The State of the State: Colorado Moms Tour Update
For the first time in America, children are worse off than they were two decades ago. It’s a fact.
As a mom, this hit home for me 5 years ago, when I watched and grieved alongside my daughter in the aftermath of her horrifying experience with sexual assault. It was such an excruciating emotional experience in and of itself – that the near complete absence of help, answers and support from the local and legal community over the case put me on offense. So much so that I was compelled to start Moms Fight Back.
Moms Fight Back exists precisely and selfishly because I want Colorado to be the safest, happiest and healthiest place in America.
On July 12, our Colorado Moms Tour landed in Denver’s Washington Park, where we discussed a host of issues with an all-star line-up of panelists. Topics included:
- School Safety, from the perspective of Michael Eaton, Chief of the Department of Safety at Denver Public Schools.
- Marijuana & Underage Use, from the Perspective of Dr. Laura Borgelt, Professor at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.
- Early Childhood Care & Education, from the perspective of Vinny Badolato, Strategic Partnerships Director for the Merage Foundations.
It was a gorgeous day, with perfect weather and a perfect view of Washington Park. The backdrop was a perfect juxtaposition for the difficult topics we were about to discuss. For those who were not in attendance, I want you to read about what we learned. And, for those in attendance, here is a reminder of what we learned and some pro-active steps for families to take.
Discussion Point One
My first question was to Michael Eaton, the Chief the Department of Safety at Denver Public Schools and also the father of 5 children. In his role as chief, I asked Chief Eaton to pinpoint those issues that should worry moms most, and he was quick to point to the following:
- Threats around social media and on-line safety, wherein cyber bullying is a real problem. Eaton could not stress enough how the threats in the virtual world, where kids are living, leave kids with a sense of isolation and loss of hope.
- External threats, avoiding the Columbine, Aurora and Sandy Hook realities of the 21st century.
- Disciples issues, to include drug use, real-time bullying and beyond.
Discussion Point Two
We then turned to Dr. Borgelt to give us her thoughts on recreational marijuana use as it relates to children and youth. Dr. Borgelt prefaced her comments by reminding the group that there are indeed situations, wherein the conditions for legal marijuana usage can be helpful. She pointed to epileptic patients and cancer patients as two groups, wherein situations where cannabis could be helpful and provide relief.
However, when it comes to recreational use, wherein kids are intentionally impairing themselves, parents should be on high alert. Healthy kids, who are using marijuana face potential problems down the road with respect to learning, memory and the ability to make good decisions. It’s important to remember that the brain develops up until the age of 25. Anytime a child’s brain is hit with THC – it alters the way the development is occurring. There is a clear correlation between reading and math scores changing negatively in youth who are chronic marijuana users. We see that coordination is affected as a result of THC impacting the cerebellum. And, we know that very few kids graduate from high school, which are also chronic users. As parents, we need to be aware that THC affects any developing brain. And now in Colorado, with the increased potency of marijuana (THC levels), we should be extra concerned.
Discussion Point Three
Moving back to the topic of school safety, I asked Chief Eaton what moms can do specifically to help keep schools safe. Chief Eaton’s answer was quick and simple, it’s about connecting with your kids – period. Eaton urged us parents to be role models and to teach our kids to be role models. Teach them to help others. Set those examples daily. Eaton also urged moms and parents to monitor what our kids are doing. We need to be involved in their lives, understand their interests and have conversations, even if they are tough conversations. The other thing that Eaton tries to do as a father and as a chief is to set expectations for kids and to hold them accountable for their conduct on and off campus. Connecting and conversing with our kids is something we can all do every day. And, holding them to a higher standard is a wonderful gift that we can give to them and to the larger society.
Discussion Point Four
Keeping with the theme of connecting and conversing with our kids, I asked Dr. Borgelt how she talks to her own sons (7, 9, and 11) about marijuana. She began by saying that kids at 11 aren’t all talking about it – but warned that they certainly can be. I personally love Dr. Borgelt’s answer to her oldest son, who is aware of her job and asked her about marijuana. She said, “I love your brain and, I love the way that you were made. If you use marijuana, your brain might change. Your brain is perfect the way it was made. Let’s not change it.”
The period between age 11 and 13 are when things charge changing quickly. And, the legalization of marijuana has certainly has made the conversation more challenging. To this point, one mother in the audience interjected and explained how her 14-year old is constantly talking about pot and how the boys on his soccer team smoke on a regulation basis, and often before the game. She asked the Dr. how to best approach the conversation. Dr. Borgelt again gave great advice: remind your kids that their friends, who are under the influence are not giving 100 % of what they are capable of, and certainly not working to their fullest potential when they are stoned.
The best thing we can do on a regular basis is to keep our kids engaged, ask questions, and keep the discussion fluid. Study after study show that parents have the most influence over their kids when it comes to talking about Colorado. The Good To Know Colorado campaign is a great resource for parents who are looking for guidance on talking to their kids about marijuana.
Discussion Point Five
We turned to Vinny Badolato for an issue that is near and dear to every new parents heart, and that is early childhood development. We often forget that it’s from birth to 5 years old where the most impact can be had on a child’s overall development, and also where the least attention is given. Vinny reminded us that early childhood education is absolutely critical and, yet, Colorado does a “terrible job.”
As such, I asked what we moms could do to push efforts to turn thing around for this 0-5 age group. Vinny candidly said that politicians at both the state and Federal level give good lip service as to how immensely important early childhood education is and that they support policies to that seek to improve it. Despite the words, rhetoric, and promises – nothing ever happens for the 0-5. Competing interests always win out.
Parents have to understand that nothing will change in this regard until they start holding their politicians feet to the fire. Moms and Dads need to reach out to your politicians with specific asks on behalf of your baby/toddler’s/child’s care and early education. Vinny stressed that a call is always more effective than a form letter.
To that end, Moms Fight Back plans to partner with the Merage Foundation to make the process of making your voice heard easier and more effective.
If you are interested in reaching out to your Senators and Representatives regarding the childhood education issue, please reach out to Sarah Lenti via our contact form.
Discussion Point Six
Circling back to the drug discussion in Colorado – which is front and center for moms given the recent legalization – both Chief Eaton and Dr. Borgelt warned about the dangers of edibles. In the Denver Public School system smoking isn’t the issue on campus, it’s the edibles. It’s very hard to monitor all of the food that your kids are consuming at school – nothing is that apparent. The further tricky part is that the reaction for edibles are discreet and time of release is very different for different people. It can take anywhere from 1 to 4 hours for the effect to incur. There is that issue of, I don’t really feel anything, and so I better take a little more. It’s dangerous. And, be aware that the average potency of THC in edibles today (in Colorado) registers at 18-19%. You often hear kids give you the “you can’t die” comment when it comes marijuana. Yes and no. Let’s remember that while you can’t die from a heart attack, you can die from jumping out of a window due to extreme paranoia.
Obviously, there is so much to learn and discuss. I look forward to the next Moms Fight Back Tour on September 14th in Lone Tree. Register here – I’d love to see you.