Sunday, November 17, 2013

Talking isn't enough. 10 suggestions to help keep teens safe.

By Lisa Nielsen with guidance and contributions from Willyn Webb
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Today's party companions
Molly and tampons with boozetube flasks. What do these essentials for today’s EDM (or electronic dance music) culture have to do with being an educator? Well, if you work with secondary school students, a lot actually...That is, if you believe your role goes beyond simply imparting knowledge and includes ensuring your students are armed with some common sense information that could mean the difference between them showing up to class safely or not after a weekend of fun.

This realization was brought to light for me recently after spending an evening with a dozen or so wasted, passed out teenage girls whose plans to enjoy a concert by electro house musician Steve Aoki, were thwarted by a trip to the ER.

In a few short hours, I realized several things parents were not aware of that they could be doing to keep their kids safe when they’re out with friends. School guidance counselors, PTA leaders, teachers, and other members of the school community can help educate parents by sharing a few suggestions parents can keep in mind to keep their children safe.

10 suggestions for keeping kids safe

1) Knowing the company your child keeps is not enough to keep her safe.
Getting wasted isn’t something that “Good kids” are immune to.  A kid who is high on Molly may appear very together and coherent. Furthermore, it is not uncommon for a teen to think it is funny to put a “little something” into an unsuspecting friend’s drink.  
  • Suggestions:
    • Don’t fool yourself into thinking your child is immune.
    • Know what your child and your child’s friends, are “into” by who/what groups they “follow” or “like” in places like Twitter and Facebook.  Listen to their music. Check out their updates. A quick glance at posts can provide a lot of red flags to be aware of and talk with your child about.
2) There are times when a child in need can’t call you.
You have a great, trusting relationship. Good! That is, unless your kid is passed out or too wasted to give you a call. Think it can’t happen to your kid? You’re wrong. Make sure you are easy to contact if your child is unable to do so.
  • Suggestions:
    • Put an emergency contact card in your child’s wallet /or a sticker on your child’s phone.
    • Make check in times a standard procedure (not because you don’t trust them-trust builds trust), just because it is a good safety measure.  If your child does not contact you at the designated time, you know to react.
3) It’s not enough for you and your child to only know one another’s friends.
If your child is in danger, your knowing how to contact their friends is not enough. You all need to know how to reach one another: parents and friends. Do you have their contact information? If not, a child may be unconscious somewhere surrounded by friends who have no idea how to reach you.
  • Suggestions:  
    • Create a contact list of phone numbers of children and their parents.  Children and parents should have an easy way to access this information from their phone. You might want to use a free group texting service like which lets you set up groups that can instantly connect when necessary.
    • Make sure your child’s friends have your number.
    • Have a relationship with your child’s friends’ parents that says it’s ok to talk to each other, especially if there is a cause for concern, a safety issue, or just a simple check-in.
    • Being friends with other parents on Facebook or Twitter make a quick follow-up on plans for the weekend, the location of the activity, or even homework easier.
4) Don’t assume children have one another’s back
Does your child know that if something happens to a friend, someone should stay with that friend? Have you been clear with your child and their friends about what to do if a friend needs help?
  • Suggestions:
    • Talk to kids about looking out for each other. Make sure your child knows looking out for a friend will never get them in trouble. Not doing so, will. Tell them about good Samaritan law.
    • Model for and talk with your child about the idea that caring for one another sometimes means holding each other accountable, setting boundaries, and, if necessary, getting help even when it means getting in trouble.
5) Make sure there is a trusted adult nearby
If you found out your child was in danger, you likely wouldn’t want them alone for long. If your child is traveling (i.e. in many kids travel an hour or more from the suburbs to New York City) make sure you and they know a trusted adult in the area who can be there to help if necessary.
  • Suggestions:
    • Have a real conversation with your child about the dangers of going out when it is likely there will be drugs and alcohol. Show them articles like this one where kids out to have fun ended up hospitalized and dead.
    • Make sure they know someone nearby should they or a friend need help from an adult. Consider putting this person down as an emergency contact as well.
    • Tell kids that the police are there to help.  Many teens think the police are just to get them in trouble and do not realize they are there for safety and help in times of need.
6) Let technology help you be aware of your child’s whereabouts
Your child may be in trouble, but may not be able to tell you where they are. There is free technology to alleviate this problem. Have real conversations about safety and the importance of each of you being able to be there for each other should something unexpected happen.
  • Suggestions:
    • Use a tracking software for your family to be aware of where one another are for safety reasons. If parents are doing this too, it becomes more about safety and not only do as I say, but do as I do.  Here are some free cell phone tracking software options.
    • When you are following each other on Twitter or friends with the group on Facebook, a lot of valuable information becomes available.  This is not stalking, it’s being involved in your child’s life, supporting the culture in which they live, and enjoying their teen years while having a lot of safety measures in place.
7) Consider having a designated daughter
Teens are going to go out and it’s no secret that when they do. Underage drinking and more may take place, but you can help teens be responsible for themselves and one another by designating a different friend to be the one to watch out for the others.  That means this teen takes special care to remain as alert as possible and knows what to do in case of emergency.
  • Suggestions:
    • Help your children be responsible for themselves and one another by naming who will be responsible for ensuring others come home safely. Make sure all teens are aware of how to do this.
    • Make the designated daughter idea into a real program with a title, rewards, and service learning credit for their resume and scholarship applications.  
8) You are a great parent -- but this can still happen.
Drug and alcohol abuse does not discriminate. The honors students, most popular students, rich, and poor can fall victim to the consequences of drug and alcohol use. Even the kids of great parents can make bad choices.
  • Suggestions:
    • Don’t get too invested in why this would never happen to your child. Instead, make sure your child is prepared if she or a friend is in trouble.
    • Unconditional love means your child knows that you are there to help no matter what, safety first-consequences later.  
    • There is a difference between being naive, being paranoid, being trustful, and being smart.  Be a purposeful parent.
9) Make this a personal health issue
When discussing this with some young people in my learning network, one shared with me the reason he has avoided drugs like Molly. After studying Stephen Dewey he became familiar with the science behind what it can do to his body. See the real research behind what plays out when injesting drugs was enough to keep him clean.
  • Suggestions:
    • Educators can incorporate this into health and science classes. Parents can learn with their children about the effects of various drugs on the mind and body.
    • Parents can learn a lot by using hashtags and key terms they are hearing in their child’s music, seeing in posts or in the news.  #molly, #boozetube, #tamponflask
10) Don’t forget about your digital footprint
Your child made a mistake. If you’re lucky, they are now home safe and sound. But, in today’s world of social media, there is one more thing to be aware of. Peers or event photographers may have captured this indiscretion on tape. In fact, for EDM events like Steve Aoki’s, young people are encouraged to tag themselves and comment on one another’s photo.
  • Suggestions:
    • Both college and career recruiters are looking at your child’s online profile. Illegal use of drugs or alcohol and sexually explicit photos are among the top reasons candidates are not selected. While there is not much you can do about others publishing pictures, make sure your child knows not to comment on these photos or tag themselves.  
    • Make it clear to your child that the best way not to have pictures of them doing inappropriate things posted, is to NOT do inappropriate things.  Look at Facebook, Twitter together and discuss the consequences of those negative images on the reputation of others.  
    • Make it a policy in your home to be in the online worlds of your child. Just because we live in the digital age does not mean your child needs more privacy than that of the old telephone on the kitchen wall.
As educators who care in today’s world we cannot ignore the dangers.  Just as elementary children are taught to look both ways before crossing the street, secondary school students need taught to think safety before putting any chemicals in their body, before posting anything on social media, and before choosing friends.  Preventing a problem before it occurs with open communication, awareness, and solid procedures is a must.  

With a focus on test scores and curriculum, safety issues are often pushed aside or cut out of the curriculum. In some schools counselor position are being eliminated with budget cuts.  However, there is nothing more important than the health and safety of the young people in our schools.  

If you are an educator who cares about the whole child, start talking to your colleagues, your students, and their parents about these types of issues.  It only takes a few minutes and may save a life.  At the very least you may empower a parent, prevent a problem or help a child be in a state of mind to learn (and hey, that helps the test scores too, right?).

These are some ideas that could have helped several of the young people I encountered during my evening in ER. None of them are too hard to incorporate and doing so, may just come in handy for a child you know.  Which will you try? Have you implemented any of these suggestions with success or difficulty? Are there others that have or have not worked for you?

Willyn Webb is a licensed professional counselor, administrator, educator, author, college professor, wife and mother of three girls. She was a pioneer in bringing the language and interventions of solution-focused therapy to the classroom with her Solutioning books. She has also published children’s books and a play.  Having taught all ages and operated a private counseling practice, Webb is always on the pulse of what is effective and motivational. Webb has 23 years experience in education, most recently developing an alternative high school in Colorado where she uses cell phones, Facebook, and other technologies to build relationships, educate, and support service to others. For more on Willyn, her books, and her speaking go to or follow her Twitter @WillynWebb.

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