WAUWATOSA -- A new exhibit in Wauwatosa hopes to help parents identify teen substance abuse and get to the root of the problem.
Parents can walk through the teen bedroom exhibit Wednesday from 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. at City Hall. The city's health department created the bedroom exhibit so parents can see where teens could be hiding drugs or alcohol use.
"I think everything in here is a sign of substance use," Laura Stephens, Public Health Manager said. "Some of it just could be normal stuff, like eye drops or Chapstick but again, it could be something more."
The room shows obvious signs of marijuana or alcohol use, with visible marijuana patterns or beer bongs but there are more covert signs your kid could be experimenting.
"We have a Juul here in the exhibit," Stephens said. "It looks just like a USB drive. One of these little pods could have the equivalent of a pack of nicotine."
The exhibit shows ways kids can hide alcohol, prescription drug use or even heroin. Experts say it's best to start a conversation with kids if you have concerns over drug or alcohol use but don't make it an after school special. Take a walk with your child or do something they enjoy doing. While it may be hard, they also say to not be accusatory when addressing it.
"It's also difficult when it feels pointed," Holly Petrauskas with Aurora Psychiatric Hospital said.
"Why are you acting strange? I'm worried about you. You want to make it sure it's, I'm here to support you. I want to make sure you're not using drugs or hanging out with the wrong kids. I'm concerned and want to support you. We want you to be careful and understand what can happen. There's some informative prevention measure but not the, oh my god, you can't do that. You can't go hang out with this person. Your kid is going to keep lying and keep being secretive and doing what they want."
Petrauskas says some kids will experiment with substances to fit in or avoid feelings. She says, it could be experimental or it could be the sign of something deeper.
"You don't see it on the outside," Petrauksas said. "Just because you're close to your kid, you love your kid, doesn't mean you know everything. There might be so much going on mentally or emotionally that it might go right over your head."
"We've seen a marked increase in the number of youth that are reporting mental health concerns, stress, depression, things like that," Laura Conklin, Director of the Wauwatosa Health Department said. "We've actually experienced four times the amount of suicides in 2018 than we did in 2017 in Wauwatosa."
Identifying changes in mood can go a long way in figuring out what's eating at your child.
"Is your kid sleeping all the time or staying in the room all the time?" Petrauskas said. "If you n
otice a giant change in affect at home, don't just assume it's puberty or PMS or they're in high school and feeling like they want to get away from their parents. If your kid seems to be shut down and not involved in school or has poor grades, it can be obvious."
The Wauwatosa Health Department is hosting the exhibit Wednesday night from 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. at City Hall with a speaker talking about the event from 6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.