By Michael YEGHIAYAN
The Homenetmen Western Region Educational Committee held its Teen Substance & Alcohol Abuse Workshop on Tuesday, bringing a panel of experts to St. Mary’s Armenian Apostolic Church in Glendale.
The bilingual lecture and interactive forum aimed to educate parents and open the lines of communication on the topic of substance abuse among minors, particularly the area’s Armenian youth.
Attorneys Garo Ghazarian and Mary Der Parseghian were joined by Glendale Police Officer Joe Allen, who specializes in narcotics, and marriage and family therapist Nora Chitilian-Keleshian to cover a wide scope of the impact of drug and alcohol use among area teens.
The speakers underlined the importance in understanding that minors who take unnecessary risks put a number of people in jeopardy, from the well being of innocent bystanders to the financial obligation of parents and guardians. The liability can be huge, with civil litigation potentially putting a family’s home at risk.
Defense attorney Ghazarian advocated a heavy level of parental involvement in a child’s life, while avoiding behavior that fosters dependence. He argued that many teenagers believe that with money and a lawyer their mistakes can be forgiven with a clean slate, but that is often not the case.
“Armenians in the United States have plentiful opportunities, especially compared to the youth in Armenia,” he said. “The problem is that when something is handed to us on a silver platter, many take it for granted.”
Ghazarian also encouraged parents to rethink the way they communicate with their children and to forsake traditional taboos that cause important topics to remain undiscussed. He spoke with great passion about the long-term effects of a teenager’s mistakes, describing the consequences with his experience as a litigator.
“When it comes to communication, we are not good at it. We do not want to talk about bad things,” said Ghazarian. “We say, ‘It will pass,’ but it will not pass; it will not pass on its own.”
Another major topic of discussion was the growth of social media and the risks it carries when used by middle and high school students with little parental involvement. Officer Allen framed the problem of drugs in the area as limited to a “small segment” of the community but warned attendees of the widespread impact of even a small percentage of users.
The growth of social networks has led to a nationwide problem of underage “sexting,” the sharing of sexually explicit photographs through texts or social media. This trend has major legal implications with potential child pornography related charges for all parties involved – those asking for, sending, or possessing illegal images.
“There is very little privacy. People can look at it or find out very easily,” said Officer Allen. “Online as well as offline – understand what your kids are into.”
The 23-year police veteran also warned parents of the risks associated with legal or misused substances that can be abused by teenagers. These include pharmaceuticals, household products, and loosely regulated substances such as salvia and kratom that can be purchased by 18 year olds.
Family therapist Chitilian-Keleshian also explored the emotional aspect of drug abuse and counseled parents to the warning signs of a drug user. She asked parents to be mindful of personality changes, withdrawal of responsibility, changes in friends, and an increased secretiveness. These warning signs often call for an increase in parental involvement in the lives of their children.
“We need to look at this beyond a simple drug issue; we need to be looking at the psychological issues,” said Chitilian-Keleshian. “The last thing we want to do is unfairly judge someone or criticize them when they have a problem.”