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Classes on risky teen behaviors

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Parents learn about bullying, abuse, social media apps and teen suicide at ‘Life, Love & Lockers’ event

By SAMANTHA TULLY
of The Wakulla News

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If there was anything you could change from your time spent in high school, would you change it?
High school can be a turbulent time for many teens, especially these days with so much social media and the ability to immediately crush someone with a picture or post rather than a fistfight or name calling match on school grounds.
It’s important adults stay educated, and they did just that when they attended the “Life, Love & Lockers: Back-to-School Basics Every Parent Must Know” event held on Sept. 26 at the Wakulla One Stop Community Center in Crawfordville.
There were a number of “teachers” present with a lot of information for parents to use. The topics were covered through 15-minute “classes” where parents would go to each class and then change when the bell rang…just like when they were in high school.
However, these classes were chockful of vital information pertinent to saving adolescents and teens from themselves and all the other dangerous things in the world that they can so easily encounter these days due to so much technological advancement in our society.
First Period was taught by Sabrina Williams and the subject was “Love is Respect.”
Williams works with  Refuge House and teaches teens healthy relationship behaviors. Williams discussed how easy it is for teens to get on the wrong track when they begin dating and don’t understand what domestic violence is. Teens may get in a relationship that begins healthy and quickly turns out to be a bad one they don’t have the tools to escape.
Williams said that a lot of times a teen can get in a relationship with a borderline abuser, someone who views love in terms of power and control, using intimidation and isolation from friends and positive support.  Boundaries and a positive support network are vital to a healthy relationship, Williams said.
Williams covered the five major predictors of marital happiness: 1) Compatibility potential, 2) Relationship skills, 3) Behavior patterns from the past, 4) Family patterns and background, and 5) Character and conscience roles. Williams reminded participants to keep in mind what is normal for them may not be for others.
Oftentimes, drugs and alcohol and lack of parental involvement can be a part of the other person’s environment.
Second Period was taught by Quanesia Arnold of the Wakulla County Health Department. The subject of this period was titled “Permanent Markers.”
There are so many phone apps available it’s extremely hard to even keep track of them,  Arnold noted, and as fast as they come out, the ones listed in this article may be irrelevant next year.
One thing was very clear: know your kid’s phone, and know what apps are available for teens to use. Phone apps can be very beneficial and have a positive impact on the social interactions and relationships adolescents have, Arnold said. However, these apps can be very dangerous to the wellbeing of your child when their activity is not monitored.
“If we look at youth and social media we see many falling victim to cyberbullying, sexting, and generally unhealthy digital behaviors,” Arnold said. She went on to discuss the good, the not too bad, and the dangerous phone apps being used by teens and tweens.
Most phone apps have an age recommendation, but it doesn’t stop kids who are too young from accessing them. Most of these apps can be used for sharing photos and videos that can only be shared once and are then “deleted.” This is often not true, however, and inappropriate content can be caught and distributed to others.
Other apps allow for group video chats, teen dating, hidden photo apps, fake Instagram apps – so parents think they’re checking in on what their kid is doing, but what they’re doing for real is on the kid’s real Instagram account that the parents don’t know about.
Some apps can search and reveal the user’s location, which can be dangerous as it allows predators access to a child’s location.
All of these apps, regardless of the promise to delete the posts, still leave a digital trail behind the user that they may not want in the future. Many of these apps also contain inappropriate content such as pornography and references to alcohol and drugs and allow a huge platform for bullying, also known as harassment.
Arnold said that parents should always monitor phone apps and age recommendations on adolescents phones to include the following:
1) Snapchat,  13+;
2)  WhatsApp Messenger, 16+ *bypasses SMS/Text messaging, therefore harder to monitor;
3) Afterschool, 17+, chat group;
4) Ask.fm, 13+;
5) Burn Book  
6) Calculator% Private Photo App 4+;
6) Finstigram (Finsta);
7) Jott Messenger App;
8) Kik Messenger App, 17+;
9) MyLOL App, 13-19 *teen dating app);
10) Ogle App 17+;
11) ooVoo App 13+;
12) Secret App 17+;
13)StreetChat App, 14+;
14) Whisper App, 17+.
These are some of the many apps of parents should be aware of. The health department in Wakulla County has this information and so much more available to all parents and families.
Third Period was taught by Morgan Parker. The subject was “Real Essentials.”
Parker covered statistical data on adolescents, including drinking, depression, sex, drug use and more. She spoke of specific issues for Wakulla County, specifically how risky behaviors put adolescents at a higher risk for suicide and mental health issues.
The health department employees in Wakulla County schools teach teens how to avoid risky behaviors, but also give students the skills and knowledge to adopt a healthier lifestyle.
Parker uses an analogy for the Sexual Risk Avoidance program which encompasses all risky behaviors.
“I have this really cheesy analogy that pretty much sums up our program, because, of course we have the Wakulla River,” Parker said. “It’s like you’re standing by the river and you see someone floating by and they’re drowning, so you jump in and save them. You see another and another and you’re jumping in, saving everyone. So before you exhaust yourself, you go upstream and see there is a hole in a bridge. You fix the hole in the bridge and then people stop falling through.
“So our goal is to go upstream and to fix the hole in the bridge,” Parker said. “We want to promote building a sturdy bridge with relationship education and skill building for their future success.”
Fourth Period was taught by Kelli Mercer of Capital Regional Medical Center. Mercer is the director for Behavioral Health and spoke about mental health and suicide. She talked about the Jason Foundation, created by the father of a 16-year-old who committed suicide in 1998.
Jason had everything going for him -- lots of friends, involved in sports and church. His father was proactive and involved, but never got any information on suicide. One day Jason’s friends couldn’t find him so they contacted his dad, who paged him and checked at Jason’s work, and couldn’t find him either. Finally he went home where he figured Jason was because he knew when Jason got upset or mad he would go to his room and listen to music with headphones on. His dad was going to surprise him and find out what was wrong. He began to tiptoe down the hall to Jason’s bedroom. He then tripped over his son’s body -- Jason had shot himself in the hallway.
Three months later, Jason’s father began the Jason Foundation in his mission to help other families learn how they could possibly save their child’s life or a friend’s life. The goal is to end the silent epidemic.
Suicide is the second main cause of death for ages 10 to 24 and yet is not talked about. (Accidental death is the number one cause of death.) Nationally, approximately 100 kids a week are lost to suicide every week.
Many groups were represented at the Life, Love, and Lockers event:  More lifesaving information can be found on this serious topic at the following websites:  jasonfoundation.com and AFriendAsks.com.
Project Hug is another way to reach out to adolescents and start a conversation with them.
Bill and Linda Tice are a part of the LOSS (Local Outreach to Suicide Survivors) Team of the Big Bend. Their son Billy committed suicide when he was 26 years old and they learned afterward that his first attempt had been when he was only 8. The Tices want to help other families through loss from suicide and recently held Rocking Billy’s Path on Oct. 8 in Tallahassee at Railroad Square Art Park to raise awareness for suicide, mental health and addiction.
They can be reached at www.lossteam.com or contacted at lossteam@nami-tallahassee.org
Life, Love, and Lockers took place at the Wakulla One Stop Community Center and was put on by the Wakulla County Coalition for Youth.
This was the first of four in the Wakulla OneStop Essentials Series.
For more information contact Pam Pilkinton or Herb Donaldson at (850) 745-6042.
You can contact Quanesia Arnold and Morgan Parker at (850) 661-0244 or (850) 888-6101.
For  information on behavioral health care at Capital Regional Medical, call (850) 325-5757.