Three-county cam­paign aims to help par­ents talk to their chil­dren

The Columbus Dispatch - - Metro&state - By Craig Kelly

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.”

[AN­DREA NOALL/DIS­PATCH]

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.

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