A collaborative Families in Motion program designed to help teens and their parents address current issues such as navigating through COVID, preventing human trafficking, and safely using social media is now open for registration.
San Diego County Deputy District Attorney Cheryl Sueing-Jones, one of four community partnership prosecutors facilitating the program, said she knows kids are experiencing Zoom fatigue but the meetups seem to be so well-received that this is the third time they have held the free five-week-long program.
Sueing-Jones said each two-hour class is meant to provide an overview, “a launchpad to continue having dialogue with parents” on each topic.
For example, facilitators illustrate how easy it is for a stranger — who might be completely different from what they present online — to get information from one Instagram post.
“Those posts give all sorts of information away through photos: who you are, your friends, when your birthday is, what school you attend, your sports; and it also connects to FaceBook where there is other information. We talk about how you’re putting yourself out there showing real-life situations, we talk about internet crimes and internet safety, which is very connected to human trafficking,” Sueing-Jones said.
The physical distancing and online learning brought on by the COVID pandemic have changed the statistics around online grooming,
Sueing-Jones said “something like crimes against children have quadrupled” with predators and perpetrators knowing kids are online.
“Some of it is letting parents know that even if kids are right by you they are not necessarily safe from getting groomed through the internet.
We show a video with a guy trying to get a girl he approached online to come out of the house to his truck outside; her parents are waiting in the truck and say ‘there’s no way she’s going to come out and get in the truck with some stranger’ and then she does,” Sueing-Jones said.
The Psychiatric Emergency Response Team, PERT, joins in to present information on mental health awareness.
“They talk about mental health during COVID, normalizing the conversation that this is stressful. As adults, we know to exercise, eat healthy, stay connected; that can be very hard for teens right now,” Sueing-Jones said.
To incentivize open discussion and participation through hard topics, the team has been offering $25 gift cards to teens who leave their camera on during the meetings, a key step toward stronger engagement.
The team also facilitates discussions on gang violence prevention.
“We’ve talked about gang prevention and restoring citizens to the community. For example, we’ve had men who have been involved in gangs and are now focused on re-entry come out and talk about their experiences so parents and teens hear and know there is redemption but, really, it’s best if you take preventive steps so you don’t end up in prison,” Sueing-Jones said.
It’s gratifying, she said, “to be able to talk to kids, to reach and possibly redirect them before they get in trouble,” because part of their initiative is to disrupt the school to prison pipeline.
“When I worked in sex crimes, we would deal with after someone was assaulted. I always wanted a forum to talk with people on the front end, before they became victims, caution them and guide them with information before they were victimized,” Sueing-Jones said.
One of the benefits of the program, she said, is it connects the conversation between parents and teens, possibly staving off a potentially dangerous situation for teens.
“We try to break it down into their own terms to make it relevant to them,” Sueing-Jones said.
For more information or to register for the next session, which begins on Feb. 2, contact Sueing- Jones at cheryl.Sueing-Jones@ sdcda.org