Truth, Facts & Lies is an educational program designed to get teens talking about hot button issues they face on a daily basis such as social media safety, consent & relationship abuse, and issues that we hope they never face, such as human trafficking and suicide. School administrators select 20 students to participate in the program, which begins each January. Our volunteers, who undergo extensive training on mandatory reporting, abuse, content and delivery methods, meet with their students once a month through spring and fall facilitating discussions on each topic. The program culminates in a student led awareness project at their school. These are not your typical lectures; our goal is for the students to be engaged and talking at least as much as the facilitator, if not more. By encouraging student participation in a safe and confidential environment, the students truly take ownership of the information and gain confidence discussing what are often taboo subjects. This empowers them to become the educators among their peers and fellow students. Our hope is that when one of our students is at school, practice or hanging out with friends they are comfortable telling their friends factual information about these issues.
As a mother of three children, I would love to think that my children will never have to worry about these issues but that isn’t a reality for teens growing up in a digital world. By preparing them with knowledge, I am giving them the tools they need to stand up for themselves and decrease their chances of becoming a victim. One in three teens in a relationship is being abused. By the age of 18, 10% of children will have been sexually abused and only 38% of victims disclose the abuse. Less than 1% of kidnapping victims are random occurrences; predators are using social media to research, lure and groom their victims. In a recent focus group with area teens we posed the question, “Is it normal to meet someone online and fall in love?” Twenty out of twenty students answered “yes”. Five minors were identified in Calcasieu Parish in 2015 as human trafficking victims. The average age of entry into human trafficking is 12-14 years old. It is the second largest criminal industry in the United States, behind drug sales. There are more slaves in the world today than at any other time in history.
The idea for this program began several years ago while working with teens in a local pediatric practice. They were so uninformed about the risky behaviors they were participating in and so open to hearing a factual answer from a trusted source. Four short months ago, I pitched the idea at our Kids Can committee meeting, within two months we were in five area high schools presenting our first lesson. The rapid growth and overwhelming support of our community is evidence that this information is needed by our teenagers. Watching their “light bulbs” turn on during the sessions has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. As we grow I hope to host parent nights, increase the scope of the student led awareness projects, and expand on many other exciting ideas.
Recently, my eight-year-old proudly presented me with $4 as our first donation. She was thrilled to know that would cover printing costs for flyers for one school. Every little bit helps and we all benefit from students being well versed in these important issues. Thank you for your consideration.
SWLA Youth Foundation