Eagle River Youth Coalition: Eat Chat Parent series proves that showing up is half the battle (column) | VailDaily.com

Eagle River Youth Coalition: Eat Chat Parent series proves that showing up is half the battle (column)

Carol Johnson
Valley Voices

Carol Johnson

When parents are informed about today's issues that youth face, their children benefit. If you were one of the 826 parents and youth who attended this year's Eat Chat Parent events, then you can count yourself among the enlightened.

We are grateful you showed up and participated, and we hope that what you learned is helping your relationship with your child. At the Eagle River Youth Coalition, we strive for an engaged and educated parent community. Parents asked and we answered with two events per month up and down the valley.

Attendance tripled

Eat Chat Parent wrapped up on Tuesday, April 3, with the final session; we hosted 13 sessions overall and saw attendance triple from previous years. What does this tell our community? We think it shows that parents are hungry for advice and information, especially tips and tools to help them do the toughest job of all — parenting teens and pre-teens.

We heard from experts who presented facts and first-person stories about depression, anxiety, suicide, vaping, marijuana, sex and empathy. Each session ended with a conversational-style Q&A, which, in our opinion, was the most powerful part of each event. In addition, resources were provided so parents know where to turn to for help.

Tech top of mind

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Interestingly enough, no matter which topic was presented, technology use was always part of the discussion. The digital divide between parents and their children grows larger by the day, not to mention it is as hard as ever to navigate and monitor.

If you are a parent and want to learn ways to minimize this chasm, then we encourage you to subscribe to Screenager's Tech Talk Tuesdays. Delivered to your inbox each Tuesday, Tech Talk Tuesdays offers advice, perspectives and information about a variety of technology topics, including cyberbullying, cellphones in school, social media, sleep and screens, distraction, self-control, monitoring and much, much more.

Stay on top of these issues and learn to be confident in dealing with the dilemmas that pop up daily regarding the pre-teen and teen digital world.

It's OK to not be OK

What else did we learn? We learned from Michael Phelps in the "Angst" documentary that "it's OK to not be OK." We learned from Molly Fiore, local youth counselor, author and speaker, that "no one ever got a feeling wrong."

We learned from Mandy Ivanov, Eagle County's health promotion coordinator and schools liaison, about juuling, the newest verb to join our teens' lexicon. Ivanov also taught us that e-liquids, when heated, turn to aerosols that contain nickel, chromium, lead and zinc. We learned from Nicola Erb, Breckenridge's chief of police, that substance use is harmful to the teen's developing brain. We learned from the No Place For Hate Eagle Valley Middle School students myriad ways to promote inclusivity and discourage bias.

All this information that Eat Chat Parent shared adds up to one thing: Knowledge brings power to parenting. The more you know, the more you can shape your child's future into a healthy one.

Your voice is the strongest voice in their lives, and if they learn what is true from you, and not from a peer, they have a better chance for making healthy choices. "Talk early, and talk often," says the SpeakNowColorado website. We couldn't agree more.

Lastly, we heard from some parents that there was not a need to attend some of our events this year because "we are not there yet." At Eagle River Youth Coalition, we beg to differ. Prevention experts believe that in order to combat destructive choices in youth, education needs to begin three to four years prior to the unwanted behavior. This is important for parents of fourth- and fifth-graders as they look forward to their children transitioning to middle school and beyond.

Looking ahead, we are poised to grow even further next school year. We will continue to tackle tough topics and purposefully weave technology use into each event for the 2018-19 Eat Chat Parent series. Stay tuned for the specific topics and schedule, and in the meantime, continue to be part of the conversation as a member of the Parent Advisory Council. (To join, email cjohnson@eagleyouth.org).

Lastly, a huge thank-you to the financial sponsors who made Eat Chat Parent possible: Vail Valley Cares, towns of Eagle, Avon and Gypsum, SAMSHA, Colorado's Office of Behavioral Health. Local schools, Eagle County Public Health, the Vail Daily, KZYR and YouthPower365 were great partners, as well, offering babysitting, speakers, advertising, event locations, on-air interviews and more.

Without all of these organizations' belief in Eat Chat Parent, and the hundreds of parents and youth who attend, Eat Chat Parent would not exist.

You got this, parents.

Carol Johnson is the community education manager for the Eagle River Youth Coalition. You can reach her at 970-949-9250 or cjohnson@eagleyouth.org.