Even though schools were closed Saturday, several middle-schoolers and their parents gathered at Lake Braddock Secondary School for a lesson on how to prevent bullying, cyber-bullying and substance abuse among other things.
Lisa Adler, of Unified Prevention Coalition of Fairfax County Public Schools, said targeting middle school students and their parents was important because parents are often disengaged from their children during this period of rapid physical, emotional and academic transition. Adler cited study results showing most teens that engage in risky behaviors often have their first experience by age 12. She emphasized parental influence as an important factor in middle school success.
“Unfortunately, during this same period of time, parents often disengage from school involvement and youth supervision while research is telling us that the biggest influence on students are their parents,” Adler said. “Our local data tells us that youth perception of positive family connectedness and family supervision are key assets that help prevent a youth from making poor decisions.”
The one-day conference was designed to let parents see how much middle school has changed over the years. According to a 2009 survey given to Fairfax County Public Schools students, 70 percent of eighth-graders have bullied someone and 39 percent of the surveyed students said they have experimented with alcohol. Saturday’s forum was co-facilitated by high school students and adults specializing in prevention or youth services.
Fairfax County Police Chief David Rohrer said law enforcement could not arrest their way out of bullying and drug violations in the schools. He said times have changed and parents have to be more aware of what is going on with their children. Rohrer said the forum was important to help parents anticipate and handle issues that come up as students transition from the safe closed environment of elementary school to middle school and beyond.
“We kept them sheltered in elementary school when they get to middle school they are starting to evolve and grow and we get to college they are going to be out there on their own.” Rohrer said. “This is a stepping stone to teach them smart decision making and the consequences of their choices.”
The role technology plays in the life of teens was one of the hot button topics of the forum. Parents wanted to know if the various social media networks accessible to teens were playing a more detrimental role in cyber-bullying and further promoting the usage of controlled substances.
“We did a great job of figuring out how to bioengineer everything from corn to wheat to soy beans and by God if it on worked those plants, let’s use it on marijuana,” said keynote speaker Jack Claypoole, an administrator with Drug Free Communities under the Executive Office of the President.
Dylon Higgs, a student, said he did not want to be called a snitch, but thought parents should really know what happens when some students throw parties. While not all kids are bad, he said middle school students are now doing what their parents did in college and high school. He challenged parents to set boundaries, saying not too many parents were making that vital decision to inspire their children
“Most kids who don’t do drugs have something to live for,” Higgs said. “For me it is my car. As a parent you should not give your kid everything but something to live for. Have them understand they have goals in life they have nothing to gain if they do (drugs).”