YESS Boot Camp aims to build a ‘village around our kids’
CASTLE ROCK – At a recent forum more than two hundred Douglas County parents gathered to learn ways to keep their kids safe and to ask questions of the experts.
The Parent Boot Camp held at the Wildlife Experience on February 3 was organized by the Youth, Education & Safety in Schools (YESS) program. YESS is a partnership, between the Douglas County School District (DCSD) and our local law enforcement partners, which focuses on developing life skills, educating about substance abuse, personal safety, and internet safety in the District’s students. Deputies from the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office and police officers from the Castle Rock and Parker Police departments teach regularly in DCSD’s middle school health classes, and when time permits at the elementary and high school levels.
The goal of the Boot Camp was to have an honest discussion with parents, so they are educated about potential dangers to their teens.
“It is about educating parents so we can build a village around our kids,” explained YESS Program Coordinator Phyllis Harvey. “In order to do that, you really have to have partnerships between families and community partners, so we can keep these kids safe and so they can become leaders and make good decisions.”
Over the course of the evening, members of the YESS team, as well as representatives from the District and other community organizations, discussed teen relationships, Internet safety and substance abuse—providing parents with insight into the latest trends and concerns.
“We talked to them a lot about the importance of building a relationship and trust with [the teens]. You don’t want to do things like check their digital devices or log into their social media sites behind their backs, because it doesn’t build trust,” Harvey said.
One of her biggest pieces of feedback is ensuring that students have a trusted adult they can talk to, so they have a place to go and someone to talk to no matter where they are during the day, especially if they don’t feel comfortable discussing it with mom or dad.
“Encourage kids to find trusted adults in the school building, someone they can talk to about anything, whether they’re being bullied, harassed or someone is offering drugs,” Harvey said.
Did you Know? Three topics that surprised parents
According to Harvey, many of the parents are unaware that e-cigarette devices, which are illegal for anyone under 18 (along with all tobacco products), can be used to dispense other drugs.
“We talked about alcohol vaping and how dangerous it can be. Alcohol poisioning can happen incredibly fast. If you drink 10 beers or 10 shots, your stomach is going to involuntarily get rid of it. When you vape it, your body has no way to get rid of it,” Harvey explained. “Parents were shocked. They had no idea that was happening.”
‘Weed’ is Stronger Now
With the legalization of marijuana for adult recreational use in Colorado, some may believe that the message is that the drug isn’t dangerous. Harvey says that isn’t the case, especially when considering the levels of THC in the products sold over the counter and the impact it can have on the brains of still-developing children.
“The marijuana today is not the marijuana that was around when they were growing up,” Harvey explained. “The THC levels are higher, easy to get and can be lethal to kids.”
It is essential for parents to require access and monitor their teens’ use of computers and other digital devices. Harvey says there are a lot of online predators and, unfortunately teens are especially susceptible to grooming—because they, like many people, want to be accepted.
“We joke that whoever invented the “like” button [in Facebook] was a genius, because all human beings want to be liked,” Harvey explained.
Unfortunately, the sites and apps used by teens are constantly evolving and changing, making it difficult for parents to keep up. This year, Harvey was amazed about the speed that teens adopt new social media sites, including one like AskFM, that allows unchecked bullying and harassment through video posts.
“It wasn’t here when we first heard about it, but by the end of the first semester kids were talking about it,” Harvey said.