On Monday night, nearly 250 community members filed into Wayzata Central Middle School to see the launch of a state-wide collaborative project called The Top Secret Project: Decoding the Mysteries of the Teen Domain. It was a joint effort among a variety of community agencies but was hosted by Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation in collaboration with Partners in Prevention.
The Top Secret Project was designed to be an eye-opening exhibit for parents and guardians to walk through a simulated teenager's bedroom with over one hundred hidden hazards relating to warning signs of alcohol and chemical use, mental health concerns, bullying, criminal activity, etc. followed by an educational presentation about each of those topics. The mission of the project is to help adults uncover the mysteries in the lives of teens, provide tools and resources to foster safe environments, and encourage ongoing dialogue.
Among the presenters were Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation's Cendee Palmer and Jessica Wong as well as Partner in Prevention's Alison Wobschall. The presentation was followed by Q & A from the attendees. A heavy focus of questions centered around ways to prevent kids from using in the first place. Here are a few ideas that were shared:
Investigate! If your gut tells you something has changed with your son or daughter, chances are it probably has. Parental instincts are one of the best tools we have to identify when something seems off. Don't be afraid to investigate - ask questions, gather your intel by looking through their belongings to see if something doesn't seem right.
Model healthy behavior: We all have an equal opportunity here to model healthy behaviors. This starts a lot earlier than you’d probably expect. Kids notice our habits. They soak up what they see. For example, if you think about your own family events and holidays growing up, most people can think back and describe how adults used alcohol. Some of us might remember pretty early on noticing an uncle or grandparent have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol. We develop our understanding of what’s the norm around substance use and relationships very early on. Use your familial experiences as examples your child can relate to.
Set clear expectations: Parents remain one of the heaviest influences in a teenager's decision to engage in risky behavior. Many students prove that students are less likely to use alcohol and/or drugs if they know their parents disapprove.
Eat together as a family! According to The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, kids and teens who share family dinners 3 or more times per week are less likely to be overweight, are more likely to eat healthy food, perform better academically, are less likely to engage in risky behaviors (drugs, alcohol, sexual activity), and have better relationships with their parents.
Educate yourself: Take time to learn about the latest research. Many parents fear having conversations with their kids about tough subjects because they don't have the baseline knowledge to have a meaningful conversation about it. Prepare to be peppered with questions. Do your research and understand what might mean something to your child. Make it personal.
Eliminate access: Easy access to alcohol, drugs, privacy or too much alone time, etc. is a risk factor to engaging in negative or destructive behaviors so to lessen the risk, you can eliminate the access. One quick example of this is where you store prescription drugs. It is so common to keep them in places where you’d see them daily – by the plates or coffee, in the bathroom, etc. – but keeping them away from public access is so important. Most kids who access prescription drugs that aren’t their own, get them from family or family of friends.
Ask for help! Parenting is hard. Especially when you face a difficult situation. Don't be afraid to ask for help or information from others. You are not alone.
For more information about the Top Secret Project, visit topsecretproject.org.