Eagle County Sheriff: It takes a village to raise our youth, and we all need to do our part (column) | VailDaily.com

Eagle County Sheriff: It takes a village to raise our youth, and we all need to do our part (column)

James van Beek
Valley Voices

James van Beek

Much has been written about the increasing need for a supportive environment for our children. Things have changed over the years, and while much of it is good, it comes at a price.

We live in Eagle County because we see opportunity that does not readily exist in other areas. The natural environment provides an amazing balance to an otherwise hectic lifestyle. To engage in cutting-edge technology one minute and hike a trail discovered by our ancestors the next is an amazing contrast that enhances our daily experience.

As adults, we can make the necessary adaptations to shift between the two, and it provides a sense of normalcy that few experience. Our children thrive in this unique setting but are not immune to the challenges that are faced by kids across the nation.

With summer approaching, unstructured time for our young people allows for relaxation, creativity, expansion of personal passions, development of talents and simply hanging out with friends. For some, however, it can be a time of separation from the comfort zone of routine and familiarity, which can be upsetting and even depressing.

We must be sensitive to the variances in mood and seek activities that keep them engaged. There are many camps and fun activities available and, often, accompanying scholarships to make these options possible for even the most limited budgets.

Probably the greatest challenge is in keeping our teens busy. It's a great time to allow young people the opportunity to earn their own money. Jobs can be fun, while also allowing a degree of independence. It's helpful in teaching them what it takes to earn that new Xbox or iPhone. Yet, there will still be plenty of unstructured time that allows for sports, trips and just plain fun.

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Since kids haven't changed that much since our teen years, we must also assume that they will push the limits. With the increase in time and the decrease in supervision, creative teens are known to engage in risky behavior … I certainly remember my teen years.

As a parent, sheriff and former "adventurous" teen, I am in the unique position to say: "Parents beware." Of course, we joke about the crazy things we did as kids, but in reality, some of the challenges out there today are much more dangerous than most of us had in our youth.

The most likely trouble will come from drinking and substance abuse. While it's not limited to young people, the effects are more damaging to a growing body. A teen's brain chemistry is in transition, which can cause mood swings, irrational behavior and limited impulse control, and the possibility of addiction is biologically stronger.

A key player in this arena is marijuana. Its use is becoming more widespread and accepted. Since it's legal, it is more easily attainable by those who are underage, even if they are technically unable to purchase it themselves. Its strength is stronger than the weed that their parents may have known in the '70s.

Marijuana is no longer an organic product with a 3 percent to 4 percent THC factor; it is now genetically modified to contain more than 20 percent THC, thus making it much more dangerous to a developing mind. Its effect impairs judgment exponentially and, with it, the danger of engaging in an act that could have life-altering consequences.

With parents working, sometimes multiple jobs, we rely on our young people to make responsible decisions, yet we all realize that they are also teens. Fortunately, they live in a highly supportive environment.

Groups of leaders across the spectrum gather regularly in the development of prevention programs. YouthPower365 and the Eagle River Youth Coalition are engaged in seeking solutions by successfully identifying risk factors and combining resources to create viable strategies that will address the unique the needs of Eagle County. What they have in common is a need for your help.

Your voice is valued, as you represent the heart of our community. While time is limited for everyone, if each of us could spare an hour a month, the positive impact across the valley will be huge.

As an example, Communities that Care is offering a free interactive training session for professionals, parents, community members and even teens on the adolescent brain and emotional development. It will be held at Colorado Mountain College in Edwards from 5 to 8 p.m. Mondays, May 7 and 14. Your participation is vital to the success of our young people's future in this valley. Please join me in supporting these essential programs; our kids depend on it.

James van Beek is the Eagle County sheriff. You can reach him at james.vanbeek@eaglecounty.us.