MARQUETTE - How many parents make sure their children get the proper vaccinations? How many routinely take their son or daughter to the dentist to prevent cavities? How many remind kids to wash their hands before eating to prevent the spread of germs?
How many parents take measures to protect their kids from cavities or the flu, but pass on talking about the consequences of using drugs and alcohol because "my kid wouldn't do that"?
Educating parents about the dangers facing today's high school, middle school, even elementary school students, was the goal of a Youth Substance Abuse Forum held at the Peter White Public Library Thursday evening.
Parents, grandparents, teachers and other professionals met at a Youth Substance Abuse Forum at the Peter White Public Library Thursday evening to learn about the use of drugs and alcohol among young people. Moderated by Patty Karwoski, left, a guidance counselor at Marquette Senior High School, the panel consisted of, seated, from left, substance abuse counselor Carroll Ann Swanson, Margaret Olesnavage of Marquette Juvenile Court and Craig Marker of the Marquette City Police Department. (Journal photo by Johanna Boyle)
"I really believe that all pre-teens and teenagers are at risk by definition of their age. Given the right set of circumstances or, perhaps more to the point, the wrong set of circumstances, any young person can begin experimenting with alcohol and other drugs," said Patty Karwoski, a guidance counselor at Marquette Senior High School, who served as moderator of the discussion.
The forum featured three panelists with different areas of expertise on youth and substance use and abuse in the area - Carroll Ann Swanson, a substance abuse counselor, Margaret Olesnavage, director of the Marquette Juvenile Court, and Craig Marker of the Marquette City Police Department.
Although using drugs and alcohol might seem most closely related to high school students, middle school is when most teens said they began using drugs, some starting as young as 9, the panelists said.
"There's good news and bad news: the good news is a lot of our youth are not using substances. The bad news is a lot of our youth are using substances," Swanson said.
Educating parents as to the prevalence of substance use, signs to look for, how kids are getting the drugs or alcohol and the legal consequences of teens and pre-teens using those substances can go a long way to reversing the problem.
"I'm always struck by the level of denial, I guess that really is the only accurate word to use, among parents and community members," Swanson said. "We have to say, yeah this is happening. We know that a lot of our children are doing a lot of dangerous things at precisely the wrong time in their lives."
Ages 13 through 21 for young people represents the period of maximum development in the in the area of the brain which controls the ability to solve problems and make decisions, Swanson said.
"We know that the age of 14-24 is the 10 most dangerous years of life and the thing that is really important is to not stop parenting. Just because these are big, tall attractive, grown-up looking people with better Internet skills than we have and who know how to drive cars doesn't mean that they're adults and don't need to be parented," she said.
In the past several years, the area that Marker said he had seen the most growth in teen using drugs was the abuse of prescription medications.
"Kids think it's safe because it's prescribed. I've seen kids have reactions because they've taken a pill that belongs to someone else," he said.
Marker advised parents to be observant for changing patterns of behavior - even small things like doodles on notebooks - and to address their kids if they think there is a problem.
"I ask parents, did you confront them? They say no, they're afraid to. They're intimidated. They want to give their teenager their space. They want to be their friend, that's all fine, but you're going to miss a lot of stuff," he said. "Parents will be surprised what their kids will tell them, I think."
Besides the health risks for young people associated with use of substances like drugs or alcohol are the legal consequences, Olesnavage said.
"The national rule of thumb is that if you receive a Minor in Possession ticket, you've done it seven times before that. That's huge," she said.
In Michigan, 17-year-olds are viewed as adults in court, even if they are still in high school and still living with their parents. Having a Minor in Possession can affect everything from getting their driver's license to applying for jobs to whether or not they can enter a branch of the military.
The importance of being educated for parents, the panelists said, is the ability to have discussions with kid about the dangers of drugs and alcohol and their own views on the subject.
"Whenever the opportunity presents itself," Swanson said, in response to a question from the audience as to when it is appropriate to begin talking the subject over with kids. "You can have honest, age-appropriate discussions with children of any age."
Thursday's forum is what organizers hope is the first of a series of discussions for parents and their kids. A second forum will be held at the library in April. A performance night for teens and pre-teens is also in the works.