by Jennifer Sierra
The Landing is a support group where teens can have a judgement-free atmosphere to unload their personal issues with the hopes of getting help instead of turning to drugs. As long as there have been teenagers, there have been troubled teens. Being a teenager is hard enough with raging hormones and school but add on peer pressure and you have a whole other layer of stress that is often too difficult for kids that don’t having coping skills. More and more we are hearing about kids committing suicide and/or turning to drugs to alleviate their suffering. When many of us were teenagers, we may have gossiped about others kids by phone or by passing notes in school. Many of us remember a time when cell phones, email and Facebook didn’t exist so our ability to spread harmful information about one another was limited. With technology, kids now have the tools to do damage to another person’s reputation at the speed of light. Articles like this one on BuzzFeed highlight the issue of cyber-bullying and kids committing suicide as a result.
I admit that I often assume that kids that turn to drugs and alcohol aren’t being parented or come from broken homes. It is an easy and often incorrect assumption to make about the issue of troubled teens. Having gone through my teenage years once upon a time, I thought, “I get what these kids are going through.” While I certainly get it, I didn’t fully comprehend the extent that social media played in the trouble kids get in today. Last Monday I attended a meeting for The Landing and listened to the story of a young teenager, Hope (name changed to protect her identity). Hope was an honor roll student in Dayton, Kentucky and was bullied for being a good student. Other kids teased her and cheated off of her. They used her and abused her because that is what bullies do. She wanted to fit in and she said it looked like they were having more fun than she was so she joined them. She started skipping school and drinking and taking pills as well as witnessing her new friends beat up and bully other weaker people in town. The thing is, Hope comes from a good home. Her parents are still married and her mom is a stay-at-home mom. How does this happen? Like any predator, these kids groom their victims. They look for the kids that want to fit in or maybe have lower self-esteem. Just like a pedophile, they know instinctively who they can pick on and manipulate to get what they want.
Hope’s parents lost control of their daughter and she started running away. Her parents sent her to live with her grandfather in Triple Crown in Boone County, thinking that if she left Dayton, her environment would be better. She would be away from this bad crowd and she wouldn’t be influenced by this bad crowd of kids. Thanks to social media, Hope was able to continue to find trouble in Boone County. She started stealing from her grandfather, skipping school and running away, all to be with another bad group of people. After many attempts at running away, her parents signed custody of her over to the Commonwealth of Kentucky. She was put in a home for troubled teens in Covington and Louisville. She ran away from both. She lived with men in their 20’s and got drugs any way she could. “It was all about getting high. I did whatever I needed to get high.” Hope stated while her mother sat next to her silently crying and caressing her daughter’s hand. Hope spoke of her darkest moment when she overdosed and got very ill on cocaine, Xanax, pot, spice and a few other drugs I had never heard of, while she was living with this guy in his 20’s. She woke up and had thrown up all over herself, amazingly still alive. After 2 months on the run, 4 state homes, getting abused and beaten by men old enough to know better, she called her father to help her. She spent one and a half weeks in jail and went to rehab for 56 days. She goes to AA meetings twice a week for support but she is one of the youngest people there so it is hard for her to relate to the problems most of those people face in their recovery. She was able to go home to live with her parents again a couple of days before Christmas. Her mother was just happy to have her back alive. Hope spoke so eloquently, I was shocked when she said she was 15. This child had lived like an adult and her previous, good education was evident in the way she spoke and was able to maintain eye-contact. I thought about how close to home this was hitting. I remembered how my group of friends in high school were the “brainy” kids but we were lucky enough to have a closer-knit group of people in our school. We were lucky that most of our groups co-mingled and got along. We were fortunate that most of us were not tolerant of bullying. Maybe our parents taught us better, maybe the times were just different, I am not sure.
One of the gentlemen that volunteers with the group is Dayton resident, Rick Frank. He shared his story with Hope and her mother in an effort to let her know that even though he was from another generation, he could understand what she was going through. Rick said that he started drinking as a teen because “that’s what kids did back then. It was easy to get.” He was a jock in school and they were just bored when he and his buddies were hanging out, so they drank. Rick was a functioning alcoholic for years until one night his teenage daughter got in trouble. She called her dad for help and he was too drunk to drive to her. Rick said he knew right then and there he needed to make a change to be a better role model for his girls.
Hope is far from out of the woods and needs a group like The Landing to help her stay on track. The group meets once a week for 52 weeks and will be meeting at the YMCA in Dayton, Kentucky. They will need people to donate snacks for the kids and welcome financial donations in any amount. Kids from 7th through 12th grade are welcome. There will be group counseling sessions as well as time for the kids to eat and socialize with one another. All information shared at the meetings is confidential and will not be shared outside of the meetings (unless legally required). “This is an effort to build trust with the kids and to give them a safe place to share their feelings.” said Shari Hennekes, one of the directors of The Landing. Hennekes is a recovering addict herself and is one of the counselors. She said that “we get the kids in with the best chocolate chip cookies in the world and we get them to stay by giving them the support they need to stay clean and sober.”