Hidden in Plain Sight

Can you identify signs of risky behavior in your teen?

What do you see when you poke your head into your teen’s room? Besides a mess, of course. You’ll see clothes, a backpack, schoolbooks, sports equipment, maybe musical instruments or ipods, surely decorations on the wall or furniture that express your child’s interests. Undoubtedly soda cans and snack wrappers. But could you spot a sign of risky or dangerous behavior in your teen’s room?

The nationwide statistics for teen alcohol and drug use (both illegal and prescription) are sobering, and Fauquier County is no exception. All parents think about keeping their teens safe in the world today. But to solve a problem, you first need to know if a problem exists. If your teen is participating in risky behaviors, the signs might be right there, hidden in plain sight.

At Fauquier County’s Sheriff’s Office, Captain Ray Acors and Shelly Wright are working with sixteen community partners to create a community program to help adults not only identify risky behaviors in their teenage children, but also to stop them effectively before anyone gets hurt. This program, titled “Hidden in Plain Sight,” or HIPS for short, is a presentation and participation-oriented module that helps parents identify and stop alcohol and substance abuse, as well as identify underlying associated issues like mental health problems and risky sexual behavior.

The HIPS module itself is a three-dimensional mockup of a bedroom, with a bed, bookshelf, desk, and other items typically found in the average teenager room. In among the innocuous items, it includes about 100 “red flags” that indicate risky behavior. In the first interactive section of the program, which takes about 30 minutes, parents are encouraged to thoroughly search the room and identify these red flags. Captain Acors said, “We want the parents to know where to look. Kids can be very crafty about where they hide things, and our goal with the room is to get parents aware of what could potentially be going on in their own kids’ rooms.”

The following educational portion of the program, taught by a law enforcement officer and an instructor from one of the program’s community partners, includes a powerpoint presentation detailing each red flag prop that the room contained and how it is indicative of — or used in — risky behavior. It includes up to date statistics and local trends, and law enforcement officers share the types of experiences they’ve had in our community identifying risky behavior and helping to put kids on the right path to a healthy life. Resource information is available to parents directing them to local community organizations that will help them to take the next step: opening the doors of communication with their teen and working towards a solution.

While the purpose of the module is very serious, and offers training on a potentially drastic measure involving invading a child’s privacy, Wright and Acors wanted to stress that the purpose of these modules is to educate and foster communication, not to make parents paranoid: “We want parents to be educated and aware. Part of our job as parents is to protect our kids, but we don’t want them to feel like they can’t trust us or confide in us either. And for these kinds of conversations, you can’t go in half-cocked either. If there are these items present in a child’s room, more than anything we want parents to feel confident in what they know and how to tackle the situation without straining their relationship with their kids.”

The program will launch its first module class on September 25 at 6 p.m. at the PATH Foundation. The free class is limited to 30 adults (children and teens are not permitted), and is on a first come first served basis. Parents can register by contacting HIPS.

HIPS is available free of charge to other groups such as church groups, parent groups, civic organizations, or any group that may find this resource to be beneficial. The community is encouraged to reach out to HIPS to book the program.

Contact HIPS
Shelly Wright

HIPS is a community program administered by the Fauquier County Sheriff’s Office in conjunction with the following organizations:
Community Resources United to Stop Heroin (CRUSH)
Mental Health America of Fauquier County
Rappahannock Rapidan Community Services
Come As You Are (CAYA)
Boys and Girls Club of Fauquier
Warrenton Police Department
Verdun Adventure Bound
Fauquier CADRE
Spiritworks Foundation
Fauquier Community Child Care
Just Ask — to End Human Trafficking
Fauquier County Public Schools
Blue Ridge Narcotic and Gang Taskforce
Celebrate Recovery
Families Overcoming Drug Addiction (FODA)

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