BY LOUISE R. SHAW
Clipper Staff Writer
BOUNTIFUL – Parents concerned about their children’s exposure to pornography or worried about protecting them from bullying, were part of a small audience in attendance at a Davis School District seminar last week.
The Parent Seminar on Youth Protection addressed not only those problems, but substance abuse, mental health issues and suicide prevention as well.
A law newly passed by the Utah Legislature requires districts to hold at least one such seminar annually, and the district scheduled four. The next two are Tuesday, Jan. 28 for parents of elementary students and Wednesday, Feb. 5, for parents of seconday students. Both run from 7 to 9 p.m. at Clearfield High, 931 S. 1000 East in Clearfield.
“We are sharing our best practice and knowledge in an effort to protect our youth,” said Brad Christensen, student services director for the district, at the start of the seminar. “We have a shared responsibility to be engaged in protecting our most precious asset: our children.”
Keynote speaker Greg Hudnall has worked for many years in the Provo School District, and resigned earlier this year to make suicide his primary focus, as executive director of Hope4Utah.
Whether dealing with preventing pornography use or suicide, he encouraged parents to talk to their children.
“Talk to your kids,” he said. “Let your kids know you care about them ... Ask tough questions and then step back and allow them to talk.”
The best way to prevent suicide, said Hudnall, is to ask a child how they are feeling and even if they’re thinking about killing themselves. Some parents think asking would be making the suggestion, he said, but it’s more important to broach the subject.
“Ask straight out,” he said. “Trust your gut. It makes a difference in your kids’ life.”
Warning signs of suicidal thoughts are a child who gives away his or her prized possessions, expresses feelings of hopelessness, has difficulty concentrating or is unusually cheerful after being depressed, a sign he or she may have made a final decision.
“Take her seriously,” he said. “Make sure your kid always has someone to turn to. Be sure your home is safe,” and that guns are not just locked up but out of the house.
He encouraged parents to get help from professionals if they are aware of a potential problem.
Other signs listed on a flyer produced by Davis Behavioral Health and shared with parents after the presentation, are self-mutilation, a fixation with death or violence, unhealthy peer relationships, volatile mood swings, risk-taking behaviors or depression.
Mental illness, said Hudnall, is a disease.
“We need to help these kids know they can live normal, productive lives,” he said.
Internet safety is also an area that requires parental involvement, according to Hudnall.
“Too much times online means less time with healthy physical activities and real relationships,” he said.
He encouraged parents to establish rules and have children sign a media pledge that lists what behavior is expected and when and where kids can be online.
Kids as young as 8-years-old have told him they wish their parents had explained more clearly the harms of pornography upfront. All too soon an addiciton is formed and parents might try to shame a child for what started naively.
“Shaming me only led me to hide it,” he said the children say.
Bullying is a repeated, purposeful negative action that draws an emotional reaction from a victim, according to Hudnall, and 60 percent of bullies are popular students.
He encouraged parents to look for signs such as lost or destroyed clothes, bruises, mood changes or a reluctance to go to school, for signs of bullying.
If they suspect their child is being bullied, they should express support, gather detailed information on the incidents of bullying, and report it to school officials or, in severe cases, the police.
Schools that have given students wrist bands with a hotline number to call if they witness bullying have had considerable success in stopping it, according to Christensen. Friendshipping groups have also proved beneficial.
Parents also need to stay closely involved with their students to prevent substance abuse problems.
“Talk to your kids,” said Hundall. “Teach them of the risks ... know what’s going on in their lives and be a parents Р not a pal. Kids need boundaries,” he said.
More information on preventing suicide can be found at hope4utah.com.