Second annual parent symposium on Wednesday

At the inaugural parent symposium last March, 73 percent of 159 attendees surveyed said they'd change the way they interact with their children because of information they'd learned at the event.

"I think it gives parents tangible skills they can walk away with," DHS counselor and organizer of this year's symposium Kris Robison said Wednesday. "Parents can put more tools in their tool bag. Last year, people told us it was so good they wanted more."

Approximately 450 parents attended last year's event, which focused on suicide prevention, healthy relationships, drug awareness and Internet safety.

Organizers hope to attract at least as many people this year. Doors open at 5 p.m. Wednesday in the Douglas High School gym. Between 6-8 p.m., parents will choose two out of three breakout sessions: Suicide prevention and awareness facilitated by Jodi Wass and Debbie Posnien; What were you thinking? (teen behavior choices) hosted by ASPIRE teacher and author Miki Trujillo; and a teens talk panel moderated by DHS Vice Principal Tom Morgan and consisting of six DHS students who will openly discuss sex, drugs, parties, communication and suicide.

Before and after the breakout sessions, two dozen resource stations will be available in the gym, ranging from the Douglas County Sheriff's Office and juvenile probation to the Family Support Council and a Children's Cabinet booth on Internet safety.

Parents can choose to browse the resource tables either 5-6 p.m. before the sessions or after from 8-9 p.m. Refreshments will be offered as well as free childcare provided by the DHS Key Club.

"There aren't a lot of opportunities for parents to go to one location in a short period of time with 25 different resources and sessions all in one for free," said Martie Washington, grant manager of the Partnership of Community Resources.

"A wealth of information is going to be here," Robison said. "In the exit surveys last year, people complained there wasn't enough time for all the resources."

Partnership Prevention Coordinator Linda Gilkerson said she and others hope to continue the symposium every year and to focus on timely issues. For example, she said, the down economy and high unemployment have affected kids all over the Valley.

"The kids are more stressed and feeling it from their parents," she said. "They're feeling adult stress as kids. Part of the sessions focus on coping skills. As parents, we sometimes don't know how to tell our kids why we can't afford that new pair of jeans."

Gilkerson said the event is not just for high school students. She said it offers "education for everyone."

"The biggest worry parents have at home is, 'Am I understanding everything my teen is going through?'" said Debbie Posnien, executive director of the Suicide Prevention Network. " 'Am I afraid to know everything my teen is going through?'"

Posnien said the first parent symposium already has had a positive effect in the Valley. Last year, she said, there were two teen suicides, compared to zero this year.

"We believe that by talking about it, we can make a huge difference," she said. "Parents are not afraid to ask their kids. Prevention, intervention, education have a huge impact on families."

"It's been a closet issue," added Washington. "The more we talk about it, the more people realize they can address it."

The parent symposium, Washington said, is part of a series of town halls being held across the country, funded in part by the U.S. Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration.


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