Naperville non-profit group KidsMatter is launching a new initiative to help parents navigate the issues their children are facing such as bullying and drug use.
The new ParentsMatterToo program will provide parents with a place to turn for expert advice and support from other parents.
"We decided to create this type of initiative that would really empower parents through knowledge, through awareness so that bottom line would give them a safe environment both online and offline to discuss these at-risk situations and find out more information," said IdaLynn Wenhold, executive director of KidsMatter.
The initiative was inspired by the growing problem of heroin use in the suburbs that has claimed the lives of area teens, but it also will explore topics like depression, anxiety, cybercrime and bullying. The program is receiving funding from a city grant as well as business sponsors.
Gina Sharp, president of Linden Oaks at Edward Hospital, said she has seen a rising need behavioral health services and it now provides those services to 150 adolescents on a daily basis.
Competition, over involvement and perfectionism can be key stressors, Wenhold said.
"What we found is when these stressors become unmanageable in a young person's life … is that unmanageable stressors lead to chronic anxiety, depression, drug and alcohol use and thoughts of suicide," she said.
When parents have young children, they tend to ask each other for advice about everything from diapers to doctors, Neuqua Valley High School Principal Bob McBride said. But he's noticed they tend to stop doing so as they get older, especially with sensitive topics.
"There's a sense of isolation that high school parents especially feel because oftentimes risk-taking behaviors are seen as moral issues not public health issues so there's a moral stigma," he said. "Over and over again we talk to families who are unwilling to disclose, unwilling to reach out, unwilling to talk to other parents."
ParentsMatterToo aims to break down some of those barriers with an Ask the Expert feature on its website, allowing parents to get advice from local professionals like psychologists and addiction specialists. The website also will have a calendar listing any speakers in the area parents may be interested in hearing.
Another feature is parent conversation circles – small groups of parents who get together for four weeks to share their experiences and ask questions of each other.
Diane Overgard, who will oversee the initiative, said she initially hoped to have six trained facilitators for the groups by January, but more than a dozen have already expressed interest including those who want to lead groups for preschool parents in addition to junior high and high school.
"The entire community is just rallying," she said. "I feel like we have opened the door to something people are really passionate about."
The ParentsMatterToo initiative officially launches Oct. 11 at the Neuqua Valley versus Waubonsie Valley football game at North Central College. There also will be banners and announcements when Naperville North and Naperville Central football teams face off Oct. 25.
For more information visit http://www.parentsmattertoo.org/ when it goes live Oct. 11.