Letter From the CEO: Feb 2016

Feb 2, 2016, 10:34 AM by

One of our community's children is missing.

Several weeks ago, a young man named Ryder Johnson left work at Eldora Mountain Resort and never made it home. It is the worst nightmare a parent can imagine, not knowing how or where your child is. More than 500 people scoured the area around Gross Reservoir looking for him but to no avail.

I am not going to speculate what has happened to him because I don’t know enough details to make any valid observations. However, I am asking that if anyone has information about Ryder, please let us know. We will pass it along to the family and the Boulder County Sheriff's Office.

Now, I am going to make a few statements that have nothing to do with Ryder or his family, but they are things all of us should think about with our children.

I have had three close friends whose kids—kids who thrived in high school—have not made it through freshman year of college successfully. Studies show that when a child is in grade school, they turn to their parents for leadership; in middle school, they begin to switch from parents to friends; and by high school, the average teen looks to their peer group for cues, not their parents. This means, when kids engage in the riskiest behavior of their lives, they turn to the least informed and least sophisticated people in their lives (it's the blind leading the blind).

Right now, two of my kids are in their teens, and the oldest is 20. In their eyes, I have very little value to add to the conversation. I see my kids often, and we do things together, but I know that I am getting a very limited peek at what their real thoughts and feelings are. I love their friends, but their friends are immature and not wise in the ways of the world. Justifiably so considering their age, but they are still not good role models for my kids!

A couple of years ago, a kid left a bomb at Centaurus while my kids were there. Just last year, there was the incident at Arapahoe High School, and I have lost track of the number of mass shootings that have been committed by students at our nation's schools. My point in saying this is that there were signs of distress in these kids' lives prior to the incidents.

What are we missing as parents, Y staff, teachers, coaches and so on?

Actually, I am not sure we are missing anything; we just don’t know what to do about it. The use of behavior-modification drugs has skyrocketed in this country, and still we have issues. Prescriptions may help our kids cope, but they are not a cure. The reality is that every household is different, and every kid is unique. So there is no standard course of action to take when you have a child that is in trouble. However, action needs to be taken swiftly and decisively. Because teens do not “hang out” with their parents a lot, it means that something may go on in their lives for a while before we see it. Especially if our child is out of the house in college.

Our parents could hear at least one side of a phone conversation to pick up clues about what was going on in our lives. We don’t have that luxury. Our kids use their phones for everything but talking.

To alleviate this information gap, connect with your kid's social media accounts to see what they and their friends are up to. They will soon forget that you are witnessing their digital interactions, so you will observe real information. If you need to dive into their social media, dive into the deep-end ASAP. Teens perceive a weekend as a lifetime, so there is a need for speed.

If you sense something concerning, you can use a GPS tracker on your kid's phone to verify they are being honest about where they are and who they are with. I know this sounds a lot like hyper-helicoptering, which I am completely against, but right now, we are talking about a kid in potential trouble.

Remember, we all must understand that our children will lie to us when times get tough. They don’t want to let you down, so they will shade the truth.

I also advocate that when things go south, get your child drug tested, so you can get a baseline on their activities. There are home kits or places in the area that do drug tests for very little money. This is also a huge invasion into their privacy, but they are your responsibility and they will get over it. You need to be the parent and take action where it is needed.

Our community is blessed with plenty of people who can help you at no cost. The school district has great staff who will drop everything to help you, and there is no lack of trained medical personnel in our area who will also help. And there are plenty of resources for parents and youth dealing with mental health, bullying, substance abuse or other issues; see below for a few helpful links. I've also included a few links for suicide prevention, and helping youth deal with loss.

However, the most important person in this equation is you, the parent. If your kid is embroiled in a personal situation, they don’t have enough time on the planet to figure a way out of it (or they would have already). Their friends cannot help because they are still not informed or sophisticated… and they may have helped your kid down this road to begin with. You may have to wrestle them away from that friend group.

No matter what, be tough, set boundaries, be present, be in their face, be steady, be implacable and, mostly, be loving. Find a friend to reach out to, and share with them. I am stunned by how many of my friends have had kids go off of the rails. It is more common than you think, and they may have some sage advice for you.

I wish all of us luck because the world is a scary place, and our job is to hunt down the monsters for our children. As they get older they need to slay their own monsters. But every now and then, we all need a hand to help us fight.


Boulder County Mental Health Partners is available at their 24 Hour Walk-In Crisis Center located at 1000 Alpine Ave., Boulder, or through their Emergency Service Crisis Line: 303-447-1665.

Here are Boulder County's list of resources for teens dealing with substance abuse issues.

This is article from the National Association of School Psychologists helps children cope with loss, death and grief, and this website also has some helpful advice specifically for supporting teens. The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

This government website helps parents support kids being bullied and address kids who are bullying.

CU provides a list of helpful resources for students dealing with substance abuse issues.

The Your Life Your Voice hotline, which is a free line that gives anyone access to counselors: 1-800-448-3000

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Their website provides plenty of resources for a variety of issues involving substance abuse and suicide.


Thank You, 
Chris Coker 
CEO/President of YMCA of Boulder Valley