Tough Teen Decisions Subject of Event

BERLIN- The entire community needs to come together to help teenagers make better choices, local school and teen advocates say, a process that will begin with a Community Awareness event Monday night.

The Community Awareness event will be held from 6 to 7:30 at Stephen Decatur High School (SDHS) on Monday, April 19. The event, said SDHS Principal Lou Taylor, is not just for parents, but for teenagers and the entire community.

“Kids today are faced with more challenges,” said Taylor. “We are trying to bring the community involved. We believe the school is a community school.”

Teenagers do not spend all their time in school, and a lot of things happen after the last bell rings, said Jackie Ball, who will be speaking at the event about her family’s struggles with her son’s drug addiction. Others said the event could enlighten parents about the tough decisions their children face.

“I want parents to see some of the choices their kids are faced with,” said SDHS guidance counselor Karen White.

Speakers will include Det. Sgt. Rick Kleborn of the Maryland State Police, Judge Gerald Purnell, and Tracy Tilghman of the Worcester County Health Department. State’s Attorney Joel Todd will also speak on adult liability for actions taken by their teen children. Parents are liable if they let anyone under 21 drink, for example, or for kicking a teenager under 18 out of the house.

The speakers will discuss problems kids can have, from alcohol and drugs to family issues, how poor choices can follow a teen into adulthood, and resources for helping youth. A question and answer session will follow the speakers. Printed material on available resources will also be offered by various organizations.

“We’re not pinpointing any one thing,” said White. “It’s all about the choices out here.”

Prevention is the key, she said. One message the event wants to get across is that it is all right for parents to investigate teenagers’ rooms or look at the sites they visit on the computer, White said.

Sometimes, even that isn’t enough, said Ball, who knew that her son had begun using marijuana and drinking but did not realize his drug use was escalating. That is one lesson she’d like parents to take away from her family’s story.

“Number one, don’t stick your head in the sand and pretend like it’s not happening,” she said.

Parents need to monitor their children, whether it’s their phone calls or their Facebook pages, Ball said. On her experience, the signs that something is wrong are usually pretty clear.

“I think sometimes they’re too worried about overstepping their privacy,” she said. “For their safety, these are sometimes the things you need to know.”

Keeping close tabs on one’s child is a parental duty and should not always be avoided in the name of privacy.

“Parents still need to know who their childrens’ friends are,” she said. “They still need to be checking up on them. Parents still need to be an ear to listen to their child.”

A rapidly changing society, particularly technology, means that teens now face different issues than their parents did in high school, White said. Already, the school fields calls from community members with concerns about students, Taylor said.

“We’re trying to prevent kids from making poor choices,” Taylor said. “We want to all get on the same page so we can help kids.”

All teenagers, including honors students and athletes, face challenges, not just ‘bad’ kids, Taylor said. Some teens do not have the proper support system at home, Taylor said. Sometimes parents do not recognize warning signs of a problem, or do not know what to do when they realize something is wrong.

The community is a big part of making sure kids do the right thing. More community awareness might persuade hotel owners not to rent rooms to teenagers for parties, Ball suggested.

Ball, whose son has been sober for 17 months, said that she does not expect to solve any problems with a single event.

“My thing would be to open up the discussion,” she said. “I want people talking about it. I don’t want people to be embarrassed.”

Looking back, Ball sees it would have been easier to cope with her son’s addiction with the support of other parents, both emotionally and practically.

“You don’t want to admit it. It’s like a dirty secret you want to keep hidden,” said Ball, who said she now has no problem telling her family’s story.

This community awareness event is a trial run, and could be repeated in the future if all goes well. SDHS has also reached out to local middle schools, hoping to halt issues at a younger age.

“This is a national issue. Being very proactive is what we’re trying to be,” said Taylor. “If we save one life or help one kid make a better decision, that’s what we should do,” Taylor said.

Taylor urged anyone interested to attend the event.