In high school we all face some sort of stress regarding homework, tests, teachers, or something that relates to the academic realm, but there is always more than just that: friends, relationships, drama, drugs, sex, alcohol, procrastination, parties, fitting in, peer influence, anxiety, angst, jealousy, hook-ups, body counts (number of people you’ve had sex with), dating, being noticed but not standing out. These are all feelings that most high schoolers will face at some point in the four year career.
As middle schoolers we sat through numerous seminars, talks, and presentations that highlighted the dangers of the use of drugs and alcohol. The point of these talks was to inform and educate middle schoolers on the risks of using drugs and alcohol at an early age. For some, this was very effective. According to a survey conducted by the Corral, 60.4 percent of students say they have never drank alcohol, and 78.1 percent of students claim they have never used marijuana. These statistics are encouraging, but it isn’t the whole story. For the number of kids who have participated in using drugs, alcohol, and vaping devices, the path to engaging in these activities was sometimes difficult and uncomfortable.
Along with kids using illegal substances, a majority (53.1 percent) of kids feel pressured to modify their behavior and actions to conform to what their friends may or may not do. This is to be expected, it is natural for people to conform, but their surroundings should not influence who they are. Some kids won’t even try or do something if their friends wouldn’t do it themselves.
“I care about what others think of me so I wouldn’t do something that my friends wouldn’t do,” junior Valerie* said.
High schoolers realize that just like sports and getting into college, social life can be competitive at times. Social life, for some, can be very stressful, with each action being calculated to give them the best chance of succeeding socially.
“I wish to be liked at school. I know that one rumor, or one mistake on my part, could be social suicide,” senior Bailey said.
Is this a tragedy? That the perception of many students is that one mistake might cost them acceptance among their peers? Even if one mistake might not actually make people not want to like you. It is bad enough that over half of Central High students feel the need to modify their behavior and dress to fit in, but it gets worse. 33 percent of students say that have felt pressured to participate in intimate behavior to appease someone other than themselves. Of those who say they have felt pressured to participate in intimate behavior, 87.5 percent were females. Not to say it makes it okay if the person pressured was a male, but there is a double standard at play when it comes to intimate interactions between boys and girls.
“As a guy I want the highest body count as possible because I want to have a higher number than my friends,” sophomore Dennis* said. ¨But if a girl has a higher body count, people think she’s a slut and don’t want to mess with her.”
The expectation is different for boys and girls when it comes to sexual relationships. Stereotypically girls are “supposed” to stay modest and go steady, while boys are encouraged by other boys to have as many sexual encounters as possible. This is not the case for all students, but enough of them have bought into this concept to make a difference in how people approach intimate relationships.
“I know that it’s unfair to girls the way things are, but I can’t do anything about it. I figure I should just go along with it because it’s just what we do, it’s like a competition,” sophomore Lewis said.
Girls in this school understand that participating in sexual activity brings along great risk regarding their reputation after the fact.
“I have always been cautious on who I decide to hook up with, because I know that they might make me out to be something that I’m not,” senior Monica said.
Some girls feel as if they are expected to do what boys ask of them.
What we have is a clear double standard regarding what is expected of males and females when it comes to sexual encounters. Boys have an expectation set by their male peers to hook up with as many girls as possible while girls are supposed to stay modest and not run around with several different boys. The bottom line is that there is a double standard in how males and females are expected to approach each other regarding intimate encounters and it causes social anxiety for both sides.
“If I wasn’t going to be judged for having fun with boys I probably would more often but I hate being judged by people so I don’t do it as much,” senior Jamie said.
Transitioning from sexual encounters and the double standard that males and females face regarding intimate behavior, there are other areas where high schoolers feel tremendous pressure as well. Drugs, alcohol, vaping, and other illicit substances are also very prominent within our school and have a strong presence among many social groups. 40.2 percent of kids at Central consume alcohol on a semi regular basis, an incredibly high number considering that it is illegal for anyone to consume alcohol under the age of 21 (excluding religious requirements).
The statistics regarding vaping are very similar alcohol statistics. 40.2 percent of kids are vaping on somewhat of a regular basis (yes, it is the exact same number as kids drinking alcohol, however they are not all the same people). Juuling has garnered lots of national attention with several reports coming out citing how high schoolers have taken up the vaping device as a new activity that dominates bathrooms at our school. Of the kids who claim they have used a Juul or some other vaping device on a somewhat regular basis, 35.8 percent of kids report using during/at school.
The marijuana statistics show that far less kids are using 22.7 percent of the school are consuming various forms of marijuana regularly, 3.1 percent of kids using it at school. That is a relatively small amount compared to the whole school, but the fact is that 14.6 percent of kids that use marijuana are using it throughout the school day.
Why are such a significant number of kids using and abusing illicit drugs and substances? We all have sat through a number of speeches, seminars, or presentations stressing the risks and dangers of drug use. So why do 40.2 percent of us use them? That is a pretty high number when you think about it, two out of every five kids break the law ingesting a substance. One student said they started to Juul as just a regular activity but it turned into an addiction.
“I started as a joke but it turned into an addiction,” junior Terrell said.
But there are more cynical causes to this phenomenon than people just taking it up as a hobby.
“Stress and anxiety is a big part [for smoking weed], but it’s also a social thing too,” senior Clint said.
Pressure from school, friends, and family have a lot to do with kids using marijuana according to responses to the Corral survey with responses such as “It helps with my depression” and “…I was overwhelmed with the stress of school, and my friends offered some to ease my anxiety.”
Speaking with kids face to face about marijuana usage, more in-depth responses were given.
“I mainly smoke because I can and when I smoke I can still function and act normal while I’m high. I’ve realized it is a stress reliever too with school and family stuff, it just helps me get through tough times,” senior Oscar said.
Alcohol and vaping, while having similar amounts of kids using them, their uses however, are very different. Kids mainly drinking at parties and hangouts, where a significant percentage of kids who vape do it throughout the day at school. Why at school? Probably because they’re addicted to the nicotine. Numerous respondents to the Corral survey cited an addiction to Juuling because of the nicotine in Juuls.
“Honestly I’m just addicted to nicotine,” senior Debbie said.
Alcohol is used most commonly on the weekends at parties, a small percentage (2.1 percent) of kids claim they drink during the week, but the rest are mostly on the weekends.
“I drink because it’s a fun way to be socialize with people and be engaged,” junior Dustin said.
So kids are drinking at parties and vaping regularly, even at school. Why is this? Like marijuana it is illegal for any high schooler to drink, and anyone who is under the age of 18 are not legally allowed to vape, in addition to the fact that any and all smoking is banned on campus. The reason differs for marijuana usage. Where kids smoke weed to ease stress and wash away anxiety, kids tend to vape and drink because they find it fun to do socially. It’s a mixture of peer pressure, comfort, and risk taking that teens are susceptible to.
“I didn’t feel pressured… I just saw that they were and they seemed fine, then I decided to try it too because they seemed to be having more fun than I was,” Oscar said.
One kid just likes to drink at parties because it enhances their overall experience, “ I don’t need it to have fun at a party, but it makes it way easier to enjoy it, that’s for sure,” junior Valerie said.
Vaping happens to have similar reasons behind why people started to do it, but the use is different. Where drinking occurs predominantly at parties or in social settings, vaping is done pretty much everywhere.
“I Juul pretty much all the time, if I weren’t addicted I would stop, but that’s how addiction works… I started because my friends were doing it,” senior Rowan said.
Vaping and alcohol, along with marijuana, are being used by a significant number of students here at Parkway Central. Which is interesting because most of the kids who go to high school here also went to the middle school where they would have sat through several speeches, seminars, and presentations about the risks of drugs and alcohol with reasons that they shouldn’t be used. Also, at the high school level there are a number of different clubs to be involved in that promote abstaining from drug or alcohol usage. When sophomores take their required health class, there is a drug abuse unit where students are educated on the risk of consuming said substances. Health teacher and coach Michael Wright believes it is best to inform the kids of what they might be putting into their bodies and the affects those substances may have on said body.
“Our end goal is educating kids when there are pressures in life, to have healthy coping skills… as opposed to unhealthy coping skills such as drugs and alcohol,” Wright said, “If you’re facing pressures and the way you’re finding relief is going to drugs and alcohol, that’s obviously not an overall healthy way to handle it.”
Unfortunately, that is exactly what seems to be happening to many kids. But most of the respondents to the survey claim they use drugs and alcohol just to have more fun despite the risks. By moderating how much they do irresponsible things, most kids think they are being responsible.
“It is good to let loose every once and awhile, but not too much because it can mess you up,” senior Jackie said regarding drinking.
Despite the numerous times we’ve been told to not partake in drugs and alcohol, we still participate. Health teachers and the drug free club organizers would like kids to take in the information they’re given and respond to peer pressure and stress appropriately (abstaining from drugs and alcohol) but they aren’t naive enough to believe that every kid is going to take the information they are given and act on it the way they’re supposed to.
“We know that kids aren’t always going to listen to us, but the hope is that we can educate them on the facts about the substances they might use so they can be safer when they are using them,” Wright said.
With that being said, is our health curriculum successful or has it let some of us down and failed?
“I really did learn from that class, it just gave me some information that makes me feel safer when I decide to hang out and do those things,” freshman Bruce said.
Judging the effectiveness of health classes and these safe and drug free programs is impossible to quantify. Obviously, their goal is for all kids to say no to peer pressure and these substances, clearly that isn’t the case. But just because kids do things they aren’t supposed to, doesn’t mean the information they were given fell by the wayside.
“I learned a lot about the risks of drugs and stuff, so I proceed with caution,” sophomore Violetw said. The same can be said for sexual activity as well. In class, the curriculum covers all sorts of ways for kids to protect themselves from STDs, unwanted pregnancies, and tips on how to keep a healthy relationship.
In high school, we all face incredible pressures that aren’t schoolwork. Now many of these extra pressures have something to do with school, such as marijuana usage. Apart from that, many kids find themselves drinking because they want to enjoy parties and socializing in a more exciting way. As far as Juuling goes, the reasons for starting are varied but the conclusion is unfortunately the same in many cases, a nicotine addiction. Beyond substance abuse, sexual pressures built up from a double standard that treats both males and females unfairly that can cause intense insecurity and anxiety for some. It’s really a cycle of sexual tension, school related anxiety, drug abuse, peer pressure to act a certain way, all on top of rigorous classwork and academic expectations.
*Names have been changed to protect the identity of sources.