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Draper Journal

Top Secret Project tips parents off about dangerous teen activities

Mar 16, 2020 01:15PM ● By Stephanie Yrungaray

Parents look for signs of trouble on a desk in a teenage bedroom set up for the Top Secret Project in Draper.(Stephanie Yrungaray/City Journals)

By Stephanie Yrungaray | [email protected]

On Jan. 28, parents put their sleuthing skills to the test, looking through a makeshift teenage bedroom to see if they could spot items that signal potential problems with drugs, alcohol or other dangerous issues teenagers face.

Fabric imprinted with marijuana leaves was an obvious choice, but the honey bear (some types of honey have hallucinogenic effects and psychoactive qualities), jewelry (which can be used as bongs) and bracelets (to cover up signs of self-harm) were objects that might not tip off most parents.

These items were some of the 150 potentially dangerous items on display as part of a special presentation called the “Top Secret Project.” The Draper Police Department brought this educational resource to the community with support from Draper Police Honorary Colonels, Canyons School District, Corner Canyon High School, Juan Diego High School and Lone Peak Hospital.

After taking 30 minutes to look through the mock teenage bedroom, parents listened to a 90-minute presentation given by outreach managers from the Hazeldon Betty Ford Foundation, an addiction treatment and advocacy organization.

Joe Ghiz and his wife attended the presentation because they thought it was important information for them to know.

“We have three kids nearing the teenage years and we know there is a growing rate of not only suicide but self-esteem issues and other challenges,” Ghiz said. “We are trying everything within our power to make sure to raise kids that have healthy, strong self-esteem.”

The presenters covered a wide range of dangerous behaviors in their presentation including vaping, marijuana use, self-harm and disordered eating.

Kate Roselle, youth outreach manager for the Hazeldon Betty Ford Foundation, works with addicted teens and their families. She said it is very easy to miss signs of a problem.

“What I see so much is parents saying, ‘How did I not know? How have I missed this for this long?’” Roselle said. “The reality of the situation is we are talking about signs and symptoms to look for like changes in mood, changes in physical appearance, changes in the amount they are sleeping. What does that sound like? A teenager! So we are looking at normal teenage behavior and trying to figure out what is abnormal teenage behavior. That is when I say trust your gut. You know your kid so trust it. If something feels different or not right it is time to take a look and it’s time to ask questions.”

Draper Police Chief John Eining said they worked to bring the Top Secret Project to Draper because it is important for parents to have increased awareness and encouragement to start tough conversations.

“We don’t try to ignore the problem, we try to address the problem. We address it through education, we address it through having honest communication with our families,” Eining said. “As parents sometimes we are afraid to ask hard questions because we don’t want to know what the answer is. We need to learn that asking the hard questions brings on the response that could maybe save someone before they get themselves in a lot of trouble.”

Roselle said she has had many patients tell her they purposely left items in the open for their parents to find because they wanted to start a conversation but were too afraid.

“I think we dance around it a lot because we don’t want to just say it,” Roselle said. “[As parents] we are allowed to say, ‘Your behaviors are scaring me, I feel scared when you don’t come home when you say you’ll be home. And I feel scared that you’ve been isolating in your room and I’d love to talk about that.’”

Roselle said establishing both regular and sporadic check-ins with your teenager can give them opportunities to talk about scary things.

“Go home tonight and say [to your teen], ‘Listen, I love you,’” Roselle said. “‘I know it can be really hard to be a teenager and I just want you to know that I have your back. And even if it is a really hard thing to talk about I am somebody who is in your corner. You might not feel brave enough to come to me but I want you to know that I’ll be checking in with you just to see how you are doing.’” 

Hazeldon Betty Ford Foundation Outreach Manager Cendee Palmer said parents also have the responsibility to reduce access.

“Go home and lock up liquor cabinets,” Palmer said. “Take any unused medications to medication drop boxes.” 

Roselle said the most important thing parents can do to help prevent dangerous behaviors in teens is to establish a strong connection.

‘The best thing we can do is engage in relationships. In the field of addiction, we often talk about the opposite of addiction being connection,” Roselle said. “That connection is an open door in a lot of these situations so starting right now you can work on creating that open, honest and connected relationship with your young person so that they feel comfortable and safe having those conversations with you.”

Eining said they were thrilled with the number of people who attended the Top Secret Project and hope to do a similar event in the future.

“I hope the parents who attended learned something they can share with their families, neighborhood or whatever social group they belong to,” Eining said. “We need to start talking about it and get the conversation going.”