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Helping teens make good choices explored at seminar

 


Jennifer McPherson was one of three speakers during a commuinity awareness seminar presented by the Local Advisory Committee at the Rex Theatre in Thompson Falls last Wednesday. Representing the Flathead Valley Chemical Dependency Clinic, McPherson spoke with authority on the subject as a professional and as one who is not shy about drug abuse in her past that led to her current profession.

McPherson was proceeded by Abby Harnett, director of Western Montana Mental Health Center (WMMHC), which has recently taken over the mental health role at Falls schools since the expiration of contract with AltaCare. Her department works with troubled students every day, whether helping them get through the school day with minimal struggles or with longer term problems stemming from home or peers.

Aria Vesely from Clark Fork Valley Hospital spoke about online safety with youth relating to cyberbullying and other webs of trouble teens can find themselves in through careless interactions on the internet.

“We all know what bullying is, but youth today are dealing with something that us old folks never had to deal with growing up – cyberbullying,” Vesely said.

Vesely noted that prevention starts in the home, with firm boundaries laid out by parents about expectations of moral conduct and behavior. “There is a phrase we are all familiar with that pertains to manners now more than ever in this online world – if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all,” she said. “What we post online and choose to comment on sends a message to kids about what is appropriate behavior.”

Also new to adults yet encountered by youth regularly is the act of “sexting,” or taking and sending photos that are lewd, nude or age inappropriate.

“Montana law is very specific about this – even if the recipient is a minor,” shared Vesely. A young girl might be set on filling her boyfriend’s request for a naughty picture, but what neither of them realize is that the boyfriend can be charged with possession of child pornography. That young man could be charged and forced to register as a sex offender.

Another danger of sexting is that, although the recipient of the photo might be trusted at the time, breakups happen – as does revenge porn, or the mass distribution of pictures of exes that were sent at a time when the subject in the photo trusted the recipient. “That girl may have thought the world of this boy, but once the breakup happened, he was no longer the only eyes that have seen the photos,” Vesely explained.

Restrictions on the amount of time online and a little detective work on the part of parents is absolutely necessary to ensure healthy online habits and setting clear boundaries for youth.

“When I was a kid, it wasn’t unheard of for parents to check backpacks if something was suspected to be amiss – so, what can parents do nowadays to keep things on the up and up? Check their phone. Talk to them about their social media – who’s pages do they enjoy? Who do they like to chat with? What pages or groups are they a part of? These inquiries show that you care but also remind them there is accountability for their actions.”

 

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