A Few Charms (Banner)

A Few Charms (Banner)

Thursday, 1 June 2017

It's 10 PM - do you know where your children are?

In the last week of April, the headline in the local newspaper said there were 28 opioid overdoses just in the previous week. We have been receiving emails about this from our kids' high schools. The public health department and police services have been issuing warnings to the general public (see the flyers at bottom of this post). Teenagers are dying from accidental drug overdoses. It's one of the worst things you can imagine happening to your child. But how do you prevent it?

At the end of December, the news reported that another teenager from Kanata (one of Ottawa's suburbs) was found - by her parents - dead on her bathroom floor. Her parents soon learned that she'd been using drugs for six months. The authorities suspected that she had overdosed on the counterfeit drugs found in her purse, specifically Percocet painkillers, laced with fentanyl, a potent opioid about 100 times more powerful than morphine. Then there were two more fatal overdoses in Kanata in February.

Before those February deaths were even in the news, my son said everyone in his school was wearing green to school in memory of a student who had died from a drug overdose the previous day. It was all over social media #greenforchloe. We later found out her name was Chloe Kotval (you can read the newspaper article). She was just 14-years-old. The students at All Saints, Kotval's high school in Kanata, as well as high schools across the city, responded by wearing green, not because the pills are referred to as "greenies," but because it was Kotval’s favourite colour.

"These Percs have destroyed Kanata" Listen to a teen tell his story of being addicted to deadly counterfeit drugs.

It wasn't long after these tragic events that I heard my daughter's best friend Saskia say, "There's a party in Kanata tonight." Saskia now lives in that west-end suburb of Kanata. And all I could think was how grateful I felt that my daughter - and her best friend - were spending their Saturday evening gathered around our dining room table, with friends, playing board games - instead of at that party in Kanata.

And it's made me realize that this was one of the best parenting decisions we've ever made: we have opened our home to our teenagers' friends every Saturday night.

Like most parents, we have spoken to our kids about the dangers of doing drugs. But the experts say families must also consider the wider picture. Teens who have strong family attachments and community ties, who connect at school, have strong, positive friendships, social skills and religious or spiritual beliefs may be less likely to experiment with drugs, says Health Canada.

But there's this insidious problem facing our teens. Their prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that controls decision-making, is not fully developed until they are well into their 20's. This makes them prone to the urge to engage in high-risk behaviours, combined with a sense of invulnerability. In the case of teens experimenting with drugs, just a little mistake can have drastic and long-lasting consequences.

"I thought I was invincible" Read about a teen opioid addict, fresh out of jail, who's goal is to help prevent this in other middle-school kids: "these dangerous drugs aren't being consumed in dark alleys, but inside homes in the sleepy suburbs."

I like to think that I was an involved parent when our kids were in Elementary School - volunteering in the classroom, reading to kindergarteners, helping with math, setting up for special events, and participating in parent's council. Mike and I even ran a family/parenting program. But it gets harder to stay connected as the kids get older.

In the Spring of their grade 6 year I enrolled my kids, and a group of their friends, in a program at the local Y. They all came to our house after school and I fed them a healthy snack. Then we took the bus together downtown. Part of the idea was to get them ready for more independence once they were in middle school, as well as learn how to behave on the bus and in the neighbourhood, and find an activity they could do after school that wasn't hanging out at the mall - or on the street corner. The unexpected bonus was that I felt like I got to know the kids much better. I felt "in the loop" and witnessed behaviours and conversations that I would not otherwise have been privy to. This all got me thinking that I wanted to find a way to stay involved as the kids got into the higher grades.

How teenagers now spend their time after dinner; 5 kids, 5 iPhones
All electronics go away when it's time to play board games!
When our twins were 12-years-old and started middle school, it was simply not cool for mom to walk you to school. I really missed visiting with other parents in the school yard, chatting with the teachers, getting to know my kids' friends, and seeing what was happening in the school. Since I couldn't see them at school we decided we would bring the friends and families to us. If the kids are going to "hang out" with their friends, let's have them do it at our house. (I wasn't allowed to call them "play dates" any more.) Thus was born "Games Night at the Hayden's Unplugged" - friends, families, and games, but no electronics.
Of course in my perfectionist mind, before we could invite people over for Games Night, I had to finish all the decorating, hide the piles of paper, plan and prepare delicious snacks and treats, and make the house "spic-and-span." Then, my ever-brilliant daughter Taylor said, "Can't we just invite our friends?" So *deep breath* I let go of all that planning and decided to just start!

For our first "Games Night," Mitchell's then-best-friend Elliot and his father Alan came over. They brought chips and we played an exciting card game of "Cheat," and then a very raucous game of "Pictionary." It was a huge success, and I earned this little silver dice charm for my "True Colours" bracelet. And now Saturday nights are reserved for Games Night.

Zombies, The Game of Life, and Pictionary
We still tell a story from that first Games Night. We were in teams of three, playing Pictionary, and both teams were illustrating the same thing (called an "All Play"). Whichever team guessed first would win the turn. Mitchell's team guessed first and Alan gave them the win. But he discreetly showed me what the card had said. Mitchell's team had successfully guessed "globe" and he'd done a good job drawing the earth and adding a stand to show it was a globe. The problem was, Alan's drawing was completely different, because the actual word, which Mitchell read incorrectly, was "glob" not "globe."

To get a feel for what Games Night is like in our house, check out this video on Facebook, taken when the kids were baking cookies for desert. See if you recognize the song.

This second video, taken when Mike's Mom was visiting, shows how noisy it can get. The caption says it all: "When you have pizza dinner on Games Night and there are teenagers around the table you just might end up talking about Shakespeare's Twelfth Night or singing Christmas carols - in May."

It's a good thing Taylor convinced me that we should just start Games Night, because otherwise it may never have happened. Despite all the work we have done on our Clean Sweep, our dining room seems to be in a perpetual state of disarray. It is the hub of our home, not just for meals and snacks, but also homework and crafts and projects - school and otherwise. And it is here that we gather round the table for meals and Games Night.

Originally we did not expect to feed the guests on Games Night, but dinner always seemed to be late and kids would be arriving before we'd eaten. We used to do homemade pizza but we've discovered that the easiest and cheapest way to feed a crowd (anywhere from 2-10 teenagers) is by making a pot of spaghetti and meatballs. (Don't be too impressed we're just heating up store-bought frozen meatballs). We even offer Caesar salad and garlic cheese bread if we are really organized.

When I was growing up you would always hear this question before the 10 o'clock evening news: "Do you know where your children are?" It was a PSA (Public Service Announcement) on American television, especially in the late 1960's, 70's and 80's. And I'm happy to say that on Saturday nights I do know where my teenaged children are.

YouTube video of The Simpsons
Homer Simpson watching the evening news
"Do you know where your children are?"

Some parents have asked their teens, "Do Mike and Sheila really want kids in their house every week?" And some feel guilty and insist their kid bring desert or something. Most of the guests are from friendships the kids have maintained since middle school. Some now go to the same high schools as Mitchell and Taylor, but others have moved out of the downtown. One night we had kids from five different high schools scattered across the city. Mike usually makes at least one trip to drive kids home - in the neighbourhood or further out to the 'burbs. And Yes, it is alot of work. But Mike and I gladly give that time and effort. We know that it's a very small price to pay for knowing where - and with whom - our kids are "hanging out." It also gives us the chance to get know our kids' friends, boyfriends or girlfriends. And it gives us the chance to discuss such topics as parties and drinking - and drug overdoses!

The dice charm on my "True Colours" bracelet

Related Posts:

Breakfast - the most important meal of the day, for a different reason - a story about the kind of connectedness that comes from family meals, shown to increase school performance and self-esteem, and decrease rates of depression and substance abuse.

Sing. Sing out loud... - a story about one of the best pieces of parenting advice I've ever received, from someone who was not even a parent. This is one of my favourite lessons learned from Taylor.

This Thanksgiving develop an attitude of gratitude - a story about how keeping a Gratitude Journal has had a huge impact on my mental health and why I recommend parents teach this to their children. You can also read how science explains why celebrating "unforgettable moments" with Pandora actually does make you happier.

Do my kids know they are my "treasured hearts"? - a story about my Ah-ha moment - and Oprah's Ah-ha moment - about the message we give our kids and the muranos that help remind me of how important it is.

Photo Gallery of our Family's Favourite Games
(and explanations)

My mother-in-law gives us money every year for Christmas and one of the things we always buy is a new board game, from Grammie. Sometimes Santa even adds a smaller game in the kids' stockings.

We received Anomia for Christmas 2015 and have played it almost every Saturday since. Anomia means "the inability to name objects or to recognize the written or spoken names of objects." This happens when someone has a stroke, but it also happens when you are competing to see who is the first to name something in a category like South American country, type of apple, or toothpaste brand - especially when each of you is naming something different. This game gets loud but is SO much fun!

The 5-Second Rule has nothing to do with how long a piece of food has been on the floor. It is a pretty simple game. There's a timer that makes a silly noise when you turn it over and you only have 5 seconds to list three things in the category on the card. I was very confident one time when asked to "Name three insects." I threw out a rapid-fire "mosquito, house fly and spider plant." Don't ask me why I added the "plant" - it just came out! The kids told me they wouldn't have accepted "spider" anyway because spiders are arachnoids not insects - when did they get so smart? If the first person answers in time they are given the card with the question. If you don't answer in time the next person gets to steal it, the trick being they can not repeat an answer that someone else has used. It goes around the table and if nobody steals it the original guesser gets the card. The person with the most cards at the end wins the game. One time "Name three Julia Roberts movies" went the whole way around the table with nobody being able to list three that hadn't already been named. When the card said, "Name three Tom Hanks movies," we all struggled until one girl said, "Toy Story 1, Toy Story 2, and Toy Story 3." Boo-ya!

Apples to Apples
In Apples to Apples, everyone takes a turn being the judge. The judge picks a green card from the top of the pile and chooses from one of the two words on that card. Then the other players pick a red card from their hand that they think best fits the word on that card. Sometimes it's serious, like when Taylor had the word "courageous" and I submitted the answer "Ann Frank" - everyone said "Whoa." Other times when the judge reads out the answers they are pretty funny or ironic. In this case I had the adjective "Scary" and these were the six submissions (above). Which would you choose?
Flip-a-gram of Telestrations:
"That moment when you hands meet in the popcorn" -
How we went from "holding hands" to "corn soup"

One of our favourite games is Teletrations. It's kind of a cross between Pictionary and the telephone game where you whisper a story in someone's ear, then they tell the next person, and so on. In this case you get a word or phrase and draw a picture of it. The next person, looking only at your picture, guesses what it is, the next person draws what's been written, and so on, til it gets back to you. Then everyone takes turns showing the results, which are usually pretty hilarious!

See if you can guess what these illustrations were supposed to be:
(answers below)




Lots of laughing with this team of girls playing Pictionary
(my daughter Taylor is on the left)

After an evening of Uno my cheeks hurt from laughing so much
(My husband and kids are big fans of The Simpsons)

Answers to Telestrations examples:
A. barn owl
B. rain forest
C. North Pole

Our basement "Before"
See the empty shelves on the far right?

A sneak peek at the basement "After"
The now-organized shelves of board games