When does it stop being a party and start becoming a problem? Is there a way to steer clear of addiction? Every Wednesday, Mike McGowan, host of the podcast "Avoiding the Addiction Affliction," explores substance use disorders with expert guests. The podcast series is sponsored by the Kenosha County Substance Abuse Coalition.
Original cover art created by
Kelly P. of Kenosha, Wisconsin
Professor of Youth Development with the University of Wisconsin Extension
We hear it all the time: “Nothing works.” “Kids will be kids.” “They’re going to do it anyway.” Those statements, often repeated by adults, about prevention education for our youth could not be more wrong. Annie Lisowski is a Professor of Youth Development with the University of Wisconsin Extension. She discusses the role of prevention in helping our youth make good decisions and avoid the pitfalls of previous generations. Information about the Buffalo County Partnership and their youth development programs can be accessed at: https://buffalo.extension.wisc.edu/4hyd/yd/
[00:00:00] [Jaunty Music]
[00:00:12] Mike: Welcome everyone to Avoiding the Addiction Affliction. A series brought to you by the Kenosha County Substance Abuse Coalition, I'm Mike McGowan. You know, you all know that I do a lot of work with schools and over the years I've heard over and over again, people express doubts that young people listen to prevention messages, that they get it.
[00:00:33] Well today, we're going to talk about prevention and education for a young people. My guest today is Annie Lisowski. Annie is a Professor of Youth Development with the University of Wisconsin Extension. Welcome Annie.
[00:00:45] Annie: Hi Mike, thanks for having me today.
[00:00:47] Mike: Well, I'm so glad you could join in. First, self-disclosure Annie and I just worked together about a week ago. It's something you're about to hear about. Um, and Annie, but first, Annie, I hear cynical adults saying all the time, kids will be kids, nothing works. They're going to do it anyway. I would think you and I would agree that, uh, they're wrong, right?
[00:01:07] Annie: Yeah, well, there's certainly no denying that teenagers still have developing brains and they're wired to try new things and take some risks. But we also know that evidence-based prevention works and that most young people make changes to their risk behaviors after they have programming that is designed with them. Not just for them.
[00:01:28] Mike: Well, that's really a great, uh, that's really a great plan I'm going to, and I mentioned, we're going to get to that in a little while. Cause I think the "With them" is really important. So it's not something that just is like dropped on them from adults.
[00:01:39] Annie: Yeah. When adults are the only ones making the program, designing the program, looking at the data, um, we're not going to be as successful as when we're encouraging, young people, um, to be a part of programming and prevention themselves.
[00:01:53] Mike: Yeah. Now you work up, um, in Buffalo county and for the folks that don't know where that is in Wisconsin, where is it?
[00:02:00] Annie: Um, I always describe it that it's halfway between La Crosse and Eau Claire, and it is rural Wisconsin, but we have lots of amazing natural resources and young people and adults that are working towards prevention in our communities.
[00:02:16] Mike: Well, and we, we, you and I just did a, what we call I think senior day, right? At Cochrane Fountain City High School, which by the way, if, if for those of you who've never been in that part of the state, um, it's worth a trip. I think, uh, just driving there. I think I saw about 14 Eagles hunting in the morning on the Mississippi river.
[00:02:36] The scenic byway is a beautiful place. And, um, you saw only 14, but, um, I think normally in January, February, you could probably see hundreds of Eagles on the Mississippi river.
[00:02:48] That is outstanding. That is unbelievable. Well, we work with the seniors and you help coordinate an educational day for the high school seniors in Buffalo. Well, why the seniors?
[00:03:00] Annie: You know, we really like to invest in our seniors, um, because, um, we can be real with them. Um, as they transition out of high school, we really want to be able to share with them real life stories, real time relevant information that they can really. For the first time, maybe be ready to hear and also put to immediate use.
[00:03:19] Um, and, um, some of that stuff isn't appropriate for 16 years old. We're thinking about 17 and 18 year olds. Um, and some of the things that are real for them, um, in the next couple of months, as they go into the workforce, they go into the military, um, or they go and transition into a university or college.
[00:03:37] Mike: And you had four high schools did this.
[00:03:40] Annie: Um, all of our high schools in Buffalo county participate in senior day, and that is about 150 young people. And, um, we've, we're excited to engage young people in, um, prevention programming, even though they're going to be moving out of our high schools in the next two months.
[00:03:58] Mike: You know, I think that's interesting.
[00:04:00] And that part of the reason I wanted to have you on was just that, um, as you know, I'm in a lot of schools and with all due respect to those of you listening in schools, this time of the year, spring of their senior year, a lot of schools are like, well, don't mess up before graduation. Um, and, and you are to focus on the seniors who are leaving, tells me that you have a real investment in the ongoing community.
[00:04:25] Annie: You know, it's one of our goals to make sure that we are providing a community in which young people want to come back after they, um, leave for that brain drain. After they go to college, after they get some experience in the workforce that they want to come back and raise their families here, that they want to work and invest in our community, um, in their twenties, in their thirties.
[00:04:44] Um, and so we don't want to just drop them off. Um, after they graduate from high school, they're part of our community and part of our prevention efforts, um, throughout their time in Buffalo county.
[00:04:55] Mike: And this senior day goes back a long time, doesn't it?
[00:04:58] Annie: Um, I have been, it's been a part of our programming for over two decades.
[00:05:03] I was really in, I was really privileged to get to inherit the opportunity when I started 17 years ago from professionals, um, like Lyle Kothbauer, and you, um, who have been a part of this, um, prevention programming for over 20 years. And, um, it's kind of exciting to engage a graduating class. Um, and if you think about.
[00:05:26] 150 times, 20 plus years we've reached thousands of kids.
[00:05:32] Mike: And, and, you know, from being there, uh, the investment that the kids have is incredible. And the messages that you're delivering are not fluff. This is pretty heavy stuff.
[00:05:45] Annie: Yeah. Um, our presenters, um, like I said, our real stories and relevant things. Um, this last senior day, we had an opportunity to hear from Shane Urness.
[00:05:53] And I know you've spoke with him on your podcast before. Um, and, uh, he has a powerful story to tell about drinking and driving as a, a young adult. Um, and we get to engage with our, um, County Investigator, Mike Osmund, who really tells young people about the impacts of meth and other drugs in our community.
[00:06:12] And we get to have an opportunity to hear from you, Mike, which I really appreciate when you I'm always share with young people about what it's like to room, um, with someone new for the first time. Um, and also about the workforce and thinking about putting your best attitude forward as they move out of high school into another experience.
[00:06:33] Mike: Well, you know, I love listening to both of those, uh, other people and yourself and Mike is, uh, he doesn't hold back at all. He, he was pretty straightforward with them and, uh, they listen and they were really invested. They had questions for him. They listened to him.
[00:06:49] Annie: And Mike always shares real things that have happened in our local area.
[00:06:53] It's not something that's not relevant to them. Um, he's sharing pictures and videos and experiences that have happened within, you know, 20, 30 miles of where they live. Really trying to make it real.
[00:07:05] Mike: You know, and that's one of the fascinating parts of that is that he says. "Oh, by the way, when you get arrested, uh, your picture is now part of the public record, so I can show it to anyone I want".
[00:07:17] And, you know, you can hear a pin drop when he says that. Um, and then he shows some of the pictures of some of your local people who made some really poor decisions.
[00:07:27] Annie: You know, this time, he didn't share this. I think it was last year, he shared a picture and I saw some kids said, oh, I see that kid walking out on this, that guy walking out on the street.
[00:07:36] And it really isn't, um, a message of shame. It's really just an, a message of, you know, this is, this could be reality for you. And, um, by the time you're, um, he's showing, um, images of individuals in the community, they're ready to be out of the situation and, and help young people and others move. Um, and maybe avoid a similar situation.
[00:07:57] Mike: Let's talk a little bit about prevention, cause I know, um, in talking to you that you've done some award-winning work with young people on the harmful effects of vaping and it seemed pre-pandemic that we were making some headway that vaping numbers were going down. What have you found in the last couple of years?
[00:08:16] Annie: Well, certainly, um, it seemed like, um, maybe it was less visible or more visible to adults, um, pre-pandemic, um, but recent data and reports from students, um, just illustrate that it's still pretty prevalent in our community especially in the schools and, um, During the pandemic and even now I think that young people are really saying that they use vaping as a stress reliever and as a coping strategy for anxiety and depression.
[00:08:45] And, um, we're just really hoping that our prevention efforts help young people recognize healthy ways to respond to stress in their lives and, um, ways to. Um, make, um, their coursework and the programs that we're doing in our schools. Um, they start in elementary school for a reason, um, to really try to, um, have young people feel, opportunities to respond to stress in healthy ways.
[00:09:09] Mike: When, since you're talking about talking to seniors, the number one question I get asked by seniors about vaping is "How do I quit"? Cause by then, they're hooked.
[00:09:21] Annie: Absolutely. Um, and it's, um, lots of times, um, I also work with teen court in Buffalo county. And so we ha we hear lots of vaping cases. Um, it certainly declined some since, um, pre pandemic.
[00:09:34] Um, but when we, by the time they get teen court. Um, they're, they're already addicted whether they recognize that or not. And so when peers have an opportunity to share with them, some of the long-term impacts on their body and brain. Um, we're hoping that, um, some of our evidence-based courses that we're using are helping young people, um, find ways to, um, quit before it becomes a lifelong habit.
[00:09:57] Mike: Talk about that for a second. What, what do they hear from other teens about the long-term effects?
[00:10:03] Annie: Um, lots of times they're talking about how nicotine affects their brain and how it, um, makes it more difficult for them to actually, um, uh, deal with stress because their brain is firing, um, in different ways.
[00:10:17] Mike: Well, nicotine is a stimulant.
[00:10:19] Annie: Absolutely, for one drug.
[00:10:22] Mike: [laugh] If you're, if you're experiencing anxiety, you know, I, I, I know there's a paradoxical thing with alcohol and nicotine, but it's not productive for your heart. It's not productive for your psyche. It's not productive for your brain.
[00:10:37] Annie: And as young adults, when their brain and body is still developing, um, it has, it could have, um, lifelong lasting effects.
[00:10:46] Mike: You know, speaking of young people developing, Mike showed a picture that was stunning. It was a, a woman who was busted for meth, right. And then he put up another picture of her. Um, and said "This is a little bit later". And none of the kids wanted me to ask, but, uh, I asked him how long after it was the second picture taken?
[00:11:10] Annie: I think it was nine months, wasn't it?
[00:11:11] Mike: Yeah. Right, right. It was, it was months. And you could hear a gasp because it looked like she had aged. What, what would you guess? 30 years, 20 years?
[00:11:20] Annie: 20 at least.
[00:11:23] Mike: And, you know, that's sometimes what gets through to kids. I mean, when you're developing messages for prevention with kids, what do you find works?
[00:11:33] Annie: Um, we're always focusing on things. Like I said, that, um, are based on the data using that prevention, um, strategic prevention framework, but also programs that are developed with young people, um, programs that meet their needs, um, but also meet them where they are developmentally and in their attention span.
[00:11:52] Um, and so. With that. Um, our, our senior day presentation is really, um, real and is, um, uh, tuned to what they need. But we also have some prevention days for, um, our fifth and sixth graders, our eighth graders and our sophomores.
[00:12:08] Mike: We'll talk about that. I was going to actually actually ask you that next. So you do, it's not just seniors you address. Talk about the difference between the, uh, younger presentations and the senior day.
[00:12:18] Annie: Sure. We start, um, with, uh, with the data and really use stuff from the youth risk behavior survey and local data that we have, um, to target prevention activities, um, to where young people really need, um, help coping and, um, being healthy.
[00:12:37] And so we have. And we try to target, um, transition times too. So we have fifth and sixth grade day as students transition into middle school that really centers on kind of peer relationships and education about the impacts of vaping. Like we just talked about. We have eighth grade day. Um, as eighth graders transition into the high school and we really conduct programming, that kind of is about the impacts of social media.
[00:13:02] Right now we have a lot of sextortion that's happening in Buffalo County. And so we really want to hit that hard as well and how to distinguish signs of suicide, um, with both peers and adults. Um, those are some of the key programming that we have for eighth graders. And then another time of transition is that 10th grade, when young people are starting to get their drivers license and have that additional freedom. Um, and the decision-making that goes with that kind of a new independence. So we have, um, a lot of distracted driving, um, and also QPR: Question Persuade and Refer, um, depression, um, kind of training for 10th graders.
[00:13:38] Mike: Well, interesting. You should mention all of those because what your data shows is that suicide ideation and attempts have gone up in the last two years. So we have that. We, we see some usage going up in the last few years, the social media stuff, and the sexploitation I think is the term you use sextortion.
[00:13:59] Sextortion sorry. Um, has also gone up.
[00:14:04] Annie: Yeah. I mean, uh, in locally in Buffalo County, it was something that, um, certainly happened before the pandemic.
[00:14:11] Um, but now, um, is just more, um, happening more regularly every week. We have young people that are engaging in, in, um, things on social media that have negative impacts for them and, and their friends. Um, sometimes for a long time and a long long-term, um, and parents, um, even if they think that they have. Um, social media kinds of, uh, parameters set for young people.
[00:14:37] They're finding out that they still need skills and education to help keep their kids safe.
[00:14:44] Mike: You know, uh, you're rural. So this isn't exactly in the rural is rual. Um, but one of the things Mike said that I thought was fairly stunning is he, he basically said that he ended his message with, "Stop... sending... pictures".
[00:15:02] He said that rarely does a day go by, let alone a week where he doesn't get a call from a school about a kid who sent an inappropriate picture of another kid on their phone.
[00:15:14] Annie: Or an adult in a community somewhere else that's blackmailing young people. Um, and that's, um, It's kind of scary, but it's a reality.
[00:15:25] And so we have to not only educate our young people about the impacts of social media, but we also have to have adults on the educated about how to use social media and how, um, they are using, um, cause they're modeling for their kids.
[00:15:39] Mike: Well, when I talk about that, kids will say to me, you know, when we talk about especially cell phone usage, um, social media, they sometimes when I do schools, the kids go, could you talk to my parents? [laugh]
[00:15:51] Annie: [laugh] Yeah. Cause parents are, oh man. Some parents are horrible, right? Um, and it, you know, whether you're a young person or an adult, the, um, privacy that a screen provides, um, Unfortunately can lead to things that are inappropriate.
[00:16:09] Mike: Well, and that, that leads me to that, to the next part, which is I'm hearing a lot in schools, but here's what I heard just last week.
[00:16:17] I had a, um, a teacher in a high school say, Mike, we have two classes of kids in our high school this year. We have seniors and three classes of freshmen. And what she was referencing was the social and emotional skill development that was normally ongoing was stunted during the pandemic, have you found that?
[00:16:40] Annie: You know, social, emotional learning and restorative practices in schools and in community-based organizations like with what I work with, I've always been important.
[00:16:49] Um, but certainly after the pandemic, the need for conflict resolution and coping strategies have definitely risen. Um, we are a coalition, Buffalo County Partnership Council conducted a community health survey about a year ago, um, about with both adults and young people in our community to just, and it illustrated that large percentages of both adults and young people are struggling to get access to the tools and the coping mechanisms that they need to be resilient, um, that, um, really.
[00:17:23] There has been a loss of two years of social emotional learning that is really key and necessary for young people to, um, gain that academic learning. Um, if you don't have those, um, solid core social, emotional skills, it's difficult to be able to communicate with others in a way that you're going to get the other pieces to be successful young adults and adults in their community.
[00:17:47] Mike: Well, and when you, when you're talking prevention, the data and the information is one thing, that's one of the sides of the triangle, so to speak, but then the skills to employ that data is another one, right?
[00:17:59] Annie: Absolutely. And, um, we know that as a coalition and so lots of times, that's why we're involving young people in our programming, because we really want to, we can see the data, we can see what is being self-reported by young people and adults, but we want to know what's also happening on the ground. So we want to have young people tell us and really ground truth what is really happening in their school hallways, in their communities behind the rec center. Um, and let us know, like, what does that data really mean for us? Um, the number is just a number until it has, um, a scope and a story to go with it.
[00:18:36] Mike: Yeah. You can know the adverse effects of a drug or that, uh, you know, when somebody has in their hand may not be what it's purported to be, but the ability then to say, "Uh uh, walk away", say, "What are you thinking about?" You know, all of those refusal skills, um, is something else entirely.
[00:18:57] Annie: And that's something that we really try to focus on too, especially with our elementary students, um, building those skills, um, and then through our prevention days, building skills on top of skills and having them practice in their classrooms between prevention days, um, is something that's really important to us and part of our work.
[00:19:15] Mike: Well, and that, that extends not just to chemical usage, but also to being kind to one another and not being mean and everything else.
[00:19:22] Annie: The whole gamut of youth development and family development kinds of skills are important to us. Um, and we want to have a wraparound service. So not only are we working with young people, but we're also working with their parents and other community members and teachers to make sure that we're trauma informed, um, and that we're really focusing on, um, real skills that are needed for successful adulthood.
[00:19:44] Mike: Well, and that's the third part of the triangle, isn't it. It's support, right? Is you can have the skills, you can have the knowledge, but you need people to boy you up and support your good decisionmaking.
[00:19:56] Annie: And we need to be consistent and we need to make sure that we're all on the same page. So if a young person is going home and hearing a different message from their parents or a teacher in one classroom has a different message than a teacher in another.
[00:20:08] We're not going to be able to do that kind of real PSE work and then change policy change environment, change systems. And that's what really what we want to do.
[00:20:16] Mike: You know, I don't think I've ever told you this, but, uh, not that long ago I was sitting in the stands of my son's high school basketball game. When one of the parents, uh, standing up, he just hollered, not hollered. He announced to the other parents in the stands. "Hey, at the end of the game, it's the boys want to kick back and just relax and have a couple of beers their welcome to my basement where it's safe." I waited for anyone in the bleachers to say anything to him at all about, oh, I don't know, athletic code of conduct. The fact that his son had been suspended already, um, for it, and everyone looked down, it was though, he said, let us pray. Right?
[00:20:57] Annie: It was like a stigma, right? Like that you talk about those things or address them as in, certainly we know in Wisconsin, we have, we have a, um, alcohol and a problem that is different than the rest of the nation.
[00:21:12] Um, but that doesn't mean that we can't culturally, um, address some of those things that we have as a part of our tradition.
[00:21:18] Mike: Yeah. Now how are kids supposed to stand up and refuse if there is a whole bleachers full of adults just look the other way. When an adult is actually advocating for doing something unhealthy?
[00:21:31] Annie: Absolutely. I mean, that is such a good point Mike. I don't like when adults, um, find it difficult to, um, talk to other adults, imagine a young person having the courageousness to be able to talk to a peer in that same way.
[00:21:46] Mike: You know, that's the whole, you know, well, we did it, we turned out. Okay, well, Shane's message. And I think people who've listened to his podcasts go, well, "We didn't do that."
[00:21:54] And you know, hopefully we won't, you know, I want to talk about something else you emphasized earlier, um, which is something not totally unique to your group, but I think really important. Who does the planning for senior day?
[00:22:09] Annie: I'm so proud to say that, um, our Buffalo County Partnership Council is a really authentic youth adult partnership. And so we meet every month. Um, and when I say we, it's a group of professionals, so we have law enforcement, human services, university professionals, um, school, um, representation, um, and young people that are a part of our group. Um, and we really are working towards, um, that, in that large scale, environmental change, um, our high school students that are a part of our group, join as the freshmen. So they stay on long-term throughout their high school career, contributing to our coalition and they have real unique, um, authentic leadership roles in our group. They're serving as the chair or the vice chair. And so when we're looking at data, they're sifting through it with us, um, when we're going for grants, their names are on those grants.
[00:23:03] Um, and when we're talking about what this looks like in school hallways and in our communities, they're the first ones to say. "This is what it really looks like." Um, or "I don't know enough about that. We have to learn more." Or they might say, "Annie, that is not going to work for seniors. We got to do something different."
[00:23:21] Mike: You know, I, I love that. Cause says the kids are doing stuff on that day. All of a sudden on the side, there's about a dozen juniors who have planned the event who will be seniors next year. And then I assume you'll have another crop of juniors, which means that if something happens, you take another job or, you know, when in your area, when Kyle left or Kevin left, it doesn't die with an individual because the kids carry it on.
[00:23:49] Annie: Absolutely. And, you know, you only saw the juniors there Mike last week. Um, but we do have some seniors that were there. They were just hiding, um, uh, they were enjoying the day as seniors. Um, and we do have some sophomores as well. Um, and, um, they're training each other and modeling for each other as well.
[00:24:05] Um, so that we have a core group of young people that are contributing and know what is happening, um, from year to year. Um, and you know what? We have a lot of professionals that are turnover. And so sometimes our young people are our consistency, our, our voice. Um, and we really value that. Um, there is a lot of, um, coalitions around the state that include young people as a sector.
[00:24:29] Um, but I'd like to think that we're one of the ones that, um, is truly not young. People are not a token. Um, and it's, it's really an opportunity for them to be a part of our work.
[00:24:40] Mike: I love that. I, you know, I, I joke about this, that, um, sometimes the title for the podcast comes from something that the guests said, "Our young people are not a token". I think we'll call it that.
[00:24:52] Annie: Oh, I love that.
[00:24:53] Mike: Well, it came out of your mouth. [laugh] Well, this has been great and I really appreciate you inviting me and letting me be a part of it. But I think it's also important to shine a light on what really works and not just having kids as window dressing, but actually involving them is so terrific.
[00:25:12] Annie: Thanks again for, for having me, Mike, it was fun to talk about prevention with you and I look forward to seeing more from your podcast.
[00:25:21] Mike: Yeah, that'd be great. Well, for those of you are listening, we're going to put the links to the Buffalo County Partnership. In case you want to learn more about it and in your local community, if this doesn't exist, you can get, it started.
[00:25:32] There's a number of places around the state, where as Annie said, I work with groups just like those kids. And you know what, when we involve the kids, the data is better than when we don't. So it's terrific. Until next week, when we talk again about substance use issues. Please be safe and remember, uh, your children, and you, are not tokens either.
[00:25:58] [END AUDIO]
The Kenosha County Substance Abuse Coalition’s mission is to support networking, encourage education, explore gaps, and realize solutions to improve treatment and reduce alcohol and other drug abuse in our community with a primary focus on families.