Three-county campaign aims to help parents talk to their children
LIMA, Ohio — Sometimes the most necessary discussions can be the hardest to have, but a new campaign started by three counties in western Ohio 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 can 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?’”
On one level, the notion of simply talking with your children sounds easy, and some parents might 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 and family. 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, and an Ohio Department of Health 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, 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 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.”
Danny Staudt, of the Columbus Idea Foundry, walks on stilts during the final Independents’ Day Festival Saturday. The festival, which will end this year after a 10-year run, features bands on four stages and plenty of food and drinks from noon to 8 p.m. Sunday at West Bank Park in Franklinton.