Source: Courtesy of WeCarePeople YouTube pageLet’s Talk - How to Talk to Your Kids about Drugs, Suicide and their Strengths
LIMA — Sometimes the most necessary discussions can be the hardest to have, but a new campaign is aiming to give parents, teachers and other adult caregivers the tools to help connect with young people on the serious issues of drugs and suicide.
The “Let’s Talk” campaign is designed to help adults effectively engage with young people on topics such as suicide and drugs while also emphasizing strengths and positive reinforcement. For Michael Schoenhofer, executive director of the Mental Health and Recovery Services Board of Allen, Auglaize and Hardin Counties, approaching children on these topics may seem like a daunting task, but it is an essential one.
“If you’re not talking with your kids and actively engaging them, whether it’s riding in the car, going to a game or sitting around the table for supper, you’re actually putting them at risk because they’re flying into a world that they’re not mentally and emotionally ready for,” he said. “It doesn’t require anything more than putting down the electronics for a minute and saying, ‘How are you doing?’”
Missing the connection
On one level, the notion of simply talking with your children sounds easy, and some parents may say they do it all the time. However, face-to-face communication is not as common a notion as it once was. According to a 2015 Pew Research Center study, 73 percent of teenagers surveyed had a smartphone, with 58 percent of those teenagers citing texting as their primary way to get in touch with their closest friends. While such mobile technology has helped young people become more “connected” than ever before through social media and social networking platforms, Schoenhofer said he believes that virtual connections can sometimes supersede face-to-face interaction, an essential component of human development.
“One of the root causes of a lot of issues we’re seeing with kids with addiction, suicide and even with violence is that we’ve become disconnected from one another,” he said. “We’re built to have human interactions. There’s a lot of research about how our brains develop through interaction with other people.”
Schoenhofer maintains that the human brain can not fully develop without direct human interaction, specifically positive interaction.
“There are a lot of voices saying that part of our addiction problem is that we’re trading the joy and pleasure we get out of human interaction for the high you get from drinking or using substances,” he said, “or you feel so disconnected that you begin to despair, and that despair leads to suicide or thoughts of suicide.”
With Ohio continuing to see rising numbers of overdose deaths, from 3,050 in 2015 to 4,050 last year, according to the Ohio Department of Health, and another ODH report showing an average of 187 young people committing suicide annually in the state between 2012 and 2014, Schoenhofer is hoping that, by fostering positive interactions with young people earlier, area children will be less likely to consider those activities. Survey results from the recent Allen County Health Assessment confirmed that 73 percent of youth said they did not use drugs because they were afraid it would upset their parents.
“The last thing we need is more and more people getting treatment,” he said. “What we need are more and more people who are feeling good about themselves, who are leading full and productive lives who can fill the jobs we have available here.”
Broadcasting the message
The core message of “Let’s Talk” is highlighting children’s strengths while being upfront and open about issues of drugs and suicide, with adults encouraged to “listen like a friend [and] respond like a parent.” The program recommends starting these dialogues even as early as age 3. The question for Schoenhofer and other organizers remained of how to get the message out.
“We have three big goals,” Schoenhofer said. “We want to hit every school [in Allen, Auglaize and Hardin counties], to hit the businesses and the churches. The requirement is that you can’t call a special meeting. You have to do this when parents are together.”
To help craft the message and create innovative ways of getting it out, Modo Media of Lima was brought on board two years ago. According to Modo Media co-owner Cody Ridenour, the goal was to make the message as easy as possible to both access and implement.
“We’ve developed it into a package that parents can quickly digest,” he said. “For me, it was important to make it easy for parents to do this because it is so important. A lot of parents are scared to talk about these things, so it was important to make this campaign able to speak to all walks of life.”
The media campaign consists of an eight-minute video outlining the importance of engaging with children and teenagers and offering dramatized examples showing how to grow these conversations organically through everyday interaction.
“Your kids may see something on television and ask you about it, and it’s your job to just be open and start that conversation,” Ridenour said. “Don’t write it off and say, ‘We’ll talk about that later.’ We’ve made a series of short videos of how to talk with kids of different age groups and get the conversation going.”
Several schools in Allen, Auglaize and Hardin counties have already committed to getting involved. St. Marys schools mental health professional Sara Dieringer has already begun to show the video and share the concept with staff, with parents soon to follow.
“We’ve shown it to the entire staff at St. Marys to make the teachers aware of this program,” she said. “I liked it because so many times, teachers are having to call parents about the negative stuff kids are doing, and this gives the teachers a tool to use where, if they are seeing a student struggle, they can call the parent and let them know the good stuff and transfer that conversation from school to home.”
Bath Superintendent Richard Dackin said that the program was brought in by his predecessor, Dale Lewellen, and he is looking forward to getting the message out to parents.
“We’re showing the video to our staff,” he said. “Beyond that, we’re going to provide opportunities on campus to where parents will get the pamphlets or have the chance to view the video maybe at parent-teacher conferences. We’ll also put it on our website and share it on Facebook and social media.”
Additional resources include pamphlets, a website, http://www.letstalk.care, and traditional media and billboard ads.