MORGANTOWN, WV (WCHS/WVAH) — A group in West Virginia is helping strengthen the detective skills of parents. It's helping those parents know the clues and warning signs that they need to be on the lookout for that could alert them to risky behavior, drug and alcohol use.
There's power in being a parent and with that power, comes the ability to address problem behavior early, in an effort of stopping it before it becomes more dangerous.
The program is called "Hidden in Plain Sight" and is presented by the West Virginia State Police Crimes Against Children Unit. In a mock bedroom fit for a teen, there's more than meets the eye.
"We're basically teaching parents how to snoop on their kids," Digital Forensic Analyst Ginger Haring explained. "We want parents to investigate what their kids are doing."
Haring's main role though is being a mother of two.
"The big thing today is 'my kid wouldn't do a thing like that," she said.
Haring takes Hidden in Plain Sight anywhere in the state, doing presentations for parents at schools and other events.
"If you find a Pringle container, you might want to empty it out and make sure there's actually Pringles inside of it because here...we have a pipe," she said, demonstrating how drugs can be hidden in different household items that you may not give a second glance.
"This looks innocent enough, this is a whole little thing of rocks. Well, these are pipes," she points out in a tray of what looks like rocks.
Then she points out something hidden in a shoe.
"We have cold medicine in here, cold medicine for the alcohol content of course," she said.
Haring wants the program to be an eye-opening experience that can start a dialogue between parents and children.
"You've got to be diligent enough to find it," she said. "A lot of parents want to protect their child's privacy and while I understand that to a point, there's so many things out there and especially these days that your child might be involved in and if you know ahead of time, it could stem something coming up in the future."
Haring said it's not just drug and alcohol use to be on the lookout for — unmonitored cell phones and computers pose some of the biggest threats.
"How many reports do to you see of 10, 11, 12, 13, 14-year-olds who were talking to someone on the internet, their parents had no idea and they're missing and they or may not ever be found," she said.
More than 4,000 parents in all 50 states have signed a pledge to wait until eighth grade before giving their child a smartphone. A new study showing a link that teenagers thinking about suicide are more likely to be users of social media. The dangers including cyberbullying, sexting and being exposed to sexual predators.
"Kids that are struggling with anxiety, low self-esteem, ADHD, are much more likely to use the devices in a way where they get negative feedback. For those kids, they are really at risk for being bullied, for getting depressed, for their grades to go down," said Dr. Jodi Gold with the Gold Center for Mind Health and Wellness.
Haring recommends having a central charging station for cell phones located out of the bedroom in an effort to stop unmonitored use at night. Her job makes her more in tune with the dangers children face from online predators, saying "for everyone they catch, there are 10 they don't." She urges parents to take a second look.
"The kids are getting younger and it is getting more prevalent," she said.
Haring said the only requirement for the free presentation is that no children are allowed to be present. If you know a group that would be interested, they can be reached at 304-293-6400.