Please don’t suck helium

February 29, 2012 | Posted in: Early Learners, Elementary, High School, Middle Years

Peer pressure. We all hear about it. At some point in our lives, we probably even succumbed to it. Peer pressure isn’t always bad. In fact, there are times when peer pressure is good – such as when your children’s friends challenge them to push themselves in a class or athletics, or to try something new like drama club or photography class.

But when we hear stories about young teenagers like Ashley Long, it reminds us that peer pressure can have a detrimental and life-altering – even life-ending – effect.

Ashley was a lot like the kids who go to school with our children. She was friendly, a good student who loved photography and fashion and dreamed of becoming a marine biologist. And, like many young teens, she wanted to fit in. So instead of staying at the Feb. 18 sleepover she told her parents about, she piled into a car with some friends and headed to a party. Officials estimate Ashley and her friends downed about eight drinks each before a helium tank was passed around. Reports say Ashley didn’t want to suck on the helium tank, that a fellow party-goer forced her to.

Whatever the case, Ashley’s experience didn’t end with her voice sounding like a cartoon character. Instead, she passed out. She later died as the result of an obstruction in a blood vessel caused by inhaling helium from the pressurized tank. She was only 14.

We don’t want to believe our children would lie to us. And we hope that when our children are confronted by peer pressure to do inappropriate things, they’ll choose to resist.

Teens often consider themselves invincible. Their brains are programmed to try new things, to take risks. It’s why they’re willing to take healthy risks that allow them to stretch their capabilities or try a new experience, such as a three-week trip to Germany with their language class or attempting a new sport such as skiing. It’s also why they take risks that aren’t so safe, such as drinking alcohol, trying drugs or sucking on a helium tank.

So we need to have the conversation over and over about the challenges of peer pressure. We need to remind our children that any choice they make can have consequences far more serious than the loss of cell phone privileges or made okay by saying “You’re right, I shouldn’t have done that.”

We tend not to think of helium as being dangerous. But, we need to tell our children that ingesting any substance – even if it’s just to change their voice – can be dangerous.

There’s a very good chance we won’t be standing next to our children when they have to make a decision such as Ashley made. But we can continue to talk about choices and consequences and dangerous substances so that maybe, just maybe, they’ll hear our voice in their heads when they have to make a decision about a risky behavior.

We’re thinking we may start our next conversation with this line: “Please don’t suck helium.” And when we share Ashley’s story, maybe her tragic death will be a little less senseless.

To read more about Ashley’s story, visit online:

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