HiTOPS to offer workshops in Cranbury

By: Casha Caponegro
   Talking to children about sexuality and peer pressure can be difficult.
   But one way for parents to approach these touchy subjects is to educate themselves on what their children will encounter when they reach high school.
   To provide a forum for parents to converse with high school students, the Cranbury Parent Teacher Organization and the school guidance department are sponsoring HiTOPS, which stands for the Princeton-based Health interested Teens’ Own Program on Sexuality.
   The nonprofit organization is made up of local high school students who openly and honestly discuss the pressures and experiences they have encountered in high school.
   "Their mission is to promote adolescent health and well-being by providing teen-counseled workshops ," said Cranbury School guidance counselor Joann Charwin.
   The HiTOPS program will consist of a parent workshop in the school cafeteria at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday. A similar workshop will be presented to eighth-grade students Thursday morning.
   "They will focus on postponing sexual involvement," said Ms. Charwin. "Their goals include helping students to identify the risks associated with sexual involvement, discussing the pressures that influence young people’s sexual behavior and learning how to use refusal skills that say no to sexual pressure."
   Both workshops will begin with skits by HiTOPS members that depict different situations and scenarios students might encounter in high school.
   HiTOPS members also will lead small discussion groups to discuss teen sexuality and present refusal skills through demonstrations and role-playing.
   Ms. Charwin said these discussion groups often provide a communication bridge for parents to use with their children.
   "Parents have a chance to ask the high school students questions about their own experiences," said Ms. Charwin. "The students are always very open and honest with the parents."
   This is the third year the HiTOPS program has been presented at the Cranbury School. Ms. Charwin said it has received rave reviews from parents in the past.
   "Parents have really enjoyed participating in this program," said Ms. Charwin. "They said it was good to hear about what’s really happening in high school."
   Ms. Charwin said she encourages parents of children in grades five and up to attend the workshop so they will be able to maintain open lines of communication when their children become teens.
   "Parents might get some insight on how to bring up this subject with their children and how to have an ongoing discussion with them," said Ms. Charwin.
   For additional information about the HiTOPS program, contact Ms. Charwin at (609) 395-1700.