Join us on Thursday for the first annual National "Above the Influence" Day. The importance of this campaign is to celebrate youth living the "Above the Influence" lifestyle by resisting peer pressure and recognizing the power of prevention efforts in local communities. "Above the Influence" day is also a time to pay tribute to those that have lost their lives to addiction.
Teenagers endure an enormous amount of stress and many pressures to do well in school, excel in sports or clubs, and tackle extremely busy schedules. However, one of the biggest stressors comes from their struggles to build their personal identity while being confronted with the constant pressures to be someone they are not. Some continuous thoughts that race through teenagers' minds as they begin to build their social status include, "What will they think of me? Will they accept me for who I am?" Methods of coping with the pressures teenagers face on a daily basis can be crucial to one's success in life. Friends and classmates may say, "Try it, it's no big deal," or "One is not going to hurt you." That one split-second decision could alter the course of one's future.
Zane Franco and Victoria Snell are two youths in Chautauqua County who stand out as youth living "Above the Influence." Their determination to make their own decisions and stand up to the pressures they're overwhelmed with has had a lot to do with them evolving into successful individuals.
Victoria Snell of Fredonia is a teenager committed to living “above the influence.”
Tommy Franco (right) of Jamestownis a teenager committed to living “above the influence.”
Zane Franco is a senior from Jamestown High School. His passion for music is an interest that has helped him stay "Above the Influence." Zane has played the saxophone and clarinet since middle school in Concert Band and Full Orchestra. He is starting his third year as Principal Clarinet for the Jamestown High School Concert Band. Additionally, he has spent the last two years in a leadership position as the Drum Major for the Jamestown Red Raider Marching Band. His love for music set him on a path to a long list of activities and accomplishments. He participates in Winterguard, is a singer in the Acappella Choir and Madrigal Singers, currently serving as its vice president, and sings with the community-based Chautauqua Chamber Choir. He is a member of the National Honor Society and has maintained good grades in school. He also finds time to maintain a part-time job.
When asked, "Why stay above the influence?" Zane replied, "Pressure to drink, do drugs or do anything that goes against who you are in order to fit in is not something I'm willing to do. I'm not willing to risk everything I have accomplished thus far. I am very driven and have high expectations for myself. I don't want anything to get in the way of me accomplishing my goals."
Another standout student is Victoria Snell from Fredonia who is currently enrolled at Rochester Institute of Technology majoring in Industrial and Systems Engineering. Victoria has a tremendous resume including accomplishments in education, music, sports and volunteering in her community. She was involved in Senior Citizen Prom Planning Committee in 2009 and 2010, Multiple Sclerosis Walk Volunteer, Christmas Shopping for Needy Families, Dunkirk Beach Sweep in 2007 and 2008 and participated in the March of Dimes. Victoria is a prime example of a person who is in positive activities, works hard and stays "Above the Influence." Victoria has won several awards for her hard work and determination.
When Victoria was asked how she handles peer pressure her response was, "Usually resisting peer pressure is intuitive, but there have been times where I've had to become conscious of my actions. As I was making new friends during my first weeks as a freshman at college one girl was really enthusiastic about drinking and going to parties. I really wanted to build my friendship with her and make new friends, but I was also uncomfortable about being in that kind of environment." Victoria continued to explain that "college is a crucial time for defining your self-image, but I believe it's important to stay true to who you've grown up to be in order to be confident and courageous."
Unfortunately, every day teenagers succumb to the pressures placed on them by friends who go against their beliefs and their values. They allow someone to mold them into someone they are not. The Chautauqua Alcoholism & Substance Abuse Council administered the Pride Survey to several school districts in the north county in 2010-2011. The survey measures substance use and other problem behaviors. The survey indicated that underage drinking continues to be one of the biggest problems among Chautauqua County youth in grades 7th-12th grade, with 24.8 percent having used alcohol in the past 30 days and 56.7 percent of youth using ever in their lifetime. Marijuana use is of great concern for Chautauqua County youth as well, with 15.7 percent using it in the past 30 days and 36.9 percent of the 12th graders reporting past 30-day use.
Equally alarming is the trend of using prescription medication for recreational purposes. Approximately 25 percent of 10th, 11th and 12th graders have experimented with pain killers as a way to get high in their lifetimes. Pain killers often contain opioids that are either naturally derived from poppy flowers or made in the lab. Youth perception is that if a doctor prescribes the medication then it must be safe. However, that perception cannot be farther from the truth.
The truth is that it is easy to abuse or misuse prescription drugs. These powerful drugs can be extremely dangerous and even deadly. There are many short-term and long-term effects of using and/or abusing prescription drugs. The short-term effects include lack of energy, nausea, vomiting and inability to concentrate. Because of how pain killers affect the brain, the long-term risks include addiction. Over time, tolerance develops resulting in the need to take more and more to get the same feeling the drug once gave them. Some withdrawal symptoms that addicted teens have experienced include restlessness, muscle and bone pain, insomnia, diarrhea, vomiting and cold flashes.
Abusing alcohol or other drugs usually leads an individual down a path of destruction. We, as a community, can help guide youth down a better path. An unknown author provided this quote, "All of life is a journey, which paths we take, what we look back on, and what we look forward to is up to us. We determine our destination, what kind of road we will take, and how happy we are when we get there."
To help guide teenagers down the right path, we can reinforce this "Above the Influence" campaign. Help teens stand up to negative pressures by celebrating on Thursday, for the first ever National "Above the Influence" Day. We encourage schools, parents/family, churches and youth based organizations to implement this free toolkit which can be downloaded at the following website www.theantidrug.com/resources/youth-resources.aspx.
The toolkit has several simple activities that allow teens to express their artistic abilities. The projects help drive discussions among youth about the negative pressures they are confronted with and how they can handle them in the future. Teens are encouraged to submit their projects on www.abovetheinfluence.com. Prior to making any decision, think about the following quote, "Any influence that makes me less than meis not me." Don't allow someone to define who you are. Stay true to yourself and live "Above the Influence."
Since 1974, CASAC, a United Way supported agency, has provided prevention education and community awareness about alcohol and other drugs. CASAC is the only New York State Office of Alcoholism & Substance Abuse Services (OASAS) approved and supported alcohol and other drug prevention agency in Chautauqua County. For further information about CASAC programs and services, call the Jamestown office at 664-3608, or the Dunkirk office at 366-4623, or go to CASAC's website, www.casacweb.org.
Melanie Witkowski is the CASAC Prevention Coordinator of School-Based Services.