YC Magazine, Helena - December 2023

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The Hidden Perils of Kratom

December 2023 | youthconnectionscoalition.org

» Staying Active to Ward Off Depression » Eight Must-Have Conversations With Your Teen » The Importance of Allowing Kids to Quit an Activity: Nurturing Well-Rounded Development


» Can You Monitor Kids’ Social Media?

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6 Staying Active to Ward

Off Depression

14 Eight Must-Have Conversations

With Your Teen

16 The Importance of Allowing

Kids to Quit an Activity: Nurturing Well-Rounded Development

20 Can You Monitor Kids’ Social Media? 23 The Hidden Perils of Kratom:

Unveiling the Dark Side IN EVERY ISSUE

2 From the Director 5 Confessions from the

Kitchen Table 10 Faces in the Crowd 11 40 Developmental Assets 12 Assets in Action 18 Q&A / By the Numbers BROUGHT TO YOU BY



TO ADVERTISE OR CONTRIBUTE Coleen Smith: (406) 324-1032 coleen@youthconnectionscoalition.org COVER PHOTO BY Floating Leaf Studios

youthconnectionscoalition.org | YC MAGAZINE | December 2023



Kiya Timblin is an intelligent, kind, affectionate, and energetic child. She is in sixth grade this year at CR Anderson and loves her choir. She is passionate about changing our community, which is why she likes being a member of the Girl Scout troop. She likes to draw and create art. Kiya is only just getting into barrel racing, and she loves riding at the stable. She is always willing to assist the coach with the younger groups at the barn and is very helpful. She is a child of the military as well. This year, her dad is deployed once more. Her friends and family come first for her.


Youth Connections is a coalition of over 1100 community members representing parents, educators, churches, youthserving organizations, businesses, and more who want to make Helena a healthy and supportive place for kids and families. Youth Connections recognizes the need to reduce negative behaviors including substance use and violence while also working to increase positive opportunities and mental wellness for all our local kids. So how do we do that? We know there is no silver bullet to making communities great, and so we do LOTS of things that we know make communities better. We support agencies and businesses who offer youth activities because we know kids who are involved in positive activities aren’t involved in negative ones. We support student mentoring relationships because research shows it helps kids stay in school and be successful. We also know that when kids know better, they do better, so we support classroom education in the areas of bullying prevention and substance use prevention. Youth Connections also understands we must support the adults in kids’ lives and therefore we provide training, education, networks, and collaborative opportunities for parents and professionals to connect with others who care about kids. Youth Connections is well known for its quarterly publication, YC Magazine, a resource for parents and the entire community. These are just some of the projects we’re working on to serve our mission of engaging our community to create environments where youth thrive and succeed. For a comprehensive list of activities, services, and ways you can get involved, please visit our website at www.youthconnectionscoalition.org.

2 December 2023 | YC MAGAZINE | youthconnectionscoalition.org

Director W FROM THE

ow, it’s the end of 2023 already. We know that the holidays and winter in general can be a tough time for parents and kids as well. Teachers share this with us all the time. The magazine committee kept this in mind when developing the slate of articles for the December issue. We are always appreciative of Dr. Len COLEEN Lantz allowing us to reprint his great SMITH articles, and the feature this round was particularly relevant. If we have the tools for ourselves and our kids before depression sets in, it can help alleviate the stress of wondering what to do if it does hit. Dr. Lantz does a great job of explaining why it’s important to stay active to help ward off depression. In conjunction with that article is our Q&A section where we offer some fun and different ideas to keep everyone active in the long winter months. Some ideas will take families outside and others are for really cold or miserable days. Whatever one decides, it will help keep kids, and parents, off of screens. Our friends at Natural High have allowed us to condense a long article to make it fit, but I would strongly recommend checking out the entire article. There are more suggestions for each of the eight conversations to have with kids and an activity to help them visualize their future. Their website also has a plethora of resources for parents and educators to help kids reach their full potential. Often, we as parents wonder when or if it’s okay to allow our kids to quit a sport or activity. We have an article that discusses the pros and cons of each. Hopefully it will offer some perspective if one has a mindset one way or the other. We’re lucky to have a teacher and mom on the magazine committee. Emily can give us perspectives from both sides, which is just what she’s done time in the Confessions article. We at YC hope your holidays and winter are filled with activities that you will remember for a lifetime. CAN’T GET ENOUGH GREAT RESOURCES? FOLLOW US: Twitter: @Youthconx Facebook (for parents): Youth Connections Facebook (for kids): Find Your Spot Instagram: @Youthconx

COLEEN SMITH, YC DIRECTOR Phone: (406) 324-1032 coleen@youthconnectionscoalition.org

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Primary Care That Cares.

Health and Relaxation


24-Hour Crisis Hotlines

Emergency Room

Mental Health Now What to do when professional help is not immediately available Eating healthy food; drinking plenty of water; getting plenty of sleep; and body relaxation thru yoga, meditation and massage can be instant ways to eliminate everyday stress and mental strain.

Exercise releases mood improving chemicals like endorphins and serotonin. Regular exercise can also help to reduce stress, depression and anxiety.

A crisis hotline is a phone number you can call to get immediate emergency telephone counseling, usually provided by trained volunteers. Text or call 988

When safety is a concern, a trip to the emergency room might be required. If you call 911, tell the operator it is a mental health emergency and ask for responders with Crisis Intervention Team Training.

youthconnectionscoalition.org | YC MAGAZINE | December 2023


Rule No 8

savor it all

Give the Gift of Time to Your Family This Holiday Season

Read stories with a cup of hot cocoa

Decorate cookies

Spend time outside

Play a board game

Enjoy each other's company without technology getting in the way. Your kids will thank you. 4 December 2023 | YC MAGAZINE | youthconnectionscoalition.org



We’re In This Together

ur schools are an important and influential part of our children’s lives. While spending so much of their time at school, it is inevitable that issues will arise. Building relationships, maintaining communication, and fostering understanding is key for parents who have school-based concerns. BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS To build a relationship with the teacher(s) and better understand the school climate, or general mood, it helps to visit the school. Take advantage of events like open house, parent teacher conferences, or family nights. While there, visit with as many of the staff as you can. Educators, like librarians and physical education teachers, can offer valuable insight and a different perspective about your student, and other important school issues. Showing up gives teachers and staff a chance to know you better. It is like putting money in the relationship bank. Then, when issues arise, or you have a question or concern, you have some principle to draw from. This way your relationship stays in the black and nobody is overdrawn. Being in the school building also allows you to get a read on the “vibe” of the school. Are other children (and parents) excited to be there? Are the teachers and staff welcoming and enthusiastic? Is the school leadership (principals, vice principals, deans, board members) present? Answering these questions can tell you a lot, and give you clues on how to proceed when there are concerns. Become involved in Parent Teacher Organizations. Give as you can, and volunteer as you are able. MAINTAINING COMMUNICATION In addition to building relationships, maintaining communication is key. Email is the easiest way for teachers to keep in touch. As a parent, I always start the school year by checking in via email and seeing if there is anything the teacher(s) needs. A pack of whiteboard markers? A coffee? If I need to touch base with the school nurse or other staff, I always CC my child’s classroom or homeroom teacher, so they are in the loop.

FOSTERING UNDERSTANDING When you hear a troublesome tale about something at school, be sure to take it with a grain of salt. Some of the best advice I ever heard came from a veteran kindergarten teacher. She would tell parents, “If you believe 50% of the stories your child tells about school, I will believe 50% about what they tell me about home.” Deal! My daughter once told her teacher I cooked broccoli inside of socks…ugh! If a story from school seems too weird to be true, it probably is. But don’t be afraid to reach out to the school to ask for clarification. A quick email to the teacher asking for the rest of the story will do the trick. Once clarified, if you have remaining concerns, gently let the teacher know. Wording such as, “Let’s work together to find a solution” or “Can we set up a meeting to discuss this and find some common ground?” communicates that you disagree but want to be proactive. When dealing with public schools, keep in mind that many things taught are out of the teachers’ control. What information is taught is decided on state and federal levels. All public schools must follow state-wide standards or National Common Core Standards. How information is taught is decided on a school district level. If your concern is based on what or how information is taught, reaching out to the principal is your best bet – but don’t forget to CC the teacher(s). During their school career, your student will probably have a handful of difficult teachers that they just don’t “click” with. If your child is stuck with a teacher whose personality just does not mesh, take it as a learning experience in dealing with difficult people. Play up the other educators (librarian, music teacher, etc.) at the school and encourage them to foster those relationships. If your child has an especially bad day at school, whether it has to do with teachers or peers, it helps to have other positive and supportive communities to turn to. Don’t forget the power of youth groups, sports teams, and other extra-curriculars as a part of your child’s support system. Our children are our most precious resource. Both parents and educators recognize the time, love, and dedication that goes into raising them. Work as a team to remember this common ground and make school a positive experience for all. ■

YOU CAN SUBMIT YOUR STORY AT: coleen@youthconnectionscoalition.org For many of us the kitchen table represents the typical family experience. We have laughed while having family game night. We have cried over our children’s choices. We have blown out the candles on many cakes. We have argued our way out of doing the dishes. We have struggled through those “three more bites.” We have learned hard lessons and celebrated many deserved successes. One thing is for sure though—if our kitchen tables could talk, there would be plenty of stories! So often it is in relating to others’ stories that we realize there isn’t always one answer, or even a right answer. Parenting is hard work! If you have a story of lessons learned, we invite you to share it with our readers. Sometimes, knowing we aren’t the only ones struggling to find the answer is all the help we need.

youthconnectionscoalition.org | YC MAGAZINE | December 2023


STAYING ACTI to ward off dep

WHAT IS BEHAVIORAL ACTIVATION? Behavioral activation is the process of proactively increasing your activity level of positive activities. Behavioral activation strategies can be traced back to B.F. Skinner’s 1957 book, Science and Human Behavior, and were further elaborated in 1973 in Charles Ferster’s paper, “A Functional Analysis of Depression.” Dr. Ferster wrote, “The critical factor is a fixed and large amount of activity.” In a 2009 research meta-analysis by Mazzucchelli and colleagues, behavioral activation was shown to be substantially more beneficial than placebo in the treatment of depression in over 16 medical studies. Behavioral activation can help major depression tremendously and can also be a strategy to prevent mental illness in times of stress and uncertainty, such as the loss of a job, having a child, the loss of a loved one, or other major life transitions.

G IVE pression By LEN LANTZ, M.D.

IS THERE A RISK TO MENTAL HEALTH WITH A LACK OF STRUCTURE AND ACTIVITIES? I have heard countless stories from friends, family and patients about the negative impact on their mood after transitioning from a high activity level to a low activity level. Think about the times in your life when your mood crashed after a major accomplishment or task. Shouldn’t you have been on cloud nine? The drop in mood could be related to your life being completely out of balance and feeling exhausted by the time you completed your goal or project, but it also could have been due to moving from a high activity level to a low activity level or moving from a structured, goal-oriented schedule to no schedule at all. You can protect your mental health through behavioral activation. HOW DOES BEHAVIORAL ACTIVATION WORK? When someone is depressed, they lack energy, motivation and enjoyment, which leads them to stop doing the activities that normally help them feel good. Their resulting inactivity then worsens their depression. Behavioral activation is about forcing yourself to do meaningful activities that are in line with your values – the things you do when you’re not depressed. When a depressed person puts themselves on a schedule filled with positive activities, they are sending powerful signals to their brain to wake up and function. A busy schedule with cognitive activation makes the brain function in a non-depressed way and stimulates neural pathways that are underactive in depression. And even if someone with depression doesn’t experience as much enjoyment as normal continued on page 9

YC MAGAZINE | December 2023


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8 December 2023 | YC MAGAZINE | youthconnectionscoalition.org

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continued from page 7

with positive activities, chances are they will feel better than they would have if instead, they had done nothing. DOES HAVING A JOB OR GOING TO SCHOOL COUNT AS BEHAVIORAL ACTIVATION? While there can be both positive and negative effects of going to work or school, I do think that going to work or school is a form of behavioral activation. It can increase stress/anxiety but it also often helps depression. This is part of why I try to get my depressed patients back to work and school as soon as possible. Work and school can: • Put people on a schedule • Make them get up and stay out of bed • Cause them to use their brain to accomplish tasks • Increase social connectedness

6. Draw a picture or doodle.

Even if you do not have depression, behavioral activation strategies are good for your emotional well-being. You deserve this. Think about how it would feel to end the day and say, “I had a busy day. It was a little stressful and I’m tired, but I had fun and got a lot done.

• Provide meaning through learning and contributing to others (projects, groups, communities) • Result in the reward of a paycheck or satisfaction of improved grades ARE MENTAL HEALTH DAYS HEALTHY? Sometimes people want to take a mental health day from school or work. In reality, mental health days can be good or bad. If your idea of taking a mental health day is staying in bed all day, then doing so is probably a bad idea. Most people who stay in bed or on a couch in their pajamas all day feel worse, not better. Make sure that you don’t use your mental health day to feed your depression. Instead, use your mental health day for positive, creative activities and catching up on things you need to get done. These kinds of mental health days are healthy and restorative. COMPONENTS OF A GOOD BEHAVIORAL ACTIVATION STRATEGY The best strategies involve scheduling many activities with variety. Start by forcing yourself to do the things you would normally do when you were not depressed. These are activities that you enjoyed in the past or that you would do to charge up your batteries. If you are depressed, you may not enjoy these activities as much as when you were depression-free, but they will still help.

8. Play your favorite song and sing along with it (no matter how good or bad you are at singing). 9. Go to a hot yoga class (no matter how fit or inflexible you may be). 10. Go to a coffee shop, sit down and savor your drink. 11. Think about a social issue you care about and call someone related to that cause. See what simple opportunities there are to volunteer. 12. Go to a movie. 13. Go to a museum. 14. Visit a flower shop or a greenhouse. 15. Go and listen to live music.

• Distract from negative thoughts • Enhance safety (reduce the risk of suicide) by increasing social contact

7. Turn on the radio and find the station that you like the most.

Begin by getting up and getting ready in the morning. Get exercise and do creative things. Do some necessary tasks around the house and then leave the house. Don’t make decisions about what to do based on how you feel. Make a rational, not emotional, decision about whether you are going to do an activity or not. Make decisions that are in line with your values. When adding activities to your schedule, try to broaden your range of activities, maybe including things that are opposite ends of the spectrum or engage all of the senses (sight, smell, touch, taste, hearing): • Social and solitude • Nature and indoors • Art and puzzles • Playing music and listening to music • Physical activity and meditation • Entertainment activities and meaningful service 20 ACTIVITIES TO CONSIDER WHEN YOU DESIGN YOUR STRATEGIES 1. Go to the gym before you go home from work. 2. Limit naps to less than one hour per day. 3. Go for a walk in nature. 4. Call a friend. 5. Think of tasks you have been putting off. Pick the quickest, easiest one to complete and do it.

16. Plan for a visit to a new restaurant or get take-out. 17. Complete a puzzle, sudoku or crossword puzzle. 18. Download a podcast on meditation or mindfulness, listen to it and follow the cues. 19. Do a physical activity you haven’t done in a while: ride a bike, hit a tennis ball, kick a soccer ball, go cross country skiing, go swimming, hit a golf ball, go for a hike or a jog. 20. Write down on a piece of paper three things you want to do before January 1 of next year. IMAGINE A LIFE FILLED WITH ACTIVITIES AND PRODUCTIVITY If you are willing to make changes in your life to increase your behavioral activation, you are likely to become less depressed. Even if you do not have depression, behavioral activation strategies are good for your emotional well-being. You deserve this. Think about how it would feel to end the day and say, “I had a busy day. It was a little stressful and I’m tired, but I had fun and got a lot done.” An active day will help your sleep, your emotional health and your physical health. Taking care of yourself by planning and scheduling healthy activities is a proven strategy for starving out your depression and enhancing your mental and physical health. ■

Dr. Len Lantz is a practicing adult and pediatric psychiatrist in Helena, Montana. He is the author of the book unJoy: Hope and Help for 7 Million Christians with Depression and the editor of the mental health website PsychiatryResource.com. youthconnectionscoalition.org | YC MAGAZINE | December 2023


Check out who’s standing out in our community. IS THERE SOMEONE YOU’D LIKE TO NOMINATE? Please email coleen@youthconnectionscoalition.org and tell us why this individual has stood out in your crowd.


Sinai is a great addition to our 5th grade classes this year. She is a kind and respectful student who makes every day at Bryant School brighter. Sinai goes out of her way to be helpful to both staff and students in a very sincere way. I am so proud of how hard she works and the grit she shows every single day, even when it is hard work. She is willing to put in the work to reach mastery across subjects and classes. We are all so proud of her! Great job, Sinai. Thank you for being a great role model, student, and friend.


Evelyn is a gifted student who’s not just academically strong but a talented athlete. However, her greatness goes beyond the classroom and the sports field. Evelyn is a beacon of positivity and kindness, leading her peers with grace. She lends a sympathetic ear to those around her, offers valuable guidance when needed, and acts when necessary. She’s a dedicated fundraiser, supporting causes like Make-A-Wish, local animal shelters, and her own school’s betterment. Her peers not only admire her for her class presidency but also cherish her as a friend. What truly distinguishes Evelyn is her dedication and drive. Her influence promises a brighter future for schools and a new generation of leaders who will inspire and foster a happier and healthier community.


Hailey has participated in a wide variety of activities at Capital High including basketball, track and field, DECA, Student Council as the class secretary, Bruin Buddies, and was a member of the Unified PE class. Outside of school, Hailey has competed in the National High School Finals Rodeo on four different occasions (qualified in goat tying, breakaway, and team roping) and is President of the MT High School Rodeo Association. Not only is Hailey very busy, but she is responsible, she is a leader, and she is kind and compassionate toward others. Thank you for all that you do Hailey!


Anna Lund is the Education Director at the Holter Museum of Art in Helena. Under Anna’s guidance, the Holter offers a wide-range of classes and educational opportunities including Early Childhood Artstart, Teen outreach, and adult classes in many artistic mediums. Anna and her partner Eric also spearhead Adventures in Cardboard Montana, which provides a safe and encouraging environment for kids and teens to practice teamwork, fair play, crafting, and creativity while having epic adventures. Thanks, Anna, for providing hands-on workshops and after school programs for kids of all ages to learn and grow in their passion for the arts.

Cohesion Dance Project

For over a decade, Founder and Artistic Director Tanya Call and the dynamic staff of Cohesion Dance Project have provided welcoming and inclusive dance classes, school and community outreach, and dynamic performances in Helena and across the state. At the annual performance of Nutcracker on the Rocks on Thanksgiving weekend, local performers, of all ages and abilities, join visiting guest artists to delight the audience with this innovative and artistic, rock-n-roll journey through the decades. They believe everyone deserves the opportunity to dance their heart out in a community that inspires and supports them. Their mission is to create engaging performances and integrated educational experiences that enrich, inspire, and unite the community through dance.

10 December 2023 | YC MAGAZINE | youthconnectionscoalition.org


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Our roots run deep in this great state and our commitment is clear. Only local. Only in Montana.

40 Developmental Assets are essential qualities of life that help young people thrive, do well in school, and avoid risky behavior. Youth Connections utilizes the 40 Developmental Assets Framework to guide the work we do in promoting positive youth development. The 40 Assets model was developed by the Minneapolis-based Search Institute based on extensive research. Just as we are coached to diversify our financial assets so that all our eggs are not in one basket, the strength that the 40 Assets model can build in our youth comes through diversity. In a nutshell, the more of the 40 Assets youth possess, the more likely they are to exhibit positive behaviors and attitudes (such as good health and school success) and the less likely they are to exhibit risky behaviors (such as drug use and promiscuity). It’s that simple: if we want to empower and protect our children, building the 40 Assets in our youth is a great way to start. Look over the list of Assets on the following page and think about what Assets may be lacking in our community and what Assets you can help build in our young people. Do what you can do with the knowledge that even through helping build one asset in one child, you are increasing the chances that child will grow up safe and successful. Through our combined efforts, we will continue to be a place where Great Kids Make Great Communities.

Turn the page to learn more! In Montana, we have many things to be proud of, and it’s the best place to live and raise a family. ParentingMontana.org: Tools For Your Child’s Success Center for Health and Safety Culture. (2018). The 2017 Montana Parent Survey Key Findings Report, Bozeman, MT: Montana State University.

Brought to you by the Offices of Child Care, SAMHSA, and Montana DPHHS. The views and opinions contained in the publication do not necessarily reflect those of SAMHSA or the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and should not be construed as such.

The 40 Developmental Assets® may be reproduced for educational, noncommercial uses only. Copyright © 1997 Search Institute®, 615 First Avenue NE, Suite 125, Minneapolis, MN 55413; 800-888-7828; www.search-institute.org. All rights reserved.

youthconnectionscoalition.org | YC MAGAZINE | December 2023


assets in action



Smith Elementary students using their birthday tokens to buy books

1. Family support: Family life provides high levels of love and support. 2. Positive family communication: Young person and her or his parent(s) communicate positively, and young person is willing to seek advice and counsel from parent(s). 3. Other adult relationships: Young person receives support from three or more nonparent adults. 4. Caring neighborhood: Young person experiences caring neighbors. 5. Caring school climate: School provides a caring, encouraging environment. 6. Parent involvement in school: Parent(s) are actively involved in helping young person succeed in school.



7. Community values youth: Young person perceives that adults in the community value youth. 8. Youth as resources: Young people are given useful roles in the community. 9. Service to others: Young person serves in the community one hour or more per week. 10. Safety: Young person feels safe at home, at school, and in the neighborhood.


BOUNDARIES & EXPECTATIONS Ironhorse Youth Chorus, part of Ironhorse Youth Music, performs

School Resource Officers keeping kids safe at school


11. Family boundaries: Family has clear rules and consequences and monitors the young person’s whereabouts. 12. School boundaries: School provides clear rules and consequences. 13. Neighborhood boundaries: Neighbors take responsibility for monitoring young people’s behavior. 14. Adult role models: Parent(s) and other adults model positive, responsible behavior. 15. Positive peer influence: Young person’s best friends model responsible behavior. 16. High expectations: Both parent(s) and teachers encourage the young person to do well.


Members attending the 4-H Congress in Bozeman (photo: E. Brush Photography)

12 December 2023 | YC MAGAZINE | youthconnectionscoalition.org

17. Creative activities: Young person spends three or more hours per week in lessons or practice in music, theater, or other arts. 18. Youth programs: Young person spends three or more hours per week in sports, clubs, or organizations at school and/or in the community. 19. Religious community: Young person spends one or more hours per week in activities in a religious institution. 20. Time at home: Young person is out with friends “with nothing special to do” two or fewer nights per week.

If you or your child would like to submit a picture that represents one of the 40 Developmental Assets, please email coleen@youthconnectionscoalition.org with a picture and the number of the asset the picture represents.

Not all pictures are guaranteed publication.


21. Achievement motivation: Young person is motivated to do well in school. 22. School engagement: Young person is actively engaged in learning. 23. Homework: Young person reports doing at least one hour of homework every school day. 24. Bonding to school: Young person cares about her or his school. 25. Reading for pleasure: Young person reads for pleasure three or more hours per week.


26. Caring: Young person places high value on helping other people. 27. Equality and social justice: Young person places high value on promoting equality and reducing hunger and poverty. 28. Integrity: Young person acts on convictions and stands up for her or his beliefs. 29. Honesty: Young person “tells the truth even when it is not easy.” 30. Responsibility: Young person accepts and takes personal responsibility. 31. Restraint: Young person believes it is important not to be sexually active or to use alcohol or other drugs.


32. Planning and decision making: Young person knows how to plan ahead and make choices. 33. Interpersonal competence: Young person has empathy, sensitivity, and friendship skills. 34. Cultural competence: Young person has knowledge of and comfort with people of different cultural/racial/ethnic backgrounds. 35. Resistance skills: Young person can resist negative peer pressure and dangerous situations. 36. Peaceful conflict resolution: Young person seeks to resolve conflict nonviolently.

Boy Scouts welcome scouts from Germany



Reading a book with someone special HHS student celebrating applying to college



37. Personal power: Young person feels he or she has control over “things that happen to me.” 38. Self-esteem: Young person reports having a high self-esteem. 39. Sense of purpose: Young person reports that “my life has a purpose.” 40. Positive view of personal future: Young person is optimistic about her or his personal future.

Bruin Pure Performance walk with 4G students to school

youthconnectionscoalition.org | YC MAGAZINE | December 2023


14 December 2023 | YC MAGAZINE | youthconnectionscoalition.org


with your teen By NATURAL HIGH STAFF


here’s no question that your kids will be exposed to and learn about drugs and alcohol. They will learn from television shows, movies, social media, and their friends. And almost everything they learn will be unhelpful and misleading at best – dangerous at worst. Here are eight conversations you should have with your kids. As awkward as they might be, the consistency and honesty with which you approach these discussions will make a big difference for them. Be cool and casual about it. Be honest, open, and authentic – kids can smell inauthenticity a mile away. #1 THE ‘DRUGS AND ALCOHOL ARE REAL AND DANGEROUS’ CONVERSATION For adults who struggle with life-destroying addictions, 90% of them started when they were kids. However, research has shown that teens who consistently learn about the risks of drugs from their parents are up to 50% less likely to use drugs than those who don’t. Here are some triggers to remind you to have the conversation: • When you’re watching a movie together and someone on screen is using a substance • When you come across someone who is under the influence – help your kids interpret why that person is acting strange • When you or others around them drink alcohol or smoke #2 THE ‘YOU’RE NOT THAT SMART, YET’ CONVERSATION It’s important for you to realize, and for your kids to know, that they aren’t capable (yet) of making wise and informed decisions for themselves. Because of the massive reconstruction of their brains during adolescence, they lack the executive functioning skills to think reflectively about their values, their future state, or consequences. Neuroscience has learned the brain is not fully developed until around twenty-five years old. We need to help kids make smart and healthy choices. #3 THE ‘LET’S TALK ABOUT WHO YOUR FRIENDS ARE’ CONVERSATION The real danger of peer pressure is an internal thing happening inside the kid. It’s their desire for acceptance that drives them. The values, priorities, and perspectives your kid will adopt as a teenager will be way more influenced by their peers than by their parents. That’s why it’s so important to be involved in their friendships – at the very least to know their friends on a personal level. #4 THE ‘LET’S FIND YOUR NATURAL HIGH’ CONVERSATION One of the most annoying things kids say to their parents has to be, “I’m bored.” Kids today have more entertainment options than ever before. Boredom, however, is a problem. The opposite of boredom isn’t entertainment, it’s engagement. Kids who are engaged, connected,

involved, and busy have fewer opportunities to engage in risky behaviors. We need to learn how to engage kids by challenging them, provoking their curiosity, and giving them the space to explore what bugs them. #5 THE ‘FAMILY HISTORY’ CONVERSATION It’s really important that our kids have an appropriate sense of where and who they come from. Most families have a tendency to shield their children from the faults of their family members, but issues like addiction leak down through the generations. If our kids aren’t aware of the issues they’re being exposed to and predisposed to, they will be less likely to face their challenges effectively. The worst thing we can do is to pretend like nothing is wrong – they’ll just be confused and, at worst, learn to distrust their own gut and intuition. #6 THE ‘LET’S TALK ABOUT ANXIETY AND STRESS’ CONVERSATION It’s stressful to be a human. Stress and anxiety aren’t always negative. In fact, stress and anxiety are often the beginning of personal growth. Resilience is a quality that strong people have. It’s an attribute that is shaped through experience and reflection. We can have conversations where we affirm our kids and let them know how they’re demonstrating resilience and grit by choosing to stay engaged in their learning, making healthy choices for themselves, and reaching out to stay connected with friends. Let them think for themselves to help them grow in self-awareness and discover their own inner capacity to face hard things. #7 THE ‘I WILL LOVE YOU NO MATTER WHAT – YOU CAN ALWAYS TALK TO ME’ CONVERSATION Even if we’re scared, angry, or disappointed, kids need their parents to be their safest place; the people they can always turn to – no matter what. That’s a really hard line to hold, isn’t it? Our kids can frustrate us, make decisions that disappoint us, and confound our common sense. That being said, we still need to have this conversation repeatedly throughout the years of growing up. Our kids need to know they don’t need to be perfect, and it’s okay to make mistakes. It’s how the entire process of growing up works. #8 THE ‘LET’S IMAGINE YOUR FUTURE’ CONVERSATION Our kids are our pride and joy. Nothing matters more than their happiness and fulfillment – who they are, who they become, and what they do in the world. But who they become and what they do in the world is largely out of our control. We can only do so much to create a healthy, firm foundation for them, and then the choice is theirs. (Read the full article for an activity on this topic – see link below.) These aren’t one-time conversations – they’re discussions to have continuously throughout the years. ■

*This article is abbreviated. To read its entirety, visit https://www.naturalhigh.org/8-conversations-with-teen-about-drugs-alcohol/. Also check out all the other great resources on their website. youthconnectionscoalition.org | YC MAGAZINE | December 2023



allowing kids to quit an activity:

Nurturing Well-Rounded Development By AMBER IRVIN


n a world where extracurricular activities for children are becoming increasingly prevalent and competitive, there’s a growing awareness of the importance of allowing kids the freedom to choose, explore, and, sometimes, quit activities they’re no longer interested in. The decision to allow children to quit an activity can often be met with hesitation and concern. Parents may fear that letting their child abandon a commitment sends the wrong message about perseverance and dedication. And while perseverance and commitment are valuable traits, it’s equally crucial to recognize when a child may need a change. There is a growing body of research and expert opinions that suggest allowing kids to quit certain activities can foster a sense of autonomy and contribute to their overall well-being. ENCOURAGING SELF-DISCOVERY Children go through phases of exploration, trying different hobbies, sports, or clubs to find their passions. Allowing them to quit an activity encourages self-discovery. When they realize an activity doesn’t resonate with them, it opens the door for finding something they are genuinely passionate about. This self-discovery process can lead to a stronger sense of identity and self-awareness. REDUCING BURNOUT AND STRESS Overloading children with too many activities can lead to burnout and stress. Stress can manifest in various ways, including behavioral issues, difficulty concentrating, and even physical symptoms. Kids have their own unique limits and energy levels and pushing them to persevere in an activity they no longer enjoy can have negative consequences. Allowing them to quit when they feel overwhelmed can help reduce stress and maintain a healthier balance in their lives. FOSTERING A SENSE OF AUTONOMY Granting children the autonomy to decide when to quit an activity empowers them to make decisions about their own lives. This fosters a sense of independence and self-

By creating an environment where children feel safe discussing their interests and concerns, parents can better understand their child’s evolving preferences. This can strengthen the parent-child relationship and foster trust. reliance, skills that will prove invaluable as they grow into young adults. Kids who have the ability to make choices regarding their activities are more likely to develop a strong sense of responsibility. When children are coerced into continuing an activity they dislike, it can lead to a negative association with learning and hinder the development of independent decision-making skills. DEVELOPING RESILIENCE While quitting an activity is valuable, teaching children the importance of perseverance and commitment is equally crucial. Encouraging kids to finish what they’ve started, even when it gets tough, can help develop resilience. However, there are instances when quitting is a sensible choice, such as when an activity is genuinely detrimental to a child’s mental or physical health. It’s essential to differentiate between temporary challenges and a genuine loss of interest. Understanding the difference between quitting out of convenience or frustration and quitting for the sake of personal growth is an important lesson.

16 December 2023 | YC MAGAZINE | youthconnectionscoalition.org

PRIORITIZING MENTAL AND EMOTIONAL WELL-BEING In today’s fast-paced world, children often experience immense pressure to excel in various aspects of their lives. Parents need to be mindful of not trying to live vicariously through them or pushing them to be as good as they were in their youth. Allowing kids to quit an activity when they’re no longer enjoying it prioritizes their mental and emotional well-being. Mental health is just as important as physical health, and maintaining a positive emotional state is essential for a child’s overall development. ENCOURAGING OPEN COMMUNICATION Allowing kids to quit an activity also promotes open communication between parents and children. By creating an environment where children feel safe discussing their interests and concerns, parents can better understand their child’s evolving preferences. This can strengthen the parent-child relationship and foster trust. It’s important that kids never fear letting their parents down by sharing that they don’t enjoy an activity anymore. In the grand scheme of a child’s development, allowing them to quit an activity is a practice that can offer numerous benefits. It fosters self-discovery, reduces stress, and promotes autonomy, resilience, and emotional well-being. However, it’s crucial to strike a balance between allowing kids to quit and encouraging commitment. Teaching children when it’s appropriate to persevere and when it’s okay to let go is an invaluable life lesson. By respecting their choices and supporting their evolving interests, parents can help children grow into well-rounded individuals who are capable of making informed decisions about their own lives. Ultimately, the goal is to guide children toward activities that bring them joy and fulfillment, nurturing a lifelong love for learning and exploration. ■

youthconnectionscoalition.org | YC MAGAZINE | December 2023


How can I keep my kids off screens and keep them active in the winter?


Keeping kids active during the winter can be a fun challenge. Here are some ideas to ensure they stay active and engaged: OUTDOOR WINTER SPORTS: • Skiing and Snowboarding: Consider enrolling them in skiing or snowboarding lessons. Cross-country skiing can be done almost anywhere. • Ice Skating: Take them to a local ice skating rink – whether it be indoor or outdoor. • Sledding: Find a safe and suitable hill for sledding. It’s not only a thrilling activity but also a great workout. INDOOR SPORTS AND ACTIVITIES: • Indoor Swimming: Look for indoor swimming pools or community centers with swimming facilities. • Basketball or Soccer Leagues: Check around for groups that offer youth leagues. • Rock Climbing: Indoor rock climbing is a fantastic way to build strength and endurance.


The percentage of their life a cat sleeps


The percentage that stress is relieved by reading

WINTER NATURE WALKS: Bundle up and take nature walks in the winter. Explore parks or nature reserves to observe winter wildlife and enjoy the crisp air.


WINTER OBSTACLE COURSES: Create an indoor obstacle course using household items. This can include crawling under tables, jumping over cushions, and climbing over soft obstacles.

The amount in tons of chocolate sold at the Brussels Airport each year

WINTER GARDENING: If you have a garden, involve the kids in winter gardening activities like planting winter-friendly vegetables or creating bird feeders. WINTER SCAVENGER HUNT: Create a winter-themed scavenger hunt. Include items like icicles, pinecones, or animal tracks in the snow. DIY WINTER CRAFTS: Engage in indoor activities like crafting winter-themed items. This could include making snowflakes, creating winter scenes, or even simple DIY projects. YOGA FOR KIDS: Introduce them to kid-friendly yoga. There are many online resources and videos designed specifically for children.


The number of pushups performed in one day

WINTER CAMPS AND CLASSES: Check out local community centers or organizations that offer winter camps or classes. These might include arts and crafts, science experiments, or other active pursuits.


FAMILY FITNESS CHALLENGES: Make fitness a family affair by setting up challenges or competitions. This could be anything from who can do the most jumping jacks to a friendly race around the house.

The weight in pounds of an elephant’s tooth

Remember to consider safety precautions, especially in cold weather. Dress appropriately, stay hydrated, and make sure the activities are suitable for the age and fitness level of the children involved.


coleen@youthconnectionscoalition.org We cannot guarantee all questions will be published; however, we will do our best to respond to all questions submitted.

18 December 2023 | YC MAGAZINE | youthconnectionscoalition.org


The number of years it would take to drive a car to the sun



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20 December 2023 | YC MAGAZINE | youthconnectionscoalition.org


kids’ social media? By OFFICER GOMEZ


arents who think they can monitor their kids’ social media are like thinking they can beat a professional basketball player one-on-one. Kids are actual professionals at social media and parents are not. Kids have coaches and technical support teams (other kids) that advise them every day. Parents have their work group or friends of three or four people who share what they think they know about kids and social media. One of my main concerns with kids being on social media is their ability to talk to strangers. Omegle has a slogan of “Talk to Strangers.” It has been around for a while and is not an application any child should be on. Omegle does not have a sign-up requirement so you can be talking to strangers in a matter of seconds by clicking two checkboxes verifying you are 18 and will abide by their terms of service. Once connected, Omegle connects you with a random person in the world by video, audio, and chat. If you don’t like the connection, you select “next” and it takes you to the next random person in the world. If people were decent, this would actually be a great exploratory program to discover other people in the world and learn a great deal about other cultures. Unfortunately, that’s not what happens. As you click next on Omegle, what you find pretty quickly is that there are many people on there who are naked and want to talk to you live. As you click through there are multiple x-rated scenes. Equally as disturbing are the chat screens that had groups of young girls (middle school) who were watching together and clicking “next” to go to the next person. I can only imagine the scenes they were experiencing on this platform. Because there is no sign up, Omegle users are very anonymous and there is no way for police to track them if needed. Think your child would not watch or use Omegle? It’s one of the popular “shock” applications kids like to show each other at school. Middle schoolers in particular love to show their friends what is on there. So, your child is in danger of seeing absolute craziness even without having a phone. Some applications such as Snapchat have

The only way parents will win this game is by taking children out of their pro-environment and spending non-screen time with them. Parents are the leaders of their family and should spend time teaching values and ethics to their children, so apps don’t. the potential and often do change your child forever. I highly recommend no Snapchat before 18. TikTok, Instagram, Telegram, and other applications will brainwash your children. Snapchat and Telegram are currently the top drug dealing applications. Did you know kids can log into Snapchat on their school issued Chromebooks? If you want to test your child’s Chromebook, go to the website now.gg and see if it comes up. Want a second test? From Google Maps type in “Milk Island” and check out the many videos under pictures. Milk Island allows kids to see TikTok videos and more without monitoring software catching on. In the reviews and photos, people post videos that are sometimes inappropriate. Google deletes inappropriate videos about once a week, but they always come back. Here is a list of the most addicting apps you need to be careful of. SNAPCHAT is by far the most popular for its ability to hide things from parents. Even

if you are friends with them with your own Snapchat account you can be muted to only see what they want you to see. Parents have no idea how much mental manipulation happens here. TIKTOK is the up-and-coming brainwashing machine. Many trends are being started and guided by older men so your kids will be easier victims. It is common to see innocent videos posted by 12-year-old girls showing 20k - 100k likes by random users. INSTAGRAM is also on the list because parents think they understand this app better than others. Conversations, pictures, and accounts can easily be hidden from parents; it’s called vanishing mode. Here’s how to use it: Open a one-on-one chat window with someone on your friend list. Swipe up from the center of the screen to enter vanish mode. Note that any messages, pictures, or videos sent in vanish mode will vanish after they have been viewed. Unfortunately, there isn’t a straightforward way to know if your child has been using it. FORTNIGHT will still get your kids very addicted. I have been to more than a few 911 calls where kids melt down when they have to stop playing this game. Many a parent has felt hostage in their own house to this game. Unfortunately, installing monitoring software to keep up with kids’ social media is equivalent to thinking that buying a new pair of basketball shoes will allow you to beat a pro player. You are not going to win by putting on a pair of shoes. If your kid has a smart phone, I highly recommend monitoring software as a way to help control technological issues. I am just advising that software alone will not stop most kids. I see way too many parents who over-rely on software to patrol their kids’ online life. The only way parents will win this game is by taking children out of their proenvironment and spending non-screen time with them. Parents are the leaders of their family and should spend time teaching values and ethics to their children, so apps don’t. ■

youthconnectionscoalition.org | YC MAGAZINE | December 2023


THE HIDDEN PERILS OF KRATOM: unveiling the dark side By STAFF


ratom, a tropical tree native to Southeast Asia, has gained popularity in recent years as a natural alternative to traditional painkillers and mood enhancers. However, beneath its seemingly harmless facade lies a myriad of dangers that pose significant risks to both physical and mental health. One of the most alarming dangers associated with kratom is its potential for abuse. While proponents argue that it can alleviate withdrawal symptoms from opioids, the irony lies in the fact that kratom itself can be highly addictive. Its active compounds bind to opioid receptors in the brain, leading to a euphoric high and a subsequent craving for more. As tolerance builds, users find themselves trapped in a vicious cycle, desperately seeking higher doses to achieve the desired effects. This can have severe consequences, including social isolation, financial ruin, and even death. Kratom also poses a range of adverse health effects. The unregulated nature of this substance means that users have no guarantee of its purity or potency, making it a breeding ground for contamination. Reports of kratom products tainted with heavy metals, salmonella, and other harmful substances have surfaced, posing a significant risk to consumers. Furthermore, kratom

consumption has been linked to liver damage, respiratory problems, seizures, and even psychosis. Adding to the dangers of kratom is the lack of regulation surrounding its production, distribution, and consumption. Unlike prescription medications, kratom is not subject to rigorous testing or quality control measures. This absence of oversight means that consumers are left vulnerable to the uncertainties of a market driven by profit rather than safety. Without proper regulation, there is no way to ensure that kratom products are accurately labeled, free from contaminants, or even legal. This regulatory void not only endangers individuals but also undermines public health efforts to combat substance use. While kratom may initially appear as a natural remedy with potential benefits, it is crucial to recognize the hidden perils that lie beneath its surface. It is important to educate ourselves and our kids about these dangers. Just because something is marketed as “natural” does not mean it is safe, especially for youth. Only through awareness and informed decision-making can we protect ourselves, our kids, and our communities from the hidden perils of kratom. ■

youthconnectionscoalition.org | YC MAGAZINE | December 2023


Think construction isn’t for him? Think again. $52,969 - that’s the annual median wage for construction jobs in Montana. With over 30,000 Montanans working in construction, chances are we have a career ready for him.

build-montana.org Build Montana is a workforce development initiative of the Montana Contractors Association

In Downtown Helena

a contemporary hotel along the historic walking mall (406) 443-2200 22 N Last Chance Gulch, Helena, MT 59601

24 December 2023 | YC MAGAZINE | youthconnectionscoalition.org



Youth Connections 1025 N Rodney Helena, MT 59601

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