The Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office will host an event on “Proactive Parenting in a Digital World” Tuesday at New Day Christian Church. The program is geared toward parents of teens and middle school students and will focus on current social media and drug trends.

Community Affairs Specialist Claudette Bennett said for her part of the program, she’ll be discussing how Smartphone apps are built to be addictive, especially to teenagers whose brains are still developing.

“We’re going to be showing why the teens are getting addicted to social media itself,” she said. “And also how to monitor it, what they can do as parents instead of a coercion mechanism, though communication, how to talk to kids and set boundaries.”

One thing it’s important for parents to do is model healthy behavior with phones and social media, such as no phones at the dinner table and no phones while driving, Bennett said.

She plans to show parents ways they can block apps during certain times of the day.

“You don’t have to take the phone away, but you can block certain apps,” Bennett said. “Eventually they get used to that. They have to do their homework before x, y and z.”

Bennett will also cover hidden apps that look like one thing but are actually something else. On example is Calculator Plus, which looks like a calculator from the outside, but is actually a vault where kids might store nude photos, screenshots of text messages, or videos they want to hide.

“As a parent, you’re not going to go into your kid’s phone and click on a calculator,” she said. “It prompts you to put in a pass code, and once you enter that pass code, it just brings you to a slough of whatever you want to hide.”

For drug trends, Cpl. Stephen Burke said both the Narcotics Unit and school resource officers agree vape pens are the biggest drug trend among teens right now, and some of the pens are used to ingest THC, the main compound of marijuana. THC today is four to five times stronger than marijuana years ago, Burke said.

“The vape pens themselves are changing also,” he said. “Juuls look like USB Drives, so we want to get this info out to parents so they know what to look for.”

Teens themselves might not realize possession of THC oil is a third-degree felony, whereas possession of under 20 grams of marijuana is only a misdemeanor.

“Kids may think they’re taking a few hits off a vape pen, and it’s not a big deal, but if they get caught with it, it could be a third-degree felony,” he said.

Edibles, such as gummy bears are also common among youth. With both those and vape pens, they don’t have the traditional smell of marijuana, making it harder for parents and law enforcement to catch on.

“The oils and gummies don’t smell like marijuana; if anything they smell like grape or cherry,” Burke said. “That makes it easier for them to sneak it past their parents and makes it harder for law enforcement to catch them in possession of it.”

The presentation will take place at New Day Christian Church in Port Charlotte Tuesday at 6 p.m. Kids are welcome to come with their parents for a separate game night with pizza provided.

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