A special presentation for adults only, Wednesday night at Park Rapids Area High School, invited parents to try to identify 150 danger signs hidden in plain sight in a simulated teenager’s bedroom.
In a 100-minute presentation that followed, PRAHS coordinator of educational services Shelli Walsh and Hubbard in Prevention grant coordinator Angie Graham told an audience of seven participants what it could mean for their kids.
Potential clues to high-risk behavior were hidden in items as seemingly innocent as a Coke can, a jar of lip balm, a Pringles can, a magic marker, a trumpet mouthpiece, an inhaler, a bar of soap, a tennis ball, a flash drive or even an apple. Uses of these objects ranged from improvised drug smoking pipes to secret stashes and vaping devices.
Clothing could contain hidden storage compartments. The drawstrings on hoodies could be a delivery system for e-juice. That lip balm could really be marijuana wax. Those Gummi Bears could contain alcohol or THC, the psychoactive component of marijuana.
Walsh stressed that many of these alternate methods of getting intoxicated, or remaining so, could be harmful to kids’ developing brains – all while delivering dangerously high doses of their drug of choice.
Also featured in the slideshow were signs of eating disorders, suicidal thoughts, cutting behavior, methods of absorbing alcohol or other intoxicants that can have serious medical consequences, and social media apps that can expose young people to harm or that allow them to “jailbreak” their devices from parental control.
Not all kids are addicts, Walsh said, and the presence of some of the featured items in a teen’s bedroom does not necessarily raise a concern. But she urged parents to look out for clusters of these clues.
Other topics included the rapid growth of the opioid epidemic since the early 2000s, the dangers of online dares like the Tide Pod challenge, abuse of over-the-counter medicines like cough syrup, and mental health issues like depression and anxiety.
Among the slides was a quote from the mother of one of a student who committed a mass shooting at his school. She said, “When we search our children’s room or read their journals, we risk that they will feel betrayed. However, they may be hiding problems they cannot manage themselves.”
Walsh’s tips for parents included modeling healthy behavior, establishing boundaries and clear expectations, spending time together as a family and enforcing no-screen time.
Walsh credited the Hazelton Betty Ford Foundation for providing the idea for the “Open the Door” bedroom presentation, challenging parents to investigate their children’s lives.
Quote an Idaho law enforcement officer named Jermaine Galloway, Walsh summarized the program saying, “You can’t stop what you don’t know.”