The number one crime at Mira Costa? Theft. The reason for theft? To buy drugs and alcohol. The cause of youth alcohol and drug use? Stress.
That's what those in the know shared with a room full of interested parents during the "State of Our Teens" panel presentation Wednesday night in the Manhattan Beach Library Community Room.
Those experts agree the best way to help teenagers avoid alcohol and drug use is for parents to keep communication open by listening, and making their child feel safe expressing their feelings and what is bothering them at the moment.
Led by Dr. Greg Allen, a private practice therapist and director of Freedom for Our Kids, an organization that provides space for kids to gather, play or perform music, the panel included MBPD Detective and School Resource Officer at Mira Costa, John Loy; Youth Services staffer for the Beach Cities Health District, Sandi Conley; Erin Foster, a therapist in practice with Allen, and attorney for youth, George Bird, Jr.
Dr. Allen started off by talking about stress and its causes. He said it used to be that substance use by teens was caused by peer pressure to fit in but that in this high achieving area, it is the pressure to get good grades, to get into a good college, to excel in sports and to balance sometimes up to five to nine extra activities a week with no time to relax that is pushing kids to use substances to ease their stress.
When asked, teens report that though their parents live well, they themselves are too stressed. To calm themselves, kids say they find relief in drugs and alcohol, and more recently, prescription drugs. But unlike in the past, marijuana, aka pot or weed [as it is called again], is much stronger than it used to be. Combined with alcohol or prescription drugs, it can be deadly, according to officials.
MBPD Officer Loy, who is based on the MCHS campus, told the audience he makes a presence on campus by being friendly to the students, attending their sports events, speaking in classrooms, and being available to teachers and parents. His aim, in part, is to present students with a different perspective of police other than just issuing tickets. He handles crime on campus, from vandalism to drug possession to threats to other students and teachers, and mostly theft, he said. Theft, he notes, is a crime of opportunity. He advises that students to not bring expensive electronic equipment or other valuables to school, or to place such items in locked lockers or keep them with you at all times.
Conley of BCHD talked about how "Mind Up," a program that teaches 7th and 8th graders "mindfulness," aka being in the moment, will be coming to Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach and Redondo Beach. Mind Up teaches deep breathing, recognizing one's feelings and what to do about them. Conley said successful teens share common denominators: having a purposeful activity they feel passionate about; having a feeling of optimism and hopefulness, and gratitude for what they have, and a close connection with their parents.
Attorney Bird joked about being a parent of a 19- and 21-year-old. “It doesn’t get easier,” he said. “I had a hard time biting my tongue when my son, on Wednesday, still had not started on an important application due Friday.”
He added, "I am glad you are here. It’s because we are all scared to death of losing a child due to drug overdose or a reckless car accident. It’s happening all the time.”
As with the other speakers, he emphasized the need for parents to be involved with their kids and aware, including knowing their friends and their friends’ parents; greeting them when they come home at night; spending time with them from the time they are little doing what they like when they want; eating together, and listening in a way that makes you approachable.
Officer Loy provided these guidelines for parents:
- Know your child’s friends and parents
- Communicate with your child, ask questions and get clear answers (but don’t interrogate)
- Verify your child’s whereabouts
- Know the laws and discuss them with your child (know the curfew laws and don’t make up your own)
- Create a network of parents so they can talk and communicate about what the kids are doing in the community
- Set boundaries, state expectations, hold accountable and apply consequences (together as parents)
- Greet your kids when they come home