Series of events highlights mounting concern over teen substance abuse

Concerned about the number of teens who drink or use drugs on Vashon, a group of educators, therapists and parents is sponsoring several events highlighting both the seriousness of the issue and ways to encourage healthier teen behaviors.

The series of events runs from March to May, with the highlight on Wednesday, March 25, when acclaimed educator and author Victoria Tennant comes to Vashon to discuss teen brain development and the impact alcohol and drugs can have on a brain that’s “still under construction,” as therapist and substance-abuse expert Stephen Bogan put it.

Research, he added, has given educators “such a profound understanding of what’s going on with the teen brain.” Tennant’s talk will examine not only the impact of drugs and alcohol on a teen but other brain-development issues that help to explain why teens sometimes make poor choices, lack judgment or are impulsive, he added.

The growing body of research, Bogan said, “will help parents understand that a lot of the things we expect them to be responsible for, they may not be able to handle.”

Tennant’s talk, to be held at the Vashon High School theater, will likely be illuminating to countless parents who wonder about their kids’ choices or worry about what lies ahead, Bogan said.

“We hope to pack the theater,” he added.

The events come after several years of focus on teen drug and alcohol use on Vashon — an effort that took on new urgency last year after an extensive, state-sponsored survey found that a higher percentage of Vashon’s teens say they smoke marijuana than those in the rest of the state. The Healthy Youth Survey also suggested that parents on Vashon are more permissive than those elsewhere.

Last year, a group of educators and parents launched a community awareness effort that seems to have made some difference, those involved in the campaign said. But teen drug and alcohol use and parent permissiveness around it still seem high, they added.

“I think there’s a division happening,” said Yvonne Zick, a parent educator who’s been active in the community awareness efforts. “Where some parents are saying, ‘No, this isn’t OK,’ others are still saying, ‘It’s OK.’”

Teen substance abuse is “still quite rampant,” she added. “I have parents calling me in crisis, and they’re calling me from McMurray. ... We have a real problem, and I think people are starting to find that there’s help.”

Bogan concurred.

He still hears about big teen parties where parents either allowed kids to drink or weren’t home when the party took place, he said. And a recent survey by The Riptide, the Vashon High School newspaper, underscored the findings of the Healthy Youth Survey, including widespread parent permissiveness, he said.

At the same time, he added, “We’re getting the dialogue going. ... The parents I speak to are getting better at understanding that there’s a problem on the Island.”

Dan Kaufman, a counselor and former school psychologist, said he’s encouraged by the number of parents who are beginning to pay attention to these issues. Only time will tell if the efforts at a greater, shared awareness on Vashon will make a difference, he said.

“But what I can tell you is what I’ve seen over the past year or two as the coalition has gotten more sophisticated — and that is a broader range of parents participating,” he said.

The community awareness series includes the following events, workshops and discussions:

“Awake Parenting — An Experiential Workshop for Parents of Teens,” led by life coaches Scott Mills, Ph.D., and Dan Kaufman, Ed.D., all day, Sunday, March 22. The workshop focuses on tools parents can use to transform their relationships with their teen children. Costs: $150, which includes a 30-minute private phone coaching session; some scholarship assistance is available. To register, e-mail Kaufman at or call (206) 384-5118. Visit for more information.

“The Mysteries of the Teenage Brain,” a lecture and discussion led by Victoria Tennant, 7 to 9 p.m., Wednesday, March 25, at the Vashon High School theater. Tennant, an acclaimed author and educator, will discuss adolescent development, drug and alcohol’s effect on teenage brains and how to use information to effectively talk to teens. Cost: Free. Visit or contact Stephen Bogan at for more information.

“Guiding Good Choices,” a five-session class for parents of middle school-aged kids, starting April 16 at VYFS PlaySpace on the corner of Vashon Highway and S.W. Gorsuch Road. Two sessions — one at lunch time and one in the evening — run concurrently. Guiding Good Choices, which will be led by mental health counselor Jeff Tipp, explores how parents can talk to their children about drug and alcohol use and help their kids to make thoughtful choices as they enter their teen years. Cost: Free ($15 for the book that goes with the class). Contact Laura Michetti at or 463-5511 for more information or to register.

“Treatment and Recovery Awareness Panel,” 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., Wednesday, April 22, at the Vashon High School library. The panel discussion will explore a number of issues, including the role of family in recovery, various kinds of treatment programs, myths about treatment and recovery and other related issues. Parents, counselors, educators and teens are encouraged to attend. Contact Dan Kaufman at or visit for more information.

“Youth-Adult Dialogue: Drugs and Alcohol Use on Vashon,” 5:30 to 8:30 p.m., Tuesday, May 5, at VYFS PlaySpace. The community dialogue starts with a free meal and includes an opportunity for youth to speak while adults listen, along with exercises that facilitate intergenerational communication.

“Truth Be Told,” a theatrical presentation, 7 p.m. Thursday and Friday, May 21 and 22, at the Vashon High School theater. Created in a format similar to “The Vagina Monologues,” “Truth Be Told” is a theatrical presentation by youths regarding their own perceptions of teen drug and alcohol use on Vashon. Contact Amy Ezzo at or 463-7350 for information.

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