[Spring 2018 NYPT]
As I prepare for my college finals, I decided to reach out to my sister Safia, a high school junior and the Leatherstocking Region Board Youth Member, to offer a student’s perspective on the dangers of the season.
I hope for two things as you read Safia’s letter. First, that you all take time to educate yourself on the dangers of e-cigarettes and review NYS PTA’s advocacy efforts on this issue; second, that you take a few extra moments on prom night to let your child know that the choices they make in life will define them and that their true character appears when no one else is watching.
Embrace them, tell them you love them and let them know you are a phone call away.
As my classmates and I scramble to find dresses, rent tuxedos, buy flowers, book limos, and plan pictures, the question of the after prom party becomes a popular subject of inquiry.
Some will opt for the big parties, knowing the dangers that look like “fun” that await them. Others will go in a group to a friend’s house, no doubt doing things they shouldn’t be doing there too. Some won’t go anywhere at all, and some will already be drunk or high before prom itself is even over.
The dangers of prom night and school year-round are shocking to adults, but unfortunately, students aren’t surprised by much these days.
As a junior, I have friends in my class and in the classes above and below me. I’ve witnessed students vaping in class, using what looks like a flash drive or a pen. I’ve been aware of parties at people’s houses where drunk students, who claim they aren’t drunk, get in their cars and drive themselves home, endangering themselves and everyone else on the road. I’ve been walking to my car on school property and have had students blow smoke in my face as I walk by them.
Adults know how dangerous these choices can be for students, but students don’t listen when their parents tell them to clean their room or do their homework, so why would they listen to them lecture about drugs and alcohol?
Most adults have a decent understanding of alcohol and how to handle their children in that type of situation, but vaping is uncharted territory in the parenting world today.
Parents may tell their kids not to vape because it’s still dangerous, but kids don’t take that advice most of the time because they see no evidence to scare them away from trying it.
The biggest issue I’ve found is that kids have no idea what they’re doing to themselves. Most students know the obvious dangers of cigarettes, but are told by their friends that vaping isn’t harmful because ‘its only vapor, it’s not smoke.’
Either way, both have nicotine in it, so when they say it’s safe, it isn’t!
Nicotine is the source of addiction for cigarettes and now e-cigarettes, and both contain harmful chemicals, though many don’t want to believe it.
Not only is vaping extremely harmful to a child’s body like smoking, but since these students are vaping on the false hope that it won’t hurt them, they aren’t afraid to do it.
Students think vaping is safe, an easy way to fit in and have fun, and an opportunity to feel rebellious and independent.
In reality, this sense of security is more dangerous than anything else! At least with alcohol and cigarettes, kids have heard the consequences. But with vaping, because they think it won’t hurt them, they have no problem vaping as often as they’d like – at school, at home, at friends houses, in the car, everywhere.
The reality of the situation is that students do not see vaping as a threat, and as soon as they try it once, they are sucked into the never ending snowball of even more dangerous situations. Not knowing how it’s hurting them, not realizing it’s addicting and still dangerous – these unknown consequences allow students to have no fear when using these e-cigarettes, leading, in my opinion, to even more serious addictions than high school smoking or drinking.
If there is no fear, there is no reason for kids to reach out for help or advice, and the problems only grow from there because of that. One risk leads to a lifetime of them.
As kids, we believe we are untouchable – something incredibly far from the truth. It only takes one mistake, whether it be your child’s or someone else’s, to lose what you dedicate your life to keeping safe.
So before you let your kid get in that limo in their dress or tux, remind them that they don’t have to make dangerous decisions to have fun or to fit in.
High school is only a few years of a lifetime of choices – don’t let them make decisions to please the people they’re surrounded by for only a few years when they should be making decisions for themselves, who they’ll be with for the rest of their lives.
Safia Zaman, Leatherstocking Region Youth Member