A proactive approach

Big Sky School District offers education and a forum to parents

About two dozen parents gathered at Warren Miller Performing Arts Center on December 10 to discuss the challenges of raising children in a rapidly changing world. “The was the best attended parent outreach event in the last four years,” Gallatin County deputy and Big Sky School District Resource Officer Travis Earl said.

Everything from bullying to the effects of drug and alcohol use on adolescent brains to the legal and civil repercussions of house parties were discussed in an open forum supported by PowerPoint presentations created by counselors Abby Wright and Erika Frounfelker. Also speaking at the event were BSSD Superintendent Dustin Shipman, Deputy Earl and legal expert and attorney Matt Dodd.

“Mapping and research of the adolescent brain has come a long way since I was in grad school,” high school counselor Wright told attendees, explaining that researchers have discovered that the brain is not fully developed until it’s 25 years old. Until then, impulse control, judgement and planning are slightly impaired, said Wright while asserting that parents can help their kids with brain development by talking through decision-making processes with them.

“Have those hard conversations with the kids,” she said. “The beauty of the adolescent brain is it is extremely creative. Left with no boundaries? They are going to push the limits. “I have found that if you are consistent with your boundary setting, it is extremely helpful. If you wiggle a little bit, they know you’ll wiggle.”

One mother asked at what age parents should start the discussion of health ramifications from drugs, alcohol and smoking.

“We start in elementary,” the counselor for younger students, Frounfelker, replied. “All research says it’s never too early.”

Another mother asked about vaping.

Wright said smoking is coming back and with all the creative flavors – like cotton candy and bubble gum – the companies are targeting middle and high school aged kids. Despite claims that they are nicotine free, the vast majority are not, said Wright, elaborating that vapes have an oil which has nicotine in it which is housed in a pod called a “jewel” and is the size of a USB plug.

“One jewel has the nicotine equivalent of a full pack of cigarettes,” Wright said.

One father asked about the consistent steps done by the school to curb any influx of drugs.

Superintendent Shipman said all student athletes are drug tested, and a drug sniffing dog is brought randomly into the school for drug searches. The school also has speakers come to discuss substance abuse.

Deputy Earl said that despite an influx of drugs to the area via the dark web – or the black market of the internet – as well as being situated on a drug corridor, BSSD is dodging many of the issues faced by schools further down the canyon. On average, he said, he has only had to seriously intervene with a child at the school once per year in the last four years he’s been the resource officer.

While Big Sky kids are generally opting to not get involved with hard drugs, the school remains proactive. Parents should as well, Dodd pointed out: Big Sky youth have a fairly readily available supply of drugs with the 20-something ski community in town.

The discussion of parents hosting house parties has also surfaced in the school. Both Dodd and Deputy Earl spoke to that.

“That’s a bad idea - a really bad idea. If you as parents have decided to let your kids drink at your house that’s your business,” Dodd said. “If you are letting other people’s kids drink at your house, that’s a different idea.”

Dodd drove the point home. Lawyers will line up. The civil case will get nasty if someone leaves your house after drinking and hurts someone, he said. 

Deputy Earl said that while a parent can legally give their child alcohol in Montana, it is not to an intoxicating level: 0.04 blood alcohol content is ok by law. However, serving alcohol to children that are not your own can lead to several charges including endangering the welfare of a child.

“Just know that what you are supposed to do as an adult is protect their brains,” Wright urged. “If we can delay them using a substance until their prefrontal cortex is developed, likelihood of addiction significantly declines.”

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