Give the kids what they need

One of the wonderful things about my job is that sometimes I am asked to be involved in projects doing good things for our region’s young people. Last week, I was again asked to speak to students attending the STARS (Super Teens Achieving Regional Success) Award Luncheon, hosted by West Virginia University at Parkersburg.

These kids don’t just sit around scarfing down free lunches and enjoying a day away from school. When I arrived, they were engrossed in table-by-table discussions about prescription drug abuse, the importance of the choices we make and healthy living. A prevailing idea was that “one choice changes everything.”

I reminded them that is true, but it does not always mean that is the end of the choices a person can make once they have turned onto one path or the other. It certainly doesn’t mean giving up on a person who has made a choice that DID change everything.

But because the choices we make can have such horrific (or wonderful) consequences, the kids in that room — the ones being given opportunities and tools that perhaps other kids, or other members of their own families, do not have — can share what they are learning. They can help the people around them make better choices.

I likened it to when they were younger and, perhaps, learning in school about turning the water off while brushing their teeth. I asked how many of them had gone home after that lesson and talked to their families about turning off the water. Plenty of hands went up. What about the lessons in school about the food pyramid, or My Plate? How many of them had gone home and told their families there might be a healthier way for them to be eating? Again, hands went up.

Maybe it was easier then. Maybe they were younger and less afraid of sharing what they had learned. Maybe the subject matter wasn’t so tough. But the concept is the same.

Wood County School Superintendent Will Hosaflook talked last week about the need to address mental health concerns in our schools.

“I think it’s more than helping kids. I think it’s helping families,” he said.

He’s right. Many of our local families are in desperate need of help — and too many of our students feel hopeless and helpless. Imagine if more of those kids felt so well informed and supported on mental health and substance abuse issues that they were able to share what they have learned as easily as they talked to their families about what they are eating.

Some of them can, of course. Some of them are the STARS who were gathered in that room. But the rest need someone with a plan to help them break the cycle. They need teachers, counselors and administrators who are less concerned with scare tactics and “tough love” and more concerned with getting off their high horses to provide the resources, hope and support that will let those kids make choices that could serve as examples to someone else in their family, or circle of friends.

They can do it — the kids, I mean. They really are stars. It’s time the rest of us caught up to them enough to give them what they need.

Christina Myer is executive editor of The Parkersburg News and Sentinel. She can be reached via e-mail at cmyer@newsandsentinel.com

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