I'm only 23 years old.

At any rate, I think our present problems can find their roots in the 60's, or even before. Many parents and teachers were being told that they had been taking the wrong approach towards their children and students. "Rules hinder a student's creativity; boundaries keep a childs real self from emerging; students should be able to make their own rules, children should not be punished" . . . and on and on.

Although I didn't live through these times, I have certailny read about them and studied them as an education major and present public school teacher. Even more importantly though, I grew up with teens whose parents had been influenced as adolecents or young adults by the ideas listed above. Their parents had been influenced by teachers and parents who informed them of this "no boundaries" garbage. Sure some of my friends were good artists and musicians, but at what cost?!

I am so grateful to my parents . . . who made me come home for supper; didn't spare the rod; made me earn what I was given; taught me about God my goodness, the "G" word!!!!; and most importantly, loved me with all their hearts.

Do teens dispise their parents when they administer the remedies I mentioned above? Of course. . . when the key ingredient is missing! Love!!

Thank you Frontline for your eye-opening program.

Ian Jackson
Toccoa, GA

Dear FRONTLINE

As a teenager who just graduated this past spring from one of the Rockdale County High Schools I was affected heavily by the program as I watched it and even now afterwards. I am a student in college and it disturbs me to hear the comments that other students are making who have seen the program.

My own face was shown on the screen during one of the parts of the program and numerous people have commented that they saw me on the program. Of course I joke with them and say that "I am a lost child of Rockdale County" but the joking can't cover up the hurt I feel about the program.

I feel that the program did one good thing in bringing out awareness of the problems that teenagers do have. I was aware that my peers were doing some things, but I was also very naive. I am lucky that I have the parents that I do. I look back and am glad that I was sheltered from some of the mess that some other teenagers get involved in.

My main concern though is that throughout the 90 minute program only a small percentage of the time covered the positives that my county can be proud of. I love Rockdale County and my high school and it hurt when just the other day one of my professors made a random comment about how bad we teenagers must be. The context was that it was because we had nothing to do. My friends and I always commented on this fault also, but I myself kept busy through 4-H, School, and Church and benefitted a lot from this. I know that a majority of my peers did this also.

In November I am going to National 4-H Congress as a delegate from Georgia. I have worked hard to get where I am and I just hope that this program will not affect anybody's perspective especially since we are discussing some of the same issues that were brought up on the program.

I do feel that some things about the program was good and I do not wish to criticize but I would like to suggest some form of follow up on the positive issues and the positive things that have come from the children of the county. I know that I could list numerous things. Please consider this, I think it would allow us "lost children" to gain a little more pride in something we once were very proud of.

Thanks

Kim Benfield
Milledgeville, GA

Dear FRONTLINE

To whom this may concern, I watched the interview last week with my sociology class about the few kids involved in this whole shall we say "proccess", and I must say that I was astonished at their behaviors. Now that I have seen that this can pretty much happen just about anywhere, it has made me wonder, if any of my friends are involved in something like this that I don't know about.

I am 17 years old, graduating from high school this year. Proud to say that I am a virgin, but astonished to hear that so many teenagers younger than me are not. What shocking news this must have been for their parents. Wow, Just to think that these children came from such great homes, and had so much, really shocked me, that they would think of sex as an everyday kind of thing.

My friends and I go out to clubs, and go to coffee shops to have fun on Fridays and Saterday nights, we would have never thought that so many people would be having massive orgies casually as if it has become such a social thing to do.

When I watched this show, it made me realize, and think twice about having sex. I know that this is not something to be proud of at all, but I have to thank PBS for opening my eyes about having sex, though you might not have saved the children of Rockdale County, you sure have saved me. Thank you

Montreal, Quebec

Dear FRONTLINE

I was 17 and attending Salem High School when this outbreak occurred. I have to first say and make clear...that Conyers is not the ONLY place where this has happened. I was also appalled at the way the "teenage hang-outs" are negatively publicized. There are parking lots all over america that are filled every Weekend with teenagers who lied to their parents about where they were. This DOES NOT only happen in Conyers.

I would also like to say that the parents should not be blamed. Children are crafty these days and have learned to tell good stories. It is really hard to tell that they are not being truthful.

The first time i heard about the "outbreak" I was a junior. We had just had a blood drive and there was rumors about the contmination of the blood. I think that teachers should impliment sex ed more into the curriculem. The schools should bring in afflicted individuals that will give graphic and sometimes replusive testimonies about thier disease, whether it be Syphilis or AIDS or any STD. I think education is the key. Teen agers really are not aware or at least FULLY aware of the consequences of thier actions, until it is too late. We as a society need to change this. Educate! Do not ignore our children!

Before I go, I must reiterate that Conyers is NOT a bad place to raise a family. These bad events are not centrilized in this area by any means. These tragic events can and do occur all over the US. They might not have been discovered yet, but they are there. I am quite insulted by the generalization made about these events. Being that i was 17 at the time and a member of the Rockdale teen age community. This entire article reflects poorly on us Rockdale citizens who were not involved.

Rockdale has yet again managed to make itself famous through tragic events! That is really sad.... please take this as a sign...and let's start the healing process.

Kimberly Peterson
conyersrockdale, ga

Dear FRONTLINE

I have been a nurse in New York City for almost 20 years and I too was shocked at the sadness and loss of hope on the faces of these children.

It is however too easy to blame the Parents , school , town . This problem exists because we as a society let it . We have continualy lowered the bar, from the way we dress to the absence of manners in our culture, Nothing is WRONG. No black or white ,just grey. To me what's frighting is that if it were'nt for the syphlis no one EVER would have known.

ny, ny

Dear FRONTLINE

I initially became aware of this program by one of my friends, who had happened over the piece earlier this week. i was again exposed to this sad story in my english class at college. This is truly a tragedy.

Young people growing up, and not knowing the difference between right and wrong. it truly was extremly distressing to see such wrong being done right under adults' noses. My only problem with this production is the almost blatant racial connotations. I believe that if this story had been in a predominantly black neighborhood, there would not have been such a stress on the presence of any white person. One of the counsellors in the video, actually said that white kids do not get syphyllis! this is proposterous.

It was therefore extremely disappointing when i saw the young black man being interviewed from his jail cell, while the young white kids were either in their posh living rooms, or next to their pools. It was clear by the same kids that they went about their own behavior because they felt that they were ALL invincible. In the discussion in my english class, after seeing the video, we discussed how very biased the clip was.

I do commend you for enlightening the nation on the fate of some of their future leaders, but i almost resent the way in which you addressed the race issue.

ria dyer
alpharetta, ga

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