According to Mental Health America (MHA), BIPOC communities are significantly more likely to develop mental health conditions, and one of the major barriers to mental health treatment is access and the need for understanding mental health support.
Join us to celebrate Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) Mental Health Month! This year’s theme is #BeyondTheNumbers. which explores the nuances and uniqueness in BIPOC communities and celebrates their strengths and resilience.
BIPOC Mental Health Month is not only about raising awareness about the unique struggles that underrepresented groups face regarding mental health in the U.S, but is also about shining a light on their needs, stories, and experiences.
Together, let’s gain knowledge on historical context, systems of support, and actionable ways to move forward toward a mentally healthy future for us all.
Here are some resources to share with your friends, family and colleagues to support the BIPOC community, be a stronger ally, spread awareness about BIPOC mental health to reduce stigma, and encourage people to get the treatment they need.
Did you know HPV is a common virus that can cause certain cancers later in life? According to CDC, more than 42 million American are currently infected with HPV types that cause disease and about 13 million Americans, including teens, become infected each year.
What is HPV?
HPV, also known as Human Papillomavirus, is a common virus that can cause cancers later in life. It is one of the most common sexual transmitted infections (STIs). HPV is spread through intimate skin-to-skin contact. You can get HPV by sexual contact with someone who has the virus, even if they do not have signs or symptoms.
It is recommended that everyone through age 26 should get the HPV vaccine. Adults between ages 27 and 45 years old who were not already vaccinated might still be able to get the HPV vaccine after speaking with their medical provider about their risks for new HPV infections. The HPV vaccine for adults provides less benefit because most people in this age range have already been exposed to HPV at some point.
Why is vaccination important?
You can protect your child from certain cancers later in life with the HPV vaccine. The earlier the better! It can protect your child long before they ever have contact with the virus.
HPV infections can cause certain cancers in both men and women. Some of those are cervix, vagina and vulva cancer in women and penis cancer in men. Both men and women can also get anus and back-of-the-throat cancer. Cancer usually takes years, even decades, to be detected after a person is infected with HPV.
Are HPV vaccines safe and effective?
The HPV vaccine can prevent over 90% of cancers caused by this virus and work best when given at age 11-12 years, before contact with the HPV virus.
HPV vaccination is safe! More than 135 million doses of HPV vaccines have been distributed throughout the states since they were licensed. Also, 15 years of monitoring have shown that HPV vaccines are very safe and effective in protecting against the HPV types targeted by the vaccine. For more information about HPV vaccination please visit, HPV Vaccine Safety | CDC.
Did you know, April is Alcohol Awareness Month? If you haven’t already, now may be a good time to reflect on your drinking patterns and the role that alcohol plays in your life.
This year’s theme is “Connecting the Dots: Opportunity for Recovery, which focuses primarily on youth education and prevention. This specific group of individuals can be easily influenced by alcohol and other substances if not educated or informed about risks. For this reason, we are asking you to join us this month to help raise awareness in our communities, schools, and homes on alcohol use.
Our youth in Skagit County
According to the 2021 Healthy Youth Survey, Alcohol use has been reported by youth as young as 6th grade, and prevalence of regular use increases each year. By 12th grade, approximately 1 in 5 12th graders reported drinking in the past month. This can be for many reasons, perhaps one being that children in these grades are not getting enough information about alcohol.
Why is it important?
Research shows that heavy alcohol use during teen years can permanently damage the still developing brain. Alcohol use at a young age is also associated with violence, poor school performance, suicide, and risky sexual behavior. The use of alcohol at this early age can lead to possible substance abuse later in life and Alcohol use disorder (AUD), which affects about 15 million adults in the United States. There are more than 380 deaths each day in the U.S. due to excessive alcohol use, making alcohol the third leading preventable cause of death in the nation.
Looking for something positive? Research also shows that about 50% of children who have conversations with parents about risks are less likely to use drugs and alcohol, than those who do not. That’s why “connecting the dots” with your child, sibling, cousin, niece, or nephew is so important.
What can we do to help spread awareness?
Although one month out of the year is not enough time to help educate and help everyone recover, continue to spread the word about the importance of alcohol awareness to friends and family.
Get creative and make informational flyers about the topic with resources and distribute them around your neighborhood town, local stores etc. Host a fundraiser to donate money to local non-profit treatment facilities.
Did you know in 2020 Washington State reported 613 Sexually Transmitted Infections cases in Skagit County? This month is Sexually Transmitted Infection Awareness Month. Join us by sharing information about STIs to friends and family on how to stay safe and stop the spread!
What is a STI?
A STI is an infection that is passed from one individual to another through sexual contact. STIs are also known as a sexually transmitted disease or STDs. According to American Sexual Health Association ASHA, Americans contract around 20 million STDs every year, with young people (aged 15-24) making up half of the cases.
Most Common STIs
Current trending STIs are Chlamydia, Gonorrhea and Syphilis. Chlamydia is the most reported STI in the U.S., with 15 – 24-year-olds making up nearly 2/3 of all cases. This STI is known as the silent STI due to it rarely having symptoms, therefore people often spread it before even realizing they have it.
Another prominent STI is Gonorrhea which has seen a 75.2% case increase since 2009. If caught early, it can most likely be cured early with a single dose of antibiotics.
Syphilis can cause serious health problems if not cured with treatment. This infection develops in three stages and has different signs and symptoms. It can also be spread from mother to her unborn child. In 2020 144,000 cases of syphilis were spotted in the country, which has been the highest in 30 years.
Why is it important to seek medical care and get tested?
Some STIs, like Chlamydia, if undiagnosed and untreated, can lead to a serious condition called pelvic Inflammatory disease (PID) that can cause infertility and increase the chances of transmitting or getting HIV.
What can Skagit County Public Health do for STI prevention and treatment?
Skagit County Public Health (SCPH) does not offer any testing or treatment services to the general public but will test and treat as part of contact investigation for someone who has already been identified by a provider as STI positive. SCPH also provides free testing (via blood sample) and antibiotic treatment for the sex partner of positive cases, through a program called Expedited Partner Treatment (EPT). The patient must live in Skagit County to receive this. If a sex partner lives outside of Skagit County, they will be referred to their local county health department and be provided with adequate care. Our office also offers free condoms for anyone, located in the restrooms! For questions or concerns feel free to contact us at (360) 416-1500 or visit our website for more info.
Today, the FDA amended the emergency use authorization for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine, authorizing the use of a single booster dose for administration to individuals 16 and 17 years of age at least six months after completion of primary vaccination with the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine. This means that 16- and 17-year old’s can now get a Pfizer booster dose 6 months after their second dose of Pfizer vaccine.
Beginning immediately, Skagit County Public Health will provide booster doses for these newly eligible individuals—BY APPOINTMENT—at the Skagit County Public Health Office, located at 700 S 2nd Street (3rd floor) in downtown Mount Vernon, as well as the Skagit County Fairgrounds, located at 501 Taylor Street in Mount Vernon.
The Downtown Booster Clinic will operate Monday-Thursday from 9:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. The Fairgrounds Booster Clinic will operate Mondays, Tuesday, Thursdays, and Fridays from 3:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.
Appointments can be scheduled online by going to https://prepmod.doh.wa.gov/ and searching for “Skagit County Public Health” under the Name of Location box. For assistance, call Public Health at (360) 416-1500.
Appointments are limited at this time. If no appointments appear to be available when you search online, please know that new appointments will be added each Monday at 9:00 a.m.
Please be sure that you are scheduling for a Booster Clinic appointment and select the Pfizer vaccine option. Be sure to note which clinic location you have signed up for.
No insurance is required for these clinics. Please bring your Vaccination Card with you to your appointment. Consent to vaccinate will also be required from the minor’s parent or legal guardian and can be provided either in-person or by phone at the time of the appointment.
As a reminder, prime COVID-19 vaccinations and antigen testing are still available at the Skagit County Fairgrounds location until the site closes permanently after January 28. Pediatric vaccines are also provided at this location by appointment only.
For a full list of vaccination providers in Skagit County, visit our website at www.skagitcounty.net/COVIDvaccine or call the COVID-19 Information Hotline at 1-800-525-0127, then press #.
On March 17th, Washington State will move into the next COVID-19 vaccine tier: Phase 1b-Tier 2. That means that even more people will soon be eligible for a vaccine. And—for the first time—some minors will become eligible for the vaccine, as well.
Those eligible beginning later this month will include people 16 and older who are pregnant and people 16 and older with disabilities that put them at high-risk for severe illness. In April, the State estimates that people 16 and older with two or more underlying conditions that put them at higher risk of severe illness will also become eligible.
Parents and those 16 and older may have questions or concerns about the COVID-19 vaccine—and that is okay! Below are some answers to commonly asked questions about the vaccine that may help parents and minors decide whether the vaccine is right for them. And of course, if you don’t find the answers you are looking for here, talk to your child’s pediatrician.
Are children currently eligible for the vaccine?
At this moment, children are not eligible for the vaccine in Washington State. Those 16 and older who are pregnant and people 16 and older with disabilities that put them at high-risk for severe illness will be eligible when the state moves to the next tier (Phase 1b-Tier 2) on March 17th.
When will I know when my child is eligible?
To determine your child’s eligibility (or your own), visit www.findyourphasewa.org. After completing the online survey, you will be notified when you or your child become eligible for the vaccine. You can also find updates about eligibility on our website at www.skagitcounty.net/COVIDvaccine.
Is the vaccine safe for children?
The vaccines that have been authorized by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) thus far are safe for the ages included in their authorizations. At present, only the Pfizer vaccine is authorized for use in people 16 and older; the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are authorized for use in people 18 and older. Currently, there are no vaccines that have been authorized for use in ages younger than 16.
To date, only the Pfizer vaccine has been authorized for use in those 16 year and older. This is because the Pfizer vaccine included those 16 and older in clinical trials, and data was collected on the safety and efficacy of the vaccine on this population.
Vaccine developers are now studying their vaccines in younger adolescents between the ages of 12 and 16. Once these studies are complete, the developers will report the results and apply for authorization through the FDA to vaccinate children as young as 12. Developers will begin studying their vaccines in children between age 5 and 11 after results from adolescent trials are made available.
Are the vaccines effective in children?
The Pfizer vaccine (which has been authorized for those 16 years and older) boasts 95% protection against COVID-19 after an individual has received both doses of their vaccine. This is an extremely high level of protection!Please keep in mind that this is a two-dose vaccine, given 21 days apart. Your child will not be considered fully protected until two weeks after they receive their second dose.
Will the vaccine affect my child’s future fertility?
No. There is no evidence that the COVID-19 vaccine affects future fertility. Experts believe that COVID-19 vaccines are unlikely to pose a risk to a person trying to become pregnant in the short or long term. The COVID-19 vaccines are being studied carefully by scientists around the globe, and their safety will be studied continuously for many years, just like other vaccines.
My child has already had COVID-19. Should they still get the vaccine?
Yes, people should be vaccinated regardless of whether they already had COVID-19. Experts do not yet know how long people are protected from getting sick again after recovering from COVID-19, and information is still being gathered around how long protection lasts. If your child was treated for COVID-19 with monoclonal antibodies or convalescent plasma, talk to their doctor before making a vaccine appointment.
Should my child get the COVID-19 vaccine if they are currently sick with COVID-19?
No, it is recommended that those who are currently sick with COVID-19 should wait until they have fully recovered before receiving the vaccine. If you have questions, please consult your child’s pediatrician before scheduling a vaccine appointment.
Are there side effects after getting the vaccine?
Minor side effects are possible after receiving the vaccine. Common side effects may include:
Pain at the site of the injection
Painful, swollen lymph nodes in the arm where the vaccine was injected
Muscle or joint aches
Nausea and vomiting
Fever or chills
When side effects occur, they typically last just a few days. A side effect or reaction isn’t necessarily a bad thing! It may indicate that the body is building protection against the virus. Talk to your child’s pediatrician about taking over-the-counter medicine, such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen, or antihistamines, for any pain and discomfort they may experience after getting vaccinated.
Note: If your child has experienced severe complications (such as anaphylaxis) in the past after receiving a vaccine, please consult their pediatrician before scheduling a COVID vaccine appointment.
Where can my child get the vaccine?
When your child becomes eligible for the vaccine, they will be able to schedule an appointment with any provider that is administering the Pfizer vaccine (which is authorized for use in those 16 years and older). To find a provider near you, visit: https://www.doh.wa.gov/YouandYourFamily/Immunization/VaccineLocations. You can also call Skagit County’s Vaccine Hotline at (360) 416-1500 for assistance.
Who should come to my child’s vaccine appointment and what should they bring with them?
Check with the vaccine provider for specific instructions regarding minors with vaccine appointments. For some providers, a parent or legal guardian may be required on-site at the time of the appointment in order to provide consent for vaccination of a minor.
If making an appointment at the Skagit County Fairgrounds Vaccine Site: Consent to vaccinate will be required for dependent minors. Dependent minors should either bring a parent/legal guardian with them to their appointment, or be prepared to have their parent/guardian provide verbal consent by phone at the time of their appointment. If a parent/guardian is planning to accompany a minor, please limit to one accompanying adult per patient. For more information about our clinic, visit: www.skagitcounty.net/COVIDvaccine.
How much will the vaccine cost?
The federal government will pay for the full cost of the vaccine. You should not be charged out of pocket costs or receive a bill from your provider for the COVID-19 vaccine administration fee.
As my child’s caregiver, am I also eligible to be vaccinated?
If you are a caregiver of a child with disability who is eligible under Phase 1b-Tier 2, you may be eligible under Phase 1a. Caregivers who meet the definition below are eligible for vaccine in Phase 1a as workers in health care settings:
Eligible caregivers (licensed, unlicensed, paid, unpaid, formal, or informal) who support the daily, functional and health needs of another individual who is at high risk for COVID-19 illness due to advanced age, long-term physical condition, co-morbidities, or developmental or intellectual disability. For the caregiver to be eligible, the care recipient:
Must be someone who needs caregiving support for their daily, functioning, and health needs.
Can be an adult or minor child. For dependent minor children, the caregiver is eligible if that child has an underlying health condition or disability that puts them at high risk for severe COVID-19 illness. For example: a caregiver of a minor child with Down syndrome.
To determine your eligibility, visit findyourphasewa.org and respond “Yes” when asked if you work in a health care setting.
My child is over 16 and pregnant. Should they receive the vaccine?
There is currently no evidence that antibodies formed from COVID-19 vaccination cause any problems with pregnancy, including the development of the placenta. In addition, there is no evidence suggesting that fertility problems are a side effect of any vaccine. If you or your child has specific concerns, please consult your child’s physician.
Earlier this month, the Washington Poison Center (WAPC) released its data “snapshot” for 2020. This is something that WAPC puts out annually in order to educate the public about poisoning trends at the state level. These trends are based on the types of calls that WPAC’s hotline receives throughout the year, compared to years prior.
This year has been one for the books in so many ways, and the new data snapshot tells an interesting story. I had the opportunity to talk with one of WPAC’s staff, and I’d like to share what I learned.
But first: What is the Washington Poison Center (WAPC)?
The Washington Poison Center (WAPC) provides immediate, free, and expert treatment advice and assistance on the telephone in case of exposure to poisonous, hazardous, or toxic substances. Each year, its specialists answer more than 63,000 calls from Washingtonians related to poisoning and toxic exposures. All calls are free, confidential, and help is available 24/7/365.
COVID-19 has increased our risks of accidental poisoning. Period. So what is the reason for this increase? WAPC staff believe that it is due to several factors, including:
We are home more due to social distancing and other safety guidance
We may have new daily routines this year that are out of the ordinary
More products in the home (perhaps due to stockpiling) may cause increased access
More stress can cause people to be less focused
Rumors and misinformation can lead to dangerous choices
Calls to the Center have increased in 2020, and staff have seen spikes in calls regarding substances common to COVID prevention (hand sanitizer and household cleaners). They have also seen spikes in calls for vulnerable demographics like adolescents and adults over 60.
This data is concerning, and parallels poison trends across the U.S.
Cleaners & Sanitizers
It isn’t unusual for WAPC to receive calls about household cleaners; however, this year has definitely seen a serious uptick. Most calls have been in regards to accidental poisonings, or poisonings due to misuse (mixing products, using in low ventilated areas, etc).
The vast majority of hand sanitizer exposures have been in children ages 0-12, most likely due to increased access to the products in the home. The high alcohol content in these products can be very dangerous for young children, so it is extremely important to supervise kids when using hand sanitizer and to make sure that bottles are always out of reach.
An interesting find this year has been the decrease in nicotine exposure calls. In 2020, nicotine exposure in children ages 0-5 actually decreased—a trend that even WAPC staff were a bit surprised about. Perhaps the decrease is due to parents being home more? Or perhaps the new Tobacco 21 law has decreased access to these products? While it is difficult to pinpoint direct correlations, it is certainly nice to see this type of data!
That said, it is still very important to keep nicotine products stored safely and away from children. The vast majority of calls for 0-5 year old’s were for raw tobacco, with vape products in second. WAPC staff explained that raw tobacco can be dangerous, but vape liquid—if ingested—can be fatal. Always, always, keep these products away from children, as flavored liquids can be especially enticing to little kids.
Trends for THC exposure are less rosy. All age groups saw an increase in THC exposures this year, with a sizeable increase among children 0-5. Among this group, exposures were almost 100% due to unintentional use (getting a hold of an edible, plant-based product, or concentrate). Safe and secure storage of these products is crucial to keeping kids safe.
This is another area that has historically been a concern for WAPC, however COVID has exacerbated the problem. Stress, distractions, and new routines can lead to user error and poor judgement. WAPC staff encourage people to use medication lists, trackers, and reminders in order to decrease risk of double-dosing or mixing meds.
It is also encouraged that people secure medications in the home. This simple step can decrease the likelihood of accidental poisonings in young children, or misuse among adolescents.
By far, this data tells the most worrisome story. Historically, data has shown an increase in youth self-harm/suicidal intent since 2014, and this trend continues. COVID-19 related isolation and stress may increase these risks—something that mental health experts have been concerned about for months.
It is encouraging, however, to see this data and to realize just how amazing our kids are. Despite all the ups and downs of 2020, our youth are showing resilience in magnitudes. We must not forget that we can all make a positive difference everyday in the lives of our young people.
Two steps that each of us can take today are: 1) locking up medications (even over-the-counter meds like Tylenol and Advil); and 2) talking to our children about substance use. Don’t know where to start with this? Visit Start Talking Now for some ideas.
What to expect when you call
It doesn’t need to be an emergency to call the Washington Poison Center—you can call to get advice or directions if you are concerned or confused about poison-related issues.
You will speak with an expert (nurse, pharmacist, or poison information provider), and there are always Board Certified Medical Toxicologists on-call if necessary. You are not required to give your name, however providing your age and gender can be extremely helpful in order to gauge risk. What was taken, when, and how much are other vital details to provide to the staff.
These calls are always confidential. You do not need to be worried about law enforcement or CPS getting involved. WAPC is concerned about your safety and about providing care.
Staff are trained to provide direction on what to do, what to watch for, and most of the time this can all happen with the caller at home. If/when it is decided that the caller needs medical intervention, staff can advise the caller to go to the emergency room, or WAPC can actually contact EMS on the caller’s behalf.
Finally, WAPC staff will follow-up with you—just to make sure that everything is alright!
It is important to be vigilant when it comes to poisoning prevention—now more than ever. With that said, I feel comforted in knowing that there are trained professionals available to answer my questions. If you don’t have the Washington Poison Center’s phone number somewhere in your home, I encourage you to jot it down! 1-800-222-1222
It is National Health Education Week—a week in which we seek to increase national awareness on major public health issues and promote a better understanding of the role of health education. And who better to highlight than our fabulous health educators in schools?!
In celebration of National Health Education Week, I wanted to share what local Physical Education (PE) teachers have been doing to keep students healthy and active during this not-so-normal school year. This particular interview is with Michele Kloke, a PE teacher with the Sedro-Woolley School District.
What grades and subjects do you teach?
I teach Kindergarten through 6th grade currently. I’ve been a Specialist most of my years in Sedro-Woolley—a Librarian/Tech teacher, PE Specialist, and I’ve even taught Kindergarten and 1st grade. What I LOVE about being a Specialist at Lyman Elementary is that I normally get to see each child every day! It is also what’s made teaching remotely so difficult. I’ve missed the personal contact with our students. We all have.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I have other teaching responsibilities besides PE so part of my day is devoted to those. While some of our PE teachers are teaching online, others—like myself—are teaching remotely because it works best for our situations. Time is spent researching sites and activities that reinforce the curriculum we are teaching within our district as elementary PE teachers. Other activities include: emails, Zoom Meetings, videotaping to make lessons more personal, Loom, work on Google Classroom, Google Slide lessons, creating Docs, PD Trainings, working on site and more.
What types of things do you do to keep students engaged?
I keep things perky and provide lots of options and choices for them to engage in as they work on lesson TARGETS and Success Criteria. Making sure the sites and activities are not only engaging but that they provide differentiation and awesome Challenges is important. The Challenges are usually ones we’ve done in class or are from experts in a sport or activity. It’s inspiring! I also give students the choice to do their own activities and let me know what they did on their Exit Slips.
I use Google Slides and link them to PE Google Classrooms. What’s great about using Google Slides is that I can personalize them and it gives students and their families more flexibility. They can do a slide or two a day (lessons are meant to be done over several days) and they can do them when it works best for them. Having Exit Slips at the end of each lesson is a way to engage students and provide feedback. I also like to email, encourage, and congratulate students on their effort.
Those teaching lessons via Zoom mentioned they try to keep things light, lively, and keep students moving.
What are some things that students can be doing at home on their own time to stay active and stay healthy?
Take brain breaks often! Even 2 minutes of movement is helpful in boosting their ability to stay focused. Longer is better, of course! Getting outside, riding bikes, or just playing and moving will do wonders! Students are building and growing their bodies right now so movement is really important, and eating foods that are healthy. This time of year provides a lot of fresh and delicious food choices.
What has been the biggest struggle so far this school year?
One of my cohorts said it well: “…It seems ironic that PE teachers are using screen time to encourage physical activity, but that’s our means of communication with students at this time.”
Another challenge with PE in our elementary schools is consistent participation in the lessons. While each school is unique in its approach, the lessons are following a district-generated set of instruction which, unfortunately, not all students are receiving.
Troubleshooting technology issues and learning new technology has also been challenging.
What have been some really great moments for you this year?
For all of us, hearing from our students and families personally via emails, posts, or other means is THE BEST! We miss them SO much and love any and all contact we receive.
For example, one of my students mentioned that she hadn’t completed the PE Lesson yet because she and her family went on a long hike. Then she proceeded to explain all the crazy, exciting things that happened on their hike including getting snowed on. I loved hearing that story and it helped make me feel more connected.
Also, recently beginning to teach PE in-person with our K-2 students has been WONDERFUL!
If you could tell parents one thing, what would you tell them?
Stay healthy and stay active! This isn’t forever, but being active is. Please, take screen time breaks as often as possible by doing something fun that involves movement. You’ll be glad you did…and so will your child. We miss you and your children!
Red Ribbon Week is dedicated to spreading awareness about youth substance use prevention and the mission of keeping all kids drug-free. It takes place every year from October 23 through October 31st, and this year is no exception. Your student’s health teacher or prevention specialist may be touching on some prevention messaging right now, so it could be a prime opportunity to continue this conversation with your child (if you aren’t doing so already). So let’s talk prevention!
Why is it important?
Ninety percent of people with addictions started using substances in their teen years. Beginning at age 10 through the mid- to late-20s, massive changes are underway in the brain. This includes the development of capabilities related to impulse control, managing emotions, problem-solving and anticipating consequences. Substance use during this time period can cause the brain to be more susceptible to addiction and other mental health disorders, especially for kids who are vulnerable.
Substance use and COVID-19
Some early research is coming out that shows that youth substance use rates are being negatively impacted by COVID-19 and social distancing measures. An article written in the Journal for Adolescent Health noted that, of those adolescents surveyed, “the percentage of users decreased [since the beginning of COVID-19]; however, the frequency of both alcohol and cannabis use increased.” Perhaps of more concern is that, while the majority of those using substances were engaging in solitary substance use (49.3%), “many were still using substances with peers via technology (31.6%) and, shockingly, even face to face (23.6%).” For parents who are actively working to keep their kids COVID-free, this added information may be worrisome.
Risks of use and COVID-19
We do not know yet if the occurrence of COVID-19 is higher for people who use drugs or have substance use disorder than for those who don’t use drugs, however some underlying medical conditions seem to increase risk of severe illness from COVID-19. For example, vaping may harm lung health, and emerging evidence suggests that exposure to aerosols from e-cigarettes harms the cells of the lung and diminishes the ability to respond to infection. For this reason, it is possible that drug use could make COVID-19 illness more severe, but more evidence is needed.
Can parents really make a difference?
Absolutely! Parents are the biggest influence in a teen’s life. Even though it may not appear to be true at times, deep down they still want you involved. A strong parent/child bond, especially during the teen years, helps reduce the chances of them engaging in unhealthy behavior and helps set the stage for preventing nicotine, alcohol, and drug use.
When and how to talk about substance use?
These conversations should happen frequently, and typically work best when a parent and child are already engaging in some type of activity together. It is important to listen, show empathy, and be understanding.Connecting often, communicating about your expectations and setting boundaries, and even encouraging healthy risk taking are all things that parents can do to set their children up for success.
Parents can begin talking with their children about drug prevention at a surprisingly young age! These early conversations may not sound exactly like “drug prevention;” instead, the focus should be on laying a strong foundation of trust and openness, while also teaching (and demonstrating) healthy habits. For tips on how to talk to your child at any age, visit: https://drugfree.org/article/prevention-tips-for-every-age/.
What should parents be looking out for?
Figuring out if your child is using substances can be challenging; many of the signs and symptoms are typical teen or young adult behavior. However, sometimes they can be attributed to underlying issues. Mental health concerns like depression and anxiety, as well as traumatic events or periods of transition, can create a greater risk for the development of problematic substance use. Children and teens are dealing with a lot of changes right now, making it all the more important that parents be looking out for concerning behavior.
If you have reason to suspect use, don’t be afraid to err on the side of caution. Prepare to take action and have a conversation during which you can ask direct questions like “Have you been drinking, vaping or using drugs?” No parent wants to hear “yes,” but being prepared for how you would respond can be the starting point for a more positive outcome.
Where do I go for help?
There is help available if you are concerned that your child may be using substances—or even if you’re struggling with how to begin a conversation! Drugfree.org has one-on-one help available for parents: visit https://drugfree.org/article/get-one-on-one-help/ for ways to connect.
Want to get involved in your community?
Between now and December 15th, our three prevention community coalitions are collecting information from Skagit County adults (18+) about their perceptions regarding local youth substance use. Do you live or work in one of these communities? Consider filing out the survey! Your feedback has direct influence on prevention programming available for youth and families.
Along with Skagit school districts’ back-to-school reopening plans, each school has provided students with a schedule. While it is very important to become familiar with this academic schedule, it is also important to develop a schedule at home that will work for your student, as well as the rest of the household. Here are some ideas that may help bring a sense of clarity to your weekly routine.
1. Compartmentalize your day
For anyone who’s been working from home the past several months, you have probably weighed the costs and benefits of compartmentalizing your day. When the work day bleeds into the work evening, then into the work weekend, it becomes really important to define your time—for your mental health, if nothing else.
The same holds true for your child! Create a routine in which your student gets up, gets dressed and has breakfast, then progresses into their school day. While it can be tempting, it is important to change out of pajamas (at least from time to time!) and put on some day-time clothing. Compartmentalize the day into natural chunks of time: morning classes, lunch, afternoon classes, and end-of-day. The late afternoon should include a period of free time to allow your child to decompress from the day and to wrap up their school work.
2. Take breaks and eat well
Along these same lines, be sure that your student takes breaks and sets aside a time to have lunch. It can be easy for kids to snack while they work, and to eat lunch at their study space. However, it is good for the mind and body to take a breather and spend some time in a different part of the house or outside.
For breaks, it may be helpful to take 15-20 minutes every few hours (or more often, for younger children). Be sure that your child knows that taking a moment to breathe, stretch, and come back to their work is extremely important (even adults need to do this!). If your child is really struggling with a project or assignment, encourage taking a quick break.
3. Get organized
It may be helpful to work with your child on reviewing their weekly academic calendar and any due dates that they may have for assignments. A planner (either paper or digital) could be a great tool for some students, while others may need something that is easily accessible and clearly visible. Just like in a school classroom, your child may find it helpful to have a whiteboard by their desk with a list of assignments, or even a large calendar with due dates clearly marked. This may also be a good thing for you, as the parent, since you can keep track of your child’s schedule from afar.
4. Get active…daily!
This is critical for your child’s physical and mental health. When the weather still permits, encourage your child to go outside to take a walk or bike ride. For younger kids, their local playground may be re-opening! Be sure to talk about keeping distance from others, even when outside, and wear a mask if in a more crowded area.
When the weather starts to turn chilly and/or rainy (or smoky), find some things to do indoors that get their blood flowing! Exercise and dance videos can be fun, and even stretching can be done in small spaces. Doing the same activities every day can get tiresome, so encourage your student to try different ways to get moving. And if you can, do it with them!
5. Encourage socialization
Your child might be excited to get back to school, even if it is remote and online. It may be the first time in a while that they have seen some of their friends and peers after a long COVID summer, and this re-engagement might be a seriously needed mood-booster. But don’t be surprised if by October your student is feeling burned out on online schooling. This kind of socialization might not be enough for many children, and it is okay to admit that!
When your child is feeling antsy or moody, encourage some socialization with friends. While it isn’t advised to schedule in-person meetups with large groups of friends, an occasional get-together between “besties” can be really good for your child’s mental health. Arrange a playdate outdoors for young children (being mindful of the 5-person per week limit), and for older students, maybe a study session outdoors? Take care to maintain social distancing and have your child wear a face covering. While it isn’t “school like usual” with the variety of opportunities to interact, a few social activities a month can go a long way to promote health and wellbeing.
6. Be flexible!
Expect the need to shake things up. A routine is awesome and a schedule is great, but sometimes things just don’t go as planned, and it is okay to modify it if necessary. There will be days that your student is rocking it and crossing off one assignment after another. However, there will also be days when PJs and a bubble bath are the most important thing. Both are okay.
What we are asking of our youth right now is unprecedented, and we must always keep our children’s health at the forefront. If you ever feel like your child is struggling, connect with their teacher (or other school staff) and ask for some advice. You don’t need to take on these challenging times alone.