Story provided by Stillwater Public Schools
This year Stillwater Public Schools has expanded its counseling staff, including the addition of Substance Abuse Counselor Rachel Roberts, who primarily works with middle school, junior high, and high school students, but is available to assist at all grade levels. An Oklahoma State University Graduate, Roberts was employed as Vice President of Dayspring Community Services prior to joining SPS. Roberts is a Licensed Professional Counselor and has worked in the mental health field for 12 years.
“Families need to check in on their teenagers,” says Roberts. “We already know it’s hard just being a teenager. With the disruptions of the pandemic, schools are seeing students reporting stress and anxiety. The whole world feels like it’s in a state of constant transition. Things have been cancelled or reformatted. Many families are struggling financially or dealing with medical issues. Teens may be turning to substances to cope.”
But it’s not just teens that may need help. “It starts earlier than many expect,” says Roberts. “It’s not uncommon to see substance abuse behaviors begin to emerge around fourth and fifth grade, sometimes even younger.”
Roberts wants families to know the warning signs of what to look for in children that may be abusing substances. “It’s important for families to know to look for things like unexplained behavior changes, mood swings, secretive behaviors, bloodshot eyes, strangely sized pupils, or unusual smells.”
It’s vital that families are monitoring their children and asking questions, says Roberts. “Who are your friends lately? Where are you going? When are you going to be back?” She also recommends parents ask to go through their child’s phone together and talk about their conversations or things that they’ve seen.
“It’s so important to just talk to your kids about it. You can’t tiptoe around the subject. Teens are amazing at knowing if you are genuine or not,” she says. “They may act like you are frustrating them, but they know that it means that you love them.”
Vaping, alcohol, marijuana, and pills are the most common substances being used by children.
Vaping is a growing issue and concern for younger grades. Most parents are behind the curve on knowing what vaping devices look like and the problems it can cause. “The marketing was clever on that,” says Roberts, “Claiming to be a safe way to quit, a safer alternative to smoking. So that’s still in some of our parents’ minds.”
Alcohol is normalized in American society and culture and available in many homes. “Normalization of a substance combined with easy access means children are more likely to experiment with a substance,” says Roberts.
The prevalence of dispensaries in Oklahoma has created some issues among teens. “Students as young as sixth and seventh grade are now more educated about marijuana and have access to it. Parent and grandparent use has normalized it to some extent. Children see that access is widely available, similar to alcohol now, and are more likely to think it’s okay for them to try it.” Some marijuana products’ packaging, flavors, and form factors such as gummer bears also seem aimed at appealing to children.
In addition to working with children facing substance abuse, Roberts also aims to work to prevent it from occurring. “I’ll be working with each school site to implement different means of reaching children – guest speakers, videos, programming through Red Ribbon Week.” Roberts also plans to highlight some drug free students at the high school and to use those students at the lower grade schools.
If a student is found to have substances at school, or to be facing addiction, Roberts will work to build a relationship with the student to help them get past the issue. “It’s okay to ask for help, whether you’re a parent or a teen,” says Roberts. “If you are a teen that’s not comfortable talking with your parents, please come to me or reach out for non-judgemental help available at the school.”
Roberts has created a substance abuse resource for students and families at https://sps.blue/SAcounselor. She will office out of SJHS, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 405-533-6420.