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Behind closed doors

Re-created teen’s bedroom shows warning signs of drug use, mental health concerns and other at-risk behaviors

By Samantha Bambino

The Times

Signs of concern: Director of public safety Fred Harran shows examples of items that signal potentially at-risk adolescent behavior. SAMANTHA BAMBINO / TIMES PHOTO

It seems like your average teenager’s bedroom. From the Vans “off the wall” decal stuck to the alarm clock to the Pop! Vinyls carefully displayed on the bookshelf, nothing about the space screams “red flag.” Well, not at first.

A closer look at an open laptop on the desk reveals a startling search history of dark questions such as “how to kill myself” and “how to make a pipe bomb.” Meanwhile, a stray paperclip lies next to the computer, the tip covered in bright red.

Though easily missed, these are warning signs of possible at-risk adolescent behaviors, including unhealthy relationships, drug and alcohol use and mental health issues.

To ensure local parents understand what these clues mean if found, the Bensalem Township Police Department launched at the Municipal Building “Behind Closed Doors,” a realistic re-creation of a teen’s bedroom that shows where and what to look for if there’s a concern about their child’s well-being.

For the next two months during set times, parents can receive a tour from an officer of the conference-room-turned-bedroom, which was unveiled during a news conference on May 22.

According to director of public safety Fred Harran, families and school districts are faced with much more than educating children nowadays. Last year saw a 173 percent increase in drug overdoses in Bensalem Township, and, according to a recent report by CNN, there has been an average of one school shooting per week in 2018.

So, how do we change these striking statistics for the better?

“It starts at home,” Harran said, addressing parents in attendance. “You’re the first line of defense.”

Too often, loved ones know in retrospect something was wrong. Maybe they noticed their son was acting quiet and distant days before he brought a gun to school. Or maybe their daughter mentioned in passing how her crush asked another girl to prom, hours before raiding the medicine cabinet. The signs are there. Parents just need to know what they are.

“Behind Closed Doors” contains 100 examples of items signaling potentially at-risk behavior. Marijuana paraphernalia inside a Batman jar on the desk, an empty beer can buried in the trash can and pills stashed inside a Pringles can on the nightstand are clear signs a teen is dabbling in drugs.

Other items aren’t as evident. Bringing attention to a drawer filled with multiple hotel keys and business cards, Harran explained these could mean a teen is involved in an unhealthy relationship or human trafficking. He also took time to read entries from a seemingly harmless, bright pink journal. But with each page turned, things get darker as the author expresses growing thoughts of suicide.

Additional items in the room include a “Born to Kill” T-shirt hung in the closet, a photograph with one person’s face scratched out in anger, a gun stored under the nightstand and a scrap of paper with a suicide prevention hotline scribbled on it.

Harran encourages parents to be proactive and regularly check their teen’s room, even before suspicions arise.

“Don’t wait until a disaster,” he said.

District attorney Matt Weintraub shared a similar sentiment, saying how he’s honest with his two daughters about searching their rooms from time to time.

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” Weintraub said. “The last thing we want is for your child to become another statistic.”

“We can’t afford to have one more death,” added Mayor Joseph DiGirolamo.

“Behind Closed Doors” is a partnership among Bensalem Township, Bensalem Township Police Department, Building a Better Bensalem Together, Bensalem Township Drug and Alcohol Advisory Board and Bensalem Township School District. At the end of two months, the bedroom will be moved into a trailer, traveling to schools and community hubs in the area.

For information regarding operating hours, visit BensalemPolice.org. To arrange a group tour, contact Sgt. Adam Schwartz at aschwartz@bensalempa.gov or call 215–633–3676. The Bensalem Township Police Department and Municipal Building are located at 2400 Byberry Road in Bensalem. ••

Samantha Bambino can be reached at sbambino@newspapermediagroup.com

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