Mental Health Mondays – How You Can Be a Drug Prevention Parent

On Monday, May June 21, Deputy First Class C. Tyus, Lee County Sheriff’s Office, Lt. Allan Kolak, Cape Coral Police Department, and Deborah Comella, executive director, The Lee County Coalition for a Drug-Free Southwest Florida talked about the insight of what’s happening with children from school resource officers (SRO), as well as tips for parents on keeping their children safe.  

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Notes from the Playground: Vaping 

Lt. Allan Kolak: Children middle school and higher are using vape pens and e-cigarettes, including vape pens with THC in them. Vaping has chemicals that can cause lung injuries and permanent damage. THC can cause impairment. These are not FDA approved substances. You don’t know how much you are getting in your system. Could be 4% to 60% of TCH, which can cause severe adverse reactions. Cannabis does not always calm you. It can cause severe impairment and anxiety. It does elevate your blood pressure and pulse rate. It dilates your pupils, impairing clarity of vision, particularly in daylight. Flavored or not, the liquids in vaping devices are chemicals you are taking into your lungs.  

For parents: Make sure you understand that something that looks like a flash drive could be a vape pen. THC in liquid form for vapes is a felony in Florida. If found in possession, that’s a felony that stays on someone’s records forever if they are charged. From a law enforcement perspective, we are concerned about getting them help. THC is a gateway drug to open use of other drugs. In middle school and high school students, where the brain is not fully developed, studies show that THC can cause some growth issues with brain development. As parents, it’s important you understand what they are placing into these vaping devices. Because of criminal and health aspects, it’s not something you should be allowing. Kids need to understand that these can have permanent, lifetime effects.  

Notes from the Playground: Peer Pressure 

Deputy First Class C. Tyus: Young people work towards maturity on their own, but parents need to understand that young people still need guidance. Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno’s command staff has assigned school resource officers (SRO) in most schools throughout Lee County. These deputies are selected on their ability to work with young people and to help solidify the link between the deputy and the young person, like a counselor or a mentor. The deputies are there to work with the young people for situations that sometimes no one else can help them through.  

Peer pressure is a monster with young people. They want to go towards the norm, even if it’s not the right thing to do. You will see children that accel academically and physically, but also the handful of young people who seem to go behind the limelight and do things they know little about that can get them in trouble. Often, friends hold more credibility for young people than the people in the know. Young people want to be accepted. A trend is going to spread throughout the school. Young people as Leaders are hard to find; they love to follow. That’s been evident for decades. Science takes a back seat over what their friends often tell them. 

Vaping is prevalent. Young people are using THC in different styles of vaping apparatus, which come in all kinds of unobtrusive shapes and sizes. More and more children are using vaping for just a dose of nicotine. With nicotine and/or THC, many young people believe it helps them stay calm and takes the edge off their anxiety. Often the pulmonary issues don’t happen until farther down the line. Symptoms happen gradually. Young Athletes who start vaping can find their performance declining because of gradual onset of issues from vaping.  

Young people and COVID-19 when masks were mandated; when young people would get together, they often drop their masks to talk to one another. They believe that young people have a harder time contracting the virus. They don’t realize that they can contract the virus and spread it to their loved ones at home.  

Social Media: Young people love YouTube and the various chat apps to communicate with each other. With a lot of these chat apps, messages are erased after they are viewed. Young people need to know that these messages can be retrieved from the App. Within these apps, a lot of their personal information is getting out there. Not only are their friends able to see what they are producing, but others around the world can get in on their same chat stream and observe what’s going on. Parents should have the retrieval apps on their children’s phones, and have guidelines for their use.  

Coping skills for young people are hard to find. Young people think they need to get angry and lose control. The SROs are there to remind them they don’t have to go the “primitive” route to resolve an issue. Fighting is a primitive behavior. There are safer and smarter ways to resolve conflicts.  

Tips to Become a Prevention Parent 

Deborah Comella: A lot of us are worried about talking to our kids about drugs because we don’t want to give them a recipe. NIDA, the National Institute of Drug Abuse, has a family checkup, a free book on how to start or continue conversations about prevention.  

We recommend an electronic curfew. At 9 p.m., where everything is turned off. There is troubling information out about sleeping with cell phones next to the bed and how it impacts sleep. 

Begin or continue having conversations at home about what kids are hearing and seeing at school, in the bathrooms, under the bleachers, what’s going on with the friends and peers and what they are seeing on social media. The challenge is listening. We always have a lot to say as adults. We need to understand that our children are the experts. They need to be able to come to us, and we need to be able to offer them a judgment free zone. Encourage them to come and talk to you, even if it is uncomfortable to hear, so you can find answers together.  

Drug House Odyssey has been around for 27 years. It’s underaged drinking prevention play. A lot of kids have been through it in 5th grade. We can use the Drug House video to talk to our kids about making good decisions and choices. All of us have the challenge in a very challenging world to help our kids build resilience.  

Work out what your kids will say if they are offered a vape or a pill in advance. Set up a text code “text me an X” where you will pick them up from situations they find difficult, no questions asked.   

Resources

Questions and Answers 

Q: If you know that a child is vaping or doing drugs, what’s the best way to approach them?  

A: Lt. Kolak: Best way is on a peer level if possible. Better from a peer than a law enforcement official. If not, they can reach out to their parents. You can go to a school resource officer who wants to get them help to make sure they don’t become addicted or escalate their drug use.  

Comella: Our school resource officers have a tremendous amount of training on this alone. I think we are all in agreement that the scared straight model does not work, but that some counseling from a school resource officer can help.  

Deputy T: The parents are usually surprised when the school resource officer contacts them about an issue that is plaguing their young person. We ask the young person for their parents’ phone number. We will have a conversation with the parent. The last thing we need is for the parents to think we are against the young person or the parents’ standards. The pipeline between the deputy and the parent is critical.  

Q: Are there resources on how we can educate kids on the negative effects of vaping? 

A: Comella:  There are some great resources on kidsmindsmatter.com and drugfreeswfl.org for parents that you can present to your kids as part of the discussion. Vaping is a scary situation. When vaping started, it was presented as only water vapor, but of course it wasn’t. I think we need to be honest when talking to our kids about marketing. The efforts to legalize medical marijuana has kids feeling that it’s safe. It’s important that we have lots of conversations with our kids. You don’t want to preach; you want to listen twice as much as you talk. It’s a great opportunity to learn what kids are thinking.  

Deputy T: Parents can talk to the SRO at their child’s school for all those tips. We love to share with the parents any information on keeping young people safe. Young people will tell you more than you can imagine. All you have to do is be receptive.  

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Founded in 2016, Kids’ Minds Matter is a unified movement in Southwest Florida dedicated to advancing pediatric mental and behavioral health services. By developing clinical pathways to screen and treat patients, enhancing public awareness through education, and lobbying for systemic change and sustainable funding, Kids’ Minds Matter aims to align mental health providers, local agencies, the judicial system, law enforcement, schools and faith-based organizations. Kids’ Minds Matter is managed through the Lee Health Foundation.

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