“Parents need to be aware of what’s out there, different concealment methods and what to look for,” said Paul Meher, prevention educator at HFM Prevention Council.
Meher hosted the High Disguise program at the Gloversville Senior Center on Thursday for adults 21 and older, setting up a typical teenager’s bedroom complete with essential furniture and dirty laundry.
Meher told the group of parents and guardians who attended the program that hidden throughout the room were items that could be concerning if found in a teen’s room or harmful to their health, including drugs, alcohol, drug paraphernalia and drug culture references.
The adults were asked to imagine their teenage daughter was taking a shower and they had four minutes to look through her room for items of concern and to write down everything that they found.
Meher noted that not everything in the room was illegal, some items could be a warning sign if found in a teen’s room pointing to issues that parents should talk to their kids about.
Open communication between parents and children is the key, according to the father of three daughters.
“We encourage kids to be close with their kids and know what’s going on with them. Communication between yourself and your child is important and you shouldn’t be afraid to talk about what’s going around,” Meher said.
Meher said only his 17-year-old daughter still lives at home and while he trusts her, he keeps his eyes open for anything that could be worrisome, something he thinks all parents should do.
“It’s your child, you’re responsible for their well being,” Meher said.
Opening parents’ eyes is the point of the program and exercise so they are better able to recognize items and images that look harmless at first glance but may be a sign that a kid is getting involved in potentially harmful activities.
Meher said that he, HFM Prevention Council Director of Recovery Ginger Cato and fellow prevention educator Alicia King all gained a new awareness of the trends in drug and alcohol use among teenagers after attending a training event in Orange County called Hidden Mischief about how to set up the mock bedrooms.
“We learned so much,” Meher said before giving the parents and guardians a turn going through the bedroom.
Parents opened drawers and books, shook a small plastic garbage can, sniffed the contents of a bottle of Mountain Dew containing a dark colored liquid, sifted through a hamper and looked around quizzically as they wrote down their observations.
When the four minutes were up, the participants had each written down about seven or eight items in a room Meher said contained over 60 items relating to drug or alcohol use or drug culture.
Meher assured the group that they wouldn’t find everything, adding that it’s a rare occurrence for anyone to find as many as 20 items in the exaggerated room.
After the exercise was over, Meher went through a slideshow presentation showing the parents the items they missed and talking about where they can be found.
Meher showed an Arizona iced tea container with a screw off base where drug related items were concealed, a stuffed animal with a slit in the bottom where mock marijuana was stashed, a pen that was actually a Juul vaping device, a flask that looked like a typical ice pack, a USB device that was a Juul charger, fake marijuana taped to the back of a nightstand, a green cat sticker representative of Ketamine and much more.
“I saw some things where I didn’t know what it was,” Gloversville Senior Center Director Ellie DiScioscia commented.
“I was naive about it too, putting all this together opened my eyes,” Meher said.
Meher said many of the items for the mock bedroom were purchased locally at novelty shops, department stores, smoke shops and gas stations. The HFM Prevention Council adds new items to the High Disguise inventory regularly as new trends emerge.
Meher recounted stopping at a gas station and seeing a Dasani water bottle behind the counter, he asked the cashier what it was and discovered it was a stash container with a false bottom. He purchased the bottle that was placed out in the open on the computer desk in the bedroom.
“I’m assuming they were made for legitimate reasons,” Meher said of the several stash containers in the room that looked like everyday objects. “I’m sure people are using them for that, but they’re also using them for this.”
More straightforward items scattered in various locations throughout the room that would cause a parent concern were cough syrup, air fresheners, sleeping pills and a pregnancy test.
Following the presentation, Meher gave parents a chance to go through the room again at their own pace, an opportunity Mary and Mike Tisi took advantage of.
“There were a bunch of things I thought were suspicious but I had no idea what they were,” Mary Tisi said. “It just really made us feel how clueless we are.”
The Tisis decided to attend the program as part of the four hours of training they must complete each year as foster parents. Mary Tisi said they mainly care for teenagers, noting that finding placements for teens can sometimes be difficult.
“They can be a real blessing,” she added. “They just make you laugh some days.”
The Tisis said that while the program likely won’t change the way they interact with the children they provide care for, it was educational.
“We’ll be a lot more aware,” Mike Tisi said. “It was an eye opener that’s for sure, it was enlightening.”
“If we were searching a kid’s room we’d have them there, now we at least know what we’re looking for. We wouldn’t be searching a kid’s room without their permission, but if we thought there were signs there was something going on that’s how we have to handle it as foster parents,” Mary Tisi added. “That’s part of their rights and their privacy.”
Providing this knowledge to parents and opening new topics of conversation among families is part of the goal of High Disguise.
“Sit down and have a conversation,” Meher advised, especially when there is a clear cause for concern.
Meher said families that need help with drug and alcohol related issues can contact the HFM Prevention Council for education and to connect with the appropriate support services as needed.
“It’s not always easy,” Meher said. “But don’t ignore it.”
HFM Prevention Council aims to increase health and wellness in Hamilton, Fulton and Montgomery Counties by preventing and reducing addiction disorders through education, recovery supports, supportive housing and community outreach.
For more information about the HFM Prevention Council or to find out about upcoming High Disguise presentations, call (518) 736-8188 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.