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Our View: CCPS event helping parents, students communicate a good idea that should be repeated

At the conclusion of a wellness event hosted by Carroll County Public Schools last week designed to help students and parents communicate with each other about some difficult topics, Superintendent Steven Lockard said he hopes this will become a recurring event. We’d like to see it held annually.

The presentation, “Navigating Difficult Waters Together: Supporting, Empowering and Communicating with Today’s Youth,” held Thursday at Winters Mill High School, had experts speak about drug and alcohol abuse, signs of depression, and internet safety in an atmosphere conducive to audience members asking questions. Additionally, some 20 exhibitors offered resources to prevent and tackle these issues and a panel of four high school students offered another perspective.

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Much of what was discussed is difficult to hear. For example, Amy Jagoda, coordinator of mental health and student services for CCPS, noted a 2018 study that showed 17.5% of Carroll County high school students seriously considered attempting suicide. She also told those assembled that suicide is the second-leading cause of death for people from ages 10 to 24. Getting that unnerving information out to parents is one thing. Giving them tools to do something about it is another. And it’s what Thursday was all about.

Jagoda recommended parents maintain close communication with their children and take their feelings seriously. “Sometimes people say, ‘Oh they’re just saying it because they want attention.’ If they’re feeling that they need attention that badly, they probably do need the attention," she said. "Give them the attention.” She noted that signs of depression or anxiety might present as increased headaches or stomachaches, withdrawing from others, anger or irritability and/or a loss of focus.

Amy Laugelli, substance abuse prevention coordinator for Carroll County Health Department, recommended parents not only talk to their children about drugs and alcohol, but to set an example. She suggested that rather than a parent announcing they need a drink after work, going for a walk instead and inviting the child along. She also suggested a mobile app, called “Talk. They Hear You.,” which helps parents practice difficult conversations and learn tips before they talk to their child.

Joe Dugan, an internet safety specialist with Maryland State Police, offered tips for protecting kids online. He suggested monitoring their phone use, talking to them about internet danger and making them understand they can go to their parents if they encounter something that makes them uncomfortable. He said predators look for children who are up late and unsupervised online and if a stranger asks a child their age, sex and location, that’s an immediate red flag. “We can make them safer by making them smarter," Dugan said. “Be that open resource for your child.”

County Commissioner Eric Bouchat, R-District 4, spoke about his family’s struggles with addiction. His daughter, Tawni Nicole Bouchat, died at 26 of a fentanyl overdose in 2017. Bouchat then turned to alcohol, he said, but made a commitment to sobriety in his daughter’s memory. He is now celebrating two years sober. “Now here I am telling you that the addiction is real,” he said. “I want to affect your life so that you don’t suffer what I have suffered and my daughter had suffered.”

The high school panel was equally compelling. Francis Scott Key senior Jake Lamb, Winters Mill sophomore Marely Mujica-Cruz, Manchester Valley junior Lilli Malone and Liberty junior Nate Peterson spoke about their appreciation for when their parents ask about their lives and provide a sounding board, as well as for supporting them in their interests. As Lamb put it, an event like Thursday’s is needed, “because there’s no specific manual or way to do this and way to parent. It’s just more about supporting your kid and being there for them.”

Good advice at the end of a good night, that, hopefully, won’t be one of a kind.

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