Published Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Bracelet Fad Among Middle-Schoolers Said Linked to Sex

New York Times Regional Newspapers

OCALA -- Raymond Andrews had no idea that the bracelets his sixth-grade daughter purchased this summer were related to sex.

However, after speaking to other parents, he learned this new fad among middle school students was something he didn't want his kids involved with. His daughter promised to do away with the bracelets, but not before asking some pretty uncomfortable questions.

"That gets me concerned," said Andrews, whose children attend Belleview Middle School. "If they need to ban these jelly bracelets, they need to ban them."

A new trend, which has some parents and school officials concerned and may very well shock others, has surfaced in Marion County. The newest twist on Truth or Dare, the game involves wearing colored rubber bracelets, which have various meanings, some sexual.

Students break the bracelets off one another and then are supposedly entitled to specific acts, some as innocent as a hug, others sexually explicit.

The trend, which seems to exist strictly among middle school students, is a bigger problem on some campuses than others. One school banned the bracelets last month after discovering their meaning.

Plastic bracelets became the rage among teens in the 1980s with pop stars such as Madonna sporting them on their arms and ankles. In recent years, the fashion has made a comeback among young people.

Students say the bracelets, and their hidden meanings, became popular during the last school year. Inside classrooms and hallways, students -- boys and girls -- would grab at each other's bracelets, hoping to snap one off.

Though there is talk of Web sites providing codes, the various meanings behind the bracelets apparently are devised by students and have no consistency. However, some of the meanings may come as a surprise to parents. One e-mail from a teacher concerning the sixth-grade code stated that a red bracelet stands for a "lap dance" while a blue one symbolized oral sex.

"Last year, it was like a big thing for some kids," said Melissa Radley, a sixth-grader at Fort McCoy School, who no longer wears the bracelets. "I just like the fashion stuff. I said, `I'm not doing that. It's stupid.' "

The inexpensive bracelets are a top-seller at Claire's, said an employee at the Paddock Mall store, which began carrying the item this spring.

Reports of the bracelets causing controversy have surfaced in Central Florida as well as South Florida.

Officials as well as students say the bracelets are mainly a childish game, where the related acts are seldom, or ever, carried out.

But sex, researchers say, is on the minds of more and more middle school students. A recent study shows that one out of five have had sexual intercourse by age 15. One out of seven get pregnant by the same age.

Steven Ray Haberlin writes for the Star-Banner in Ocala