Sunday, April 28, 2013

Keeping teens safe and healthy by Michelle Libby

Tuesday a panel of experts was assembled because they know what’s going on with teens in the community better than anyone else. DARE officer Matt Cyr, who had been doing community policing in the town for 18 years, School Resource Officer Jeff Smith, Liz Blackwell-Moore from the Opportunity Alliance Communities Promoting Health Coalition, Douglas Daigle RSU 14 clinical social worker, assistant principal Kelly Deveaux and Windham Middle School health teacher Eliza Adams, spend most days watching what happens with students in the schools of RSU 14.

Cyr said that this year the presentation would be led by Blackwell-Moore and instead of talking about where they are hiding the drugs, they would focus on what parents can do to combat the issue of drinking and drugs in the community.

“It takes a lot of people to make (prevention) happen. Not just school or just parents,” said Blackwell-Moore.

Media messages, cultural messages, adult messages and stars that have influence over teens send the idea that drinking, drugs and having sex are okay. “It’s an expected thing,” said Blackwell-Moore.
In 2011, 30 percent of Windham High School students reported drinking in the last 30 days. That’s 8 students in a class of 25. Almost half of middle school students and 70 percent of high school students said it would be easy to get alcohol. Most get it from their own homes, said Cyr.

Students pour alcohol into a soda bottle and bring it to school concealing it that way, said Deveaux.
The statistics are staggering. Teens who abuse drugs and alcohol are much more likely to be victims of crime, to have addictions later in life and have lower IQs.

Marijuana use has just crossed the point where students in Maine think it’s bad to smoke cigarettes and okay to smoke marijuana. In 2011, half of WHS believed there was no harm in smoking marijuana regularly compared with one-third of students who thought the same thing in 2009, according to the surveys taken in those years.

“Statistically, they’re going to get offered drugs some time in their lives, by friends, kids, cousins,” said Cyr.

“I’m told, ‘It’s not a drug. It’s medicine,’” said Deveaux. “If it’s good for someone who is sick, imagine what it can do for someone who’s healthy,” someone else told the assistant principal.
At the middle school one child asked Adams, “Doesn’t that cure cancer?”

“Marijuana is the most difficult thing I have to deal with as a DARE officer,” said Cyr. He no longer mentions it to fifth-graders unless they bring the topic up. The other issue with today’s marijuana is that it is 500 percent more potent now than it was 30 years ago.

“The perception of risk is directly related to use,” said Blackwell-Moore. Many students with mental health issues are using the drug to self-medicate for anxiety and depression.

“We can’t know which kid is susceptible (to addiction). You can’t really see it until it happens,” said Blackwell-Moore.       

Marijuana users are more likely to have suicidal thoughts, double the risk of depression later in life and have an increase chance of having schizophrenia, according to studies.

Another problem is prescription drugs that are taken without a prescription, most obtained from homes. Eighteen percent of WHS students said they have taken medication without a prescription.

“Our job tonight is to arm parents first, before the kids get here. If they’re already here – we’re already behind,” Deveaux said.

“We’ve done a tremendous job with cigarettes. Kids are really onboard with that,” said Adams. Now getting students to focus on other substances is next.

“It isn’t everybody,” said Cyr. “Seventy-five percent of kids don’t (use).” When a teen says, “everyone is doing it” it’s not true, he said.

Brain development was another topic discussed. Reasoning and judgment centers in the brain are not developed until 25 and even then some of the wiring can be faulty when put in heightened social or emotional situations.

“Develop thrill seeking in a safe way,” said Adams. “It’s best for kids who were engaged over break, not the ones sitting home gaming.”

Windham High School has a tip line (892-1810 x555) to report risky behavior or to squash a party before it even happens. The line is anonymous. The key word is prevent, said Blackwell-Moore.
“We’ve been very successful at stopping parties,” said Smith.

“In trouble is a lot better than hurt or dead,” said Cyr. 

Blackwell-Moore gave parents six tips.

1.Talk to your teen. They can use parents as scapegoats. “Man, my dad would kill me if I…”

2.Limit access. Keep track of alcohol and lock up or dispose of medications.

3.Have clear consistent rules. Have consequences.

4.Check in often. Electronic devices are a wealth of information. Have them plug in downstairs or by their parents’ bed at night.

5.Talk to the parents of your teen’s friends. Keep communication wide open. Back each other up. Check out

6.Be up and be ready when they come home.

“The best thing you can do as a parent is team up. You’ve got to have these conversations,” said Cyr.

“The best place to have a conversation with a teen is in a car where they can’t jump out,” said Deveaux.

Despite the offer of prizes, only 18 people attended the workshop.

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