(Editor’s note: This is Part One of two in our series “Behavioral health answers: Where to find them.” Part 2 appears next Sunday, Feb. 2.)

There are countless questions these days about behavioral health issues, but where are the answers?

What can be done to prevent teen suicide? Even one a year is too many. And how about combating depression, anxiety and drug or alcohol addiction?

There are a few places to get those answers here in Rio Rancho. (See what those offer next week.)

If you’re a parent who believes, “That doesn’t affect my kids,” maybe you’d better think again. One in five teens and young adults lives with a mental health condition.

Today’s 21st-century world is fraught with pressure and negativity from not only social media, but also other technology.

Newly elected Rio Rancho Public Schools board member Noreen Scott has questions about the rush to get students technology-savvy, and asked RRPS Instructional Technology Executive Director Paul Romero about it at the Jan. 13 board meeting. She said she’d seen at least one study that showed with less technology, “more interactive (teaching) is the wave of the future.”

Romero was lauding his department’s beating a deadline to get technology into every classroom in the district and how, “Many times, the only times the kids get to touch technology is when they’re in school.”

But, Scott told the Observer, “Big-tech guys are sending their children to schools that don’t use tech heavily. It is a major discussion with educators nationally, questioning if we are losing interpersonal skills and writing skills.

“What is it doing to creativity and tactile hands-on learning?” she wondered. “What (is) too much screen time is doing to young brains. (This is) very interesting stuff; some question if we are changing pathways in the brain and, if so, is it harmful?”

Let’s look at the issues middle school and high school students are facing — and most of them are connected to cellphones.

Alyssa Peterson, with four daughters, has been extremely careful with her husband, Scott, the head coach of the Rio Rancho High School girls basketball team, while raising their brood. And she wants to share her concerns with other parents. 

Alyssa Peterson.
Photo by Gary Herron.

“When (Scott) got this job, he would take the players’ phones — on road trips, in the evenings, at mealtimes — so it was really a passion of ours,” she said. “Sometimes the parents don’t like it. But what’s funny about it is the kids will give their phones to Scott and, after a few hours, they don’t even remember.”

Peterson said parents should plan to attend a free assembly on Feb. 11 at the RRHS Performing Arts Center, where they can hear more from “TedX speaker, youth advocate, social media activist and dad” Collin Kartchner.

“He’s doing assemblies at Rio Rancho, Cleveland, Cibola, Volcano Vista and La Cueva. (And) he’s going to do two parent events, so he’s going to be busy, but we’ve earned $13,000 from donations,” Peterson said. “We’re trying to get the word out there as much as possible.”

Peterson, who attended and played sports at Cibola High School, said, yes, times have changed.

“This is just me: What people are understanding, with the social media, is as much good as it’s doing, there’s just as much harm,” she said. “The thing that they’re finding out, is that kids are comparing themselves. What Theodore Roosevelt said was, ‘Comparison is the thief of joy.’

“I love that comment, because I think we are constantly are seeing someone else’s life, especially on social media, because they’re only posting the perfect stuff, right? And we think, ‘I’m not pretty enough; I don’t go on these vacations; I’m not in a relationship,’ whatever it might be,” she said. “When I was in high school, we didn’t have any of that stuff.”

Looking ahead to something parents might hear on Feb. 11, she said, “People will say, ‘When do I get my kids a cellphone?’ and he will say, ‘When do you want your daughter to struggle with her self-esteem? When do you want your son to discover pornography? When do you want them to be exposed to all these things?’

“Like (our oldest daughter), for instance, we were the Nazi parents: She didn’t have a cellphone till she was 16. (Our next daughter) had one at 15 — because one thing that you do notice is kids will say, ‘I have no way of communicating.’ Because kids only text, or they ‘SnapChat’ … no one verbally communicates anymore.

“Even for team purposes, we got her a cellphone in advance because that was the only way her team was communicating. (Our third daughter) got one last year — she got it at 14, so it keeps getting younger and younger,” she said, noting the youngest daughter, now 11, is still a few years away.

“We are fooling ourselves if we think we know everything our kids are doing on their phones,” she said.

The Petersons monitor who their basketball-playing daughter follows via Instagram.

They’re duly concerned about the evils lurking in cyberspace — and sometimes found through playing video games, also taking up huge chunks of time for teens.

“Depression, anxiety — all that stuff — the majority of it comes from the tech industry,” she has learned. “Even when parents go to take phones away. (Kartchner) has a story on his Instagram page where the girl tried to take her own life because (when her phone was taken away) she was removed from interacting with her friends.”

Peterson said these problems are widespread and parents won’t support school administrators in taking phones away in class.

“There’s just no way for a kid to be focused on education if they have a constant buzz-buzz,” she said. “How are kids supposed to learn when they have their phones constantly buzzing?

“Everybody isn’t always going to drink or do drugs or smoke, but everybody has a cellphone,” she said. “These problems really don’t just affect your kid in class.

“I would encourage people to bring your kids; invite grandparents; invite anybody that you can think of, because we are all affected by technology … by gaming,” Peterson said. “There’s just so many aspects; there’s not just cyberbullying anymore, but there’s cyber-predators that are trying to attack our kids.”

Here are events with information about mental health and screen time, all for free:

Parent U: Thursday at 6:30 p.m. in the RRPS district training center, 500 Laser Road. Join the RRPS Safety & Security staff, school counselors and Rio Rancho Police Department for a session designed to help parents recognize the signs of depression that can lead to suicide.

The class will also help them know what to do when they recognize signs in their child. This course will assist parents and community members to identify effective activities to address depression and assist with how to prioritize prevention and intervention efforts.

Mental Health First Aid: Tuesday, Feb. 4, at the UNM Health Sciences Center Rio Rancho campus, 2600 College Blvd., from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Covers signs and symptoms of mental illness, including anxiety, depression, eating disorders, attention-deficit hyperactivity, common signs and symptoms of substance abuse, and how to interact and connect with an adolescent to help.

#Save the Kids: Tuesday, Feb. 11, in the Rio Rancho High School Performing Arts Center, at 7 p.m., featuring Collin Kartchner. Covers ways to battle thoughts of suicide, depression, anxiety and addiction.

“Screenagers”: Tuesday, Feb. 18, at 6:30 p.m. at Premiere Cinemas. RRPS hosts a free screening of “Screenagers: Growing Up in the Digital Age,” a documentary about the biggest parenting issue of the day. Parents, community members and staff are invited to this free showing. Tickets are required for this family-friendly event. (eventcombo.com/e/Screenagers-Film-Presented-By-Rio-Rancho-Public-Schools-37516)