At first glance, it is a typical teenager’s room — homework spread out on the desk, posters on the wall and, everywhere you look, a complete mess.
But take a closer look and you find signs of drug and alcohol abuse, masquerading as typical teenage items.
This was the premise of the Issaquah Schools Foundation’s Influence the Choice’s “Hidden in Plain Sight” event at Issaquah High School on Monday evening, put on in conjunction with Parentwiser, Eastside Fire and Rescue, the Issaquah Police Department, the Sammamish Police Department, Issaquah Friends of Youth, the cities of Issaquah and Sammamish and lots of volunteers.
Taking place for the second year in a row, the event sets up a model of a teen’s bedroom — including a bed, desk, makeup table and bookshelves — and challenges parents to find hidden signs of drug and alcohol use among the items.
Katie Moeller, director of Influence the Choice, said that over 40 items were scattered throughout the room. Some of these were concealed quite expertly, such as a joint inside a stapler, pills inside of a Coca-Cola Can and a marijuana hidden inside a water bottle.
Other items were out in the open, such as tie-dye posters promoting “4/20,” a magazine about marijuana and a vape pen charging on the desk.
And then — perhaps the most dangerous — there was the drug and alcohol paraphernalia that masqueraded as harmless items: the vape pen cartridges designed to look like USB sticks; the tube-like alcohol flasks that look like tampons.
Moeller said that “no matter how many times you look in that room, you’re not going to find everything.”
“It exposes the fact that we will never be able to always know everything if our students are hiding them from us,” she said.
The way to combat this, she said, is for parents to have open lines of communication with their kids. This means not brushing those tougher topics under the rug, but bringing them out in the open to discuss them in a productive manner.
“Don’t shy away from those natural moments and being able to talk to your kids about substances that are legal as you get older, but how imperative it is to wait until that time because of the development of your brain,” Moeller said, adding, “There are tons of teachable moments throughout how we parent … just talking and not pretending it didn’t happen or shying away from it.”
Moeller brought up a recent story with her own children. When her youngest asked why the recommended dose of vitamins was greater for older children, Moeller used the moment to teach her children about overdoses and how they should never consume more pills than are recommended.
“The point is, we should create a relationship with our kids to have them come to us rather than go to someone else,” Moeller said. “It’s so easy to hide these things and we’ll never be able to know unless we’re communicating with our students.”