Adolescence is a period of time when many young people are more inclined to take risks, experiment and engage in poor decision making. As a result, teens face increased pressures to engage in risky behaviors involving sex, alcohol and drugs. Risk-taking in adolescence is especially dangerous because teenagers often have a sense of invincibility and do not always fully understand the complete nature of the risks they’re taking.
While many teens acknowledge that some behaviors are risky, others frequently say to themselves, “It won’t happen to me.” This belief leads to young people experimenting with cigarettes, drugs or alcohol because “I won’t get addicted” or experimenting with unprotected sex because “I can’t get pregnant.”
The Peer Leaders from Warren Hills Regional High School decided to use their recent BIONIC (Believe It Or Not I Care) Day and SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) Day presentation to challenge the belief of invincibility and to help students learn the potential consequences of the decisions. The Peer Leaders developed the “Game of Life” which was presented to the freshman and sophomores during BIONIC Day with the theme “Yes, it CAN happen to me” in May.
The “Game of Life” was an interactive activity for the underclassmen to show them the potential long-term consequences of their decisions and behaviors. Students were presented with different scenarios when entering the “Game of Life” that bring these decisions and behaviors to life. The event taught students exactly how one decision (such as drinking, drinking and driving, unprotected sex, using drugs, etc.) can impact and change the course of their life, which is something no one is immune from. The consequences include: alcohol poisoning, pregnancy, rape, STDs, legal trouble, hospitalization, injury, revocation of college scholarships, loss of driving privileges, death, etc. The “Game of Life” encouraged adolescents to THINK of the possible consequences of a decision before acting on it and to recognize that “Yes, it CAN happen to me”.
The SADD Day presentation, catered to the upperclassmen, was designed to raise awareness about the risks involved with underage drinking especially during prom and graduation season. Alcohol use is especially dangerous for teenagers, whose brains are still developing, and alcohol related damages incurred at a young age can have long-term effects. A study by the National Institutes of Health suggests that the region of the brain that inhibits risky behavior is not fully formed until age 25. Many people believe that underage drinking is an inevitable “rite of passage” that adolescents can easily recover from because their bodies are more resilient, but the opposite is true. Alcohol is the nation’s number one youth drug problem, killing 6.5 times more young people than do all other illicit drugs combined. On SADD Day, the Peer Leaders delivered this message to the Juniors and Seniors in hopes that they would see, “Yes, it CAN happen to me”.
The Peer Leaders were fortunate to have the support of the community in BIONIC Day and thanked those that helped create a greater awareness of the impact of destructive decisions amongst the student body of Warren Hills Regional High School. The following community organizations were present to educate underclassmen on the dangers and consequences of underage drinking and drug use: Domestic Abuse and Sexual Assault Crisis Center (DASACC), Family Guidance Center, Planned Parenthood, School Based Youth Services, St. Luke’s Emergency Department, Warren County Prosecutor’s Office, Warren Hills Community Coalition, Warren Hills Funeral Home, Warren Hills Regional School District, Washington Township Police Department and Washington Township Emergency Medical Squad.
To foster a greater understanding of the widespread issue of underage drinking and how it affects our community especially during prom and graduation season, the Warren Hills Regional High School Peer Leaders are asking those in the community to continue supporting all efforts to stop friends or relatives who are over 21 from providing alcohol to minors and to remind those under 21 that the message is clear: underage drinking is illegal and dangerous. For more information about underage drinking go to www.preventionconnectionsnj.com.
Photo: Washington Township police officer Stephen Pappalardo discusses the consequences of underage drinking and drinking and driving with freshman and sophomores at Warren Hills Regional High School.