At Oak Hill Academy our campus is our classroom. Beyond academic achievement, honing the basic principles of self-care and good decision making is among the most valuable behavioral gains for students at small boarding schools. While these traits aren’t visible on a transcript (though some would hold them to be as important), failure to acquire them can lead to long-term trouble for young adults.
One of the most pervasive and newsworthy temptations facing teens these days involves a new type of “smoking” called vaping, which requires use of an electronic cigarette (e-cigarette) filled with flavored liquid that, when electrically charged, releases vapors that are inhaled by the user. Recently, e-cigarettes became more popular among teens than regular cigarettes, and vaping has become a national talking point among those who work with youth.
Oak Hill Academy has always been proactive in caring for our students. Under the leadership of Academy Nurse Betsy Anderson, we recently offered a series of educational sessions designed to supplement our efforts to eradicate vaping on our campus. In crafting a wholesale strategy which includes medical intervention, support groups that meet regularly for students who desire to quit, punitive measures, and now an educational component, we believe we are providing sound, comprehensive services to our students. In fact, Oak Hill Academy was recently recognized by colleagues at other boarding schools as being a state-wide leader in this national effort to address what has become an important issue affecting the lives of young people.
Our boarding school campus is indeed Oak Hill Academy’s 24/7 classroom, where we walk with our students through their fledgling efforts to learn how to care for themselves in body, mind, and spirit. When mistakes occur, and they do for all of us, our job as educators is to lend a helping hand and shine the light on the correct path. Our vaping education and intervention program is helping us do just that.
Oak Hill Academy
Lately it seems I cannot turn on the radio or TV without hearing and seeing stories about the concerns of vaping (the use of electronic cigarettes). To date, there have been approximately 450 reported U.S. cases of vaping-related lung illnesses; and 6 deaths have been attributed to vaping. While I am troubled by the loss of life and health, I am thankful that the vaping epidemic is now receiving the media spotlight and attention it warrants. More can be read about this outbreak on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention WEBSITE.
After further review, these recent vaping deaths can be connected to products containing THC (the main psychoactive compound in marijuana). Another common denominator is a Vitamin E chemical compound that is used as an emulsifying agent (allowing liquids to mix) in vaping products. The compound is linked to extreme inflammation and damage to the lungs. While these specific deaths have been blamed on this chemical compound, make no mistake–ALL vaping products are extremely dangerous, especially for our youth, and for a number of reasons.
Nicotine content aside, over 60 chemical compounds have been found in the flavoring component of e-cigarette liquid. This flavoring is what makes the e-cigarettes so appealing to many of our youth. Who would not want to try something that tastes like “Juicy Fruit” or “Cotton Candy”? In fact, 81.5% of adolescent users report that the flavoring is the primary reason for trying and using vape products in the first place. Due to these findings, many states are moving toward banning flavored e-cigarette products. Right now, there are very few regulations concerning their production and sale. President Trump also recently announced a move toward banning flavored products from the marketplace.
In 2017 in Virginia, 16.7% of people reported using an e-cigarette product in the last 30 days. 11.8% of those users were high school students. The number of adolescent users has been growing at an alarming rate: from 2017 to 2018, the number of reported high school student users increased by a whopping 78%.
We know that nicotine exposure in the adolescent brain is particularly harmful because the brain is still developing. Nicotine exposure permanently harms nerve cell impulse function, and increases the brain chemistry related to addiction in the same way adolescent brains are more susceptible to other addictive substances. This means that once your teen has been exposed to nicotine, he or she is very vulnerable to becoming addicted to the product. This is why prevention and education are so important.
As parents, you are your child’s first teacher. The key is to educate yourself about the risks involved with vaping, and then regularly share them with your child. There is a wonderful website from the Truth Initiative with some great resources on how to do this HERE.
At Oak Hill Academy, we care about our students’ short term and long term health. We have some policies currently in place to provide reasonable consequences for using vaping products on campus. We are also developing an educational curriculum to share with our students in the classroom, and are starting an on-campus vaping support group that should kick off the first week of October.
Please join me in protecting and supporting our youth as we navigate this public health epidemic.
Thanks for reading.
Betsy Anderson, RN, BSN
Oak Hill Academy Nurse
As you may be aware, many of us in the Oak Hill community have shared a dreaded stomach bug in the last few weeks. Several students and staff (and their families) have succumbed to the very contagious germ. Thankfully, the illness was short-lived! Here are some tips to guard against (and treat) such viruses.
Viral Gastroenteritis (stomach flu)
Viral Gastroenteritis is an intestinal infection marked by watery diarrhea, abdominal cramps, nausea or vomiting, and sometimes fever.
The most common way to develop viral gastroenteritis — often called stomach flu —is through contact with an infected person or by ingesting contaminated food or water.
There’s no “cure” for viral gastroenteritis, just treatment of the symptoms, so prevention is key. In addition to avoiding food and water that may be contaminated, thorough and frequent hand-washings are your best defense.
• Wash your hands thoroughly.
• Use separate personal items, such as dishes, drinking glasses, utensils and toothbrushes.
• Keep your distance.
• Disinfect hard surfaces (stomach viruses can live on inanimate objects for weeks).
If you do get the infection, make sure you get plenty of rest and drink plenty of fluids. Stop eating solid foods for a few hours and ease back into eating slowly. Some good things to begin eating are bland, easy-to-digest foods, such as soda crackers, toast, gelatin, bananas, rice and chicken. Stop eating if your nausea returns. Avoid eating dairy products, and fatty or highly seasoned foods.
Stay well everyone!!
Thanks for reading,
Betsy Anderson, RN, BSN
Oak Hill Academy Nurse
The influenza season is upon us. I noticed in the news that the state of Florida has reported its first flu-related death–a young child who had not been vaccinated. Now, I don’t know any specific facts about this particular case beyond the short news article I read, and I also don’t know if the outcome would have been different if the child had been vaccinated. Many people have reasons not to vaccinate and I understand them. What I would like to share with you are some facts related to influenza vaccinations as published by reputable sources. What I always recommend is to educate yourself so you can make an informed decision–a decision you are comfortable with–for you and your family.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that every person over the age of 6 months (who does not have other contraindications) should receive a vaccination for the flu before the end of October every year. Receiving a flu vaccination has been shown to reduce the chances of contracting the flu by half. If a child does contract the flu, the rate for hospital admission is reduced by 74% IF he/she has been vaccinated. This means the vaccination lessens the severity of the symptoms of the virus. Flu-related deaths in healthy children can be reduced by two-thirds if children are vaccinated. By receiving the vaccination, you are also helping to protect others from contracting the flu—especially those who cannot, for various reasons, receive the vaccine.
At Oak Hill Academy, we live in a secluded community. In many ways, our remoteness helps decrease the chance that the influenza virus will find its way onto our campus. However, there are still opportunities for our students to contract the virus whenever they travel off campus, especially for open weekends and the upcoming holiday breaks. The CDC recommends that travelers get vaccinated at least two weeks before traveling in order for the vaccination’s effectiveness to be at its peak before potential exposure.
The tight-knit community here, in which we all live in close proximity to each other, could make it difficult to keep from getting the flu if it does arrive on campus. One of the best ways we prevent our students from becoming sick each year is by offering to administer the flu vaccination to everyone—students and staff. During the first week in October, I administered the vaccination to all students whose parents/guardians requested it. I still have several doses of the vaccine available, so it is not too late for your child to receive a vaccination. If you would like me to do this, please send an email to email@example.com for more information about having this done.
Thanks for reading,
Betsy Anderson, RN, BSN
Oak Hill Academy Nurse
At Oak Hill Academy students have the opportunity to tryout for and participate in many athletic programs. We have basketball teams, soccer, tennis, cheerleading, volleyball, horsemanship, wrestling, etc. There are also many opportunities for physical activity outside of our organized sports teams. Presently, the fall athletic season is in full swing. This means we are seeing a lot of sprains and strains at the Nurse’s Office. We are seeing one to three of these injuries each week.
A sprain is the stretching of ligaments surrounding a joint. A ligament’s job is to connect two bones, providing stability to the joint during movement. A strain is the stretching or tearing of a muscle or a tendon. A tendon is a tissue that connects the muscle to the bone, giving the muscle the ability to move the extremity. Treatment for both of these injuries is the same. The first and most effective treatment for these injuries is rest, ice, compression and elevation. By doing these interventions quickly, we can prevent pain and inflammation in the affected area, allowing it to heal more quickly. We recommend wrapping the joint only for a few days. If the joint is immobilized for longer than necessary, it could contribute to losing muscle tone in the area, making the joint more susceptible to further injuries. We also treat these injuries with ibuprofen, an over-the-counter medication that is effective in controlling pain and decreasing inflammation.
Sprains and strains usually heal in a matter of weeks and require no further treatment. If an injury seems to be taking longer than usual to heal, or if it is worsening, we can arrange for a provider to assess it and make a recommendation. Sometimes this includes bracing the joint, taking prescription strength anti-inflammatories, or in some cases, even physical therapy. We are fortunate to have a very good working relationship with a talented orthopedic and sports medicine group in the area.
The staff at Oak Hill Academy is experienced in dealing with these injuries. We typically handle 40-60 of them every year. Our physical education instructors, the coaching staff, resident managers and nursing staff all work together to help students in the treatment of these injuries. If your child has experienced a sprain or strain, ask them if they have sought treatment from the infirmary. If they haven’t, encourage them to do so. We are here to help!
GOOD LUCK to all of our athletes this season! GO WARRIORS!
Thanks for reading,
Betsy Anderson, RN, BSN
Oak Hill Academy Nurse
With Oak Hill Academy’s 95% college acceptance rate over the last 12 years, we are squarely positioned in the college prep boarding school market. However, it is our unique approach, and emphasis on personal growth, that makes Oak Hill Academy stand out from the crowd. Our ideal student fit is one in which growth is the goal. Families often find us when their student’s challenges center on needing to address issues of confidence (often showing up as a lack of motivation) and finding renewed excitement about an academic future, including college preparation. Today, let’s talk a little about how Oak Hill Academy is intentional in an approach that fosters a return to motivation, positivity and a growth mindset.
- Our classroom size is often the game changer for students. With an average size of 10 students per classroom, the environment is much less intimidating, and promotes relationships between teachers and their students. In these small-group classrooms, students are also more comfortable asking questions and finding their voices through participation in class discussion.
- Overwhelmingly, students are choosing to attend Oak Hill Academy to grow. They are coming here to redefine themselves and change their paths. Most of our students are not happy with how school has been going for them, so they come to us seeking a new approach that either addresses a learning style or learning difference, or an issue with school anxiety that has made success in their current school elusive. This means that our students are not judgmental of each other. Neither do they feel that they have to hide or avoid challenges. There is an overriding attitude here that we are all stepping outside our comfort zones in order to grow–and that’s okay! This attitude shows up in the way our students like to study together, and they share a non-competitive spirit of encouragement in our school building.
- Our teachers understand that our students are in need of being built up. Our approach is not to water down our academics. Instead, our relationships allow us to push students past their self-imposed limits in a very personal way. Tutorials and extra help are the norm here. We believe that once a student tastes success and connects positive habits with academic achievement, they want more of it. And in turn, they come to expect more from themselves. Many of our upperclassmen are taking college credit or AP classes, after beginning their enrollment with us missing that kind of aspiration. I’ve come to view this phenomenon as evidence of how our students grow while at Oak Hill Academy.
Please see Hannah’s story below to see what this kind of growth looks like:
If you are looking for a boarding school option to address your student’s issues of self confidence or motivation, I invite you to look closer at Oak Hill Academy. We view this kind of student as 100% “mission appropriate,” and we would welcome the opportunity to discuss your goals for a great boarding school fit. Please reach out to the Admission Department through an inquiry form or an email firstname.lastname@example.org, or simply pick up the phone and call (276) 579-2619. We are happy to show you our personal approach.
For the current generation of adolescents, anxiety issues are becoming THE biggest obstacle to being able to function at a high level, according to many mental health reports. According to a recent Small Boarding School Association presentation given by James Madison University’s A. Renee Staton, Ph.D., LPC, the trends are notable:
- 25% of children ages 13-18 have mild to moderate anxiety.
- Anxiety in children and teens often overlaps with depression.
- Anxiety is among the earliest of developing pathologies.
Before we talk about where this anxiety seems to be coming from, let’s look at its effects in the context of the families who reach out to Oak Hill Academy seeking a new approach for their students. Anxiety often has a significant detrimental effect on academic performance, which echoes into a student’s self-image. As studies have long indicated, students need to feel secure in themselves before they can most effectively tackle cognitive tasks or worry about personal growth. Where there is insecurity or anxiety, there often is an academic downturn. If not addressed, poor performance rather quickly looks like a lack of motivation. It’s important to remember that this “motivation issue” very often has real roots in an environment full of anxiety-producing circumstances: large classrooms where struggles go unnoticed; gaming as a path to self worth; social media feeds that present unsustainable lifestyles and evoke unhealthy comparisons; being the target of mean-spirited social media comments that cut to the quick and make kids feel exposed, to name a few. Looking for a new environment (and often a new peer group) is what spurs families to begin investigating boarding school options.
Why does Oak Hill Academy stand out in a boarding school search like this?
Size: Our size makes us unique in the boarding school world. With an average enrollment of 150 students, and a class size average of 10, our size is conducive to a low-pressure social environment. Everyone knows everyone.There are so many overlapping circles of friends that cliques disappear. And, except for our basketball program (which is highly competitive), competition for a place in clubs, sports, and activities like drama and music is at a minimum. Students become less reluctant to try new things, and pursuing a special interest engenders confidence that crosses over into other areas. In our small classes, teachers are able to address different learning styles and facilitate class discussions beyond just lecturing. Relationships flourish because our teachers interact more personally with each student, and the students are able to be much more collaborative. The difference can be as basic as a student having more courage to raise their hand in a small class. Our size and relational approach also means that we know each other well and our faculty and staff can spot needs quickly and reach out with support on those inevitable tougher days. Nobody gets “lost” at Oak Hill Academy.
Growth: Everyone is choosing to attend Oak Hill Academy for the same basic reason: to grow. Most obviously, the growth is academic, but for many of our students this includes social and personal growth. With everyone focusing on self-improvement, there is a lot less pressure and competition in our classrooms and dorms. Our students would much rather study together and have each other do well than to compete for a class ranking. As students find their footing and confidence, they feel good about how they are doing and become encouraging to each other. After years of needing (and often not receiving) support in a classroom setting, many of our students are extremely proud to be in a position to give support. This phenomenon is transformative. Peer tutoring, both through our formal program and through the social network of dorm living, is a big part of the picture at Oak Hill Academy. Socially, as each student is working on their own growth, we become more forgiving of each other, and do not give up on each other. Our college prep community fosters new feelings of acceptance, belonging, and competence.
Routine: Oak Hill’s structured environment includes scheduled study time each evening, daily extra help sessions, and office hours for teachers, which means that our students can establish a healthy routine. Routine is often the catalyst for stress reduction for our students. Having the safety valve of knowing that our teachers are not only willing, but scheduled, to provide extra help is an immediate stress-reliever. This shoulder-to-shoulder time, called “8th period,” is a game changer. It’s where relationships are deepened, strategies are learned, and confidence is found. There is as much coaching going on here as teaching.
Cell phone and social media limits: Our structure includes healthy boundaries on cell phone and internet use that, over time, provides substantial stress relief. Our cell phone policy (weekends only) and filtered internet access (no social media) most definitely makes us stand out in stark contrast to other college prep boarding schools. Initially, most of our students worry that reduced access to social media and the world of texting will cause MORE stress–you know, the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO). For some students, our limits remain the biggest single obstacle to seeing the bigger picture of opportunity that Oak Hill Academy offers. Here’s what actually happens is almost every case: Life becomes simpler, face-to-face conversations become more meaningful, and relationships become deeper and more supportive. There is less judgment to deal with, and students can be themselves without having to present an image or compete with other people’s images. It is a breath of fresh air for our anxious students. And they can now focus on the important tasks of taking care of business, caring about their grades, and discovering new interests.
If your family is looking for a boarding school option where addressing your student’s stress or anxiety is part of the goal, we welcome your call at (276) 579-2619. Please continue to look closely at our school’s website and reach out to discuss your student with our Admission Department. If we are encouraged that Oak Hill is a potential fit, we can then look toward a campus visit very soon. We operate with rolling admission, considering appropriate applicants for mid-year entry, summer school, or Fall 2019-20.
Spring is a beautiful time of year in Mouth of Wilson, VA. We have lush vegetation here in the Blue Ridge and it is just beginning to reveal itself. Trees are budding and getting their leaves, the grass is being mowed, and flowers are starting to bloom. As beautiful as it is, it can also have the undesirable effect of causing seasonal allergies. For some of our students, this is a new problem. They might never have been exposed to this environment before, so allergies are a foreign idea. For others of our students, allergies are an old enemy that wreaks havoc for them every spring and fall. Many students are currently complaining of sore throats, congestion, and sneezing. It can be difficult to tell if these symptoms are being caused by allergies or the common cold. How can you tell the difference? It can be difficult, but here are some assessments I use.
The first question I ask is, “Do you have a fever or body aches?” An allergy does not cause a fever or body aches. The second question is “How long have you had these symptoms?” Colds usually are self-limiting and last only about 7-10 days. If the symptoms have lasted longer, without worsening or improving, they are usually caused by allergies. The last thing I look for is if there are any patterns related to these symptoms. “Do you get these symptoms the same time every year?” If so, the patient probably has seasonal allergies. After I have determined the cause of the symptoms, then I can plan how to treat them.
Despite what the name suggests, a person can catch a “cold” at any time of the year. It is estimated that adults catch colds 2-3 times per year and children even more because their immune systems have not been exposed to as many cold viruses. A cold is caused by a viral infection and is not “curable.” Antibiotics are not effective in the treatment of colds. Treatment includes addressing symptoms for short-term relief and supporting the body’s natural immune response to help fight the virus off faster. Cough suppressants, analgesics and decongestants can help make you more comfortable if you are suffering from a cold. Getting plenty of rest, drinking lots of fluids and maintaining overall good health can help your body’s immune system fight off cold viruses. If a complication develops, such as a sinus infection or an ear infection, only then should treatment with antibiotics be considered.
There are several treatment options for allergies, and the choice depends upon the severity of the symptoms. For my students, I often suggest trying Zyrtec or Allegra first. These are the most effective over-the-counter antihistamine treatments I have found. Of course, if a person can avoid the allergen itself as much as possible, that is very helpful as well. If these strategies are ineffective, it is time to see an allergy specialist or an ENT (Ear, Nose & Throat doctor) for prescription treatment.
If students at Oak Hill are feeling ill, they should see one of our campus nurses. We are typically in the nurse’s office from 7:00 am to 9:30 pm. We are available in the dining hall during all meals. We also administer medications at that time. A nurse also visits all of the dormitories for nighttime med call before lights out. After lights out, students should see their Resident Managers for any medical issues. There is a nurse on call for all illnesses and emergencies 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Here’s to good health, and thanks for reading!
Betsy Anderson, RN, BSN
Oak Hill Academy Nurse
Do you know that feeling you have when you wake up refreshed? You went to sleep at a decent hour, you slept all night without waking, and now you are awake and feel ready to start the day. Did you feel that way when you woke up this morning? No, neither did I. That is the inspiration for this blog topic: The ever-elusive Good Night of Sleep. As adults we know there are a million things getting in the way of our sleep–work stress, family issues, anxiety about responsibilities, health concerns, etc. But, those are adult problems, right? Nothing for teenagers to worry about…right? Unfortunately, many adolescents are sleep-deprived. Problems sleeping is one of the top 3 complaints I hear from my students on a daily basis.
According to the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, the official publication of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, “teenagers 13-18 years of age should sleep 8 to 10 hours per 24 hours on a regular basis to promote optimal health.” Getting enough good quality sleep leads to better health and educational outcomes such as improved attention, behavior, learning, memory retention, emotional regulation, and mental and physical health. Insufficient sleep increases risk of accidental injuries, obesity, diabetes and depression. In teenagers it has also been associated with increased risk of suicidal thoughts and self-harm.
The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) estimates that 70 percent of high school students are not getting the recommended hours of sleep. Studies have estimated that 11 percent of adolescents have a history of insomnia and children with neurodevelopmental diagnoses such as ADHD have a particularly high risk for sleep disturbances (because of the nature of the disorder and the medications used to treat it).
Although sleep disturbances can turn into a chronic problem, many of them are transient in nature and can be the result of a stressful life event. When a transient sleep disturbance occurs, it is important to address it so that it does not become a chronic issue. The majority of sleep disturbances in adolescents are likely to have behavioral origins and can be successfully addressed with good sleep habits. Once these routines are established, they can benefit an adolescent for a lifetime. This is the time in their lives when their brains are maturing during sleep processes. When your teen experiences sleep disturbances it is important to commit to a consistent sleep plan.
Healthy Sleep Habits (as recommended by the National Sleep Foundation) include the following:
• Go to bed at the same time each night and rise at the same time each morning, even on weekends and during school breaks.
• Make sure your bedroom is quiet, dark and relaxing, neither too hot nor too cold.
• Make sure your bed is comfortable and use it only for sleeping, not other activities.
• Avoid large meals a few hours before bedtime.
• Exercise regularly.
• Avoid caffeine after noon.
• Avoid screen time several hours before bedtime.
• Use relaxation tools, such as meditation or progressive muscle relaxation.
At Oak Hill Academy we do several things to encourage a good night’s sleep for our boarding students. “Quiet Time” starts promptly at 8:30 each evening. During this time students are given an opportunity to be in a quiet, relaxed environment. This encourages their bodies to release melatonin, a natural hormone produced by the brain’s pineal gland that promotes the onset and duration of sleep. We also have a regular lights-out time of 10:30 pm, as well as a regular wake-up time. This keeps our students on a consistent schedule and promotes natural sleep/wake cycles. A few years ago we adjusted our start time for the school day to be 45 minutes later. This change was implemented in response to data and recommendations from several sleep researchers, including the American Thoracic Society. Organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics, the CDC, and the American Medical Association support later school start times. Structuring the school day and associated activities to be compatible with the natural circadian rhythms of an adolescent’s brain helps achieve quality sleep, the benefits of which are far-reaching.
But what if you can’t sleep? It is hard to conquer the world if you don’t feel well-rested, right? Many people use over-the-counter melatonin or antihistamines to help fall asleep. But pharmacologic intervention should be considered only if a healthy sleep routine is committed to and followed consistently without improvement, or if there is another health issue interfering with sleep. One of the dangerous results of taking medication without professional guidance is that it could cause rebound insomnia when the medication is stopped, producing a chronic issue.
A change in behaviors surrounding sleep is often as effective as using over-the-counter medications–especially if the sleep disturbance is transient in nature. It is important to point out that no hypnotics or other medications have been approved for use by the FDA for sleep problems in people under the age of 16 years. If a sleep medication is prescribed at this age, it should be done with careful monitoring and consideration of benefits versus risk.
We are so close to the end of the school year, when students leave us for the summer. While students are at home, they sometimes do not adhere to a normal schedule and this can throw off their natural patterns of sleep and wakefulness. When they return to school in the fall, they might have difficulty being able to sleep for the first few weeks. Encouraging your teen to stick to a normal sleep schedule during school breaks can go a long way to help prevent this from occurring.
When you lie down, you will not be afraid. When you rest, your sleep will be peaceful.
Now, go forth and conquer the world – but first, sleep!
Betsy Anderson, RN BSN
Oak Hill Academy Nurse
Today’s guest blog post is written by one of Oak Hill Academy’s school nurses, Betsy Anderson, RN, BSN. As her life’s work is with boarding high school students, Nurse Betsy is very passionate about health issues that are particularly relevant to teenagers.
Several years ago I was taking a road trip and my mind was wandering. I was thinking about a law that had been recently passed in Virginia making it illegal for adults to smoke in cars with their children present. As a school nurse, and as a mother myself, I am a strong supporter of this law. I remember looking around as I drove, seeing other people driving or riding in cars, people walking down the street. I looked to see if any of the people I encountered were smoking. …I COULD NOT FIND ONE. The healthcare professional in me felt a small sense of satisfaction. I thought to myself, “You go, America! You are doing it! You are kicking your horrible habits!” Little did I know a new enemy was lurking just around the corner. Vaping.
Although vaping has had a huge increase in popularity in the last two years, the first electronic cigarette (e-cigarette) was invented and patented in the 1960s by Herbert A. Gilbert. The device uses a heating element to turn liquid (e-liquid or e-juice) into a vapor that the user inhales. Mr. Gilbert wanted to market his nicotine delivery invention as an alternative to traditional smoking. But because tobacco companies already had so much momentum in the consumer market, it never took off. Only recently have e-cigarettes exploded in the marketplace. What is alarming to me is that the largest population of e-cigarette consumers are adolescents, and that this number is growing at unprecedented rates. According to the CDC, e-cigarette use in high school students tripled from the year 2013 to 2014. This means that in one year the number of high school students in the United States who vaped increased from 660,000 to 2 MILLION. This number is unbelievable.
Why is vaping so appealing to adolescents? I believe one reason is that the marketing for these products has been misleading for many. E-cigarettes have been marketed as a “safer” alternative to smoking, but there is no real data to support this claim, In fact, studies are continuing to be published that show how very harmful vaping can be. When a people believe that vaping is “less harmful” than smoking, they neglect to consider that it is not HARMLESS. Another reason vaping is so appealing to adolescents is that it tastes good and has virtually no lingering smell. The most popular e-juice flavors in 2017 were Gummi Bear, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Catch Ya Latte, On Cloud Custard, Muffin Man, and Cloud Candy. Clever names. And they sound delicious, right? And some vapes and supplies are so small and so disguised that it is easy for teens to hide them from their parents and school officials. If a teen is determined to hide their vaping, it is virtually undetectable. The final reason I believe vaping has exploded in the adolescent population is because of its concentrated and addictive quality and the effects of nicotine on the adolescent brain.
The absorption rate of nicotine is increased in the vapor delivery method and the nicotine receptors in the brain are overloaded with stimulation. Studies have shown that nicotine intake from one vape session can be equivalent to smoking 6 cigarettes, depending on the vaping device and e-juice used. When nicotine enters the brain and attaches to a receptor, the reward center lights up and dopamine is released. With continued use, more and more stimulation is needed for dopamine to be released, so users vape more and more. The adolescent brain is even more susceptible to this dependence trigger because the prefrontal cortex, where the reward center is located, is not fully developed until the early 20s. No wonder it is so addicting. Once exposed to this substance, our children will have an incredibly hard time not becoming addicted for life. When teenagers begins vaping, they are 70% more likely to begin smoking traditional cigarettes within 5 years.
Nicotine causes permanent damage to adolescent brains, and can affect long-term development, causing life-long problems with emotional response processing, memory, and reasoning and judgment abilities.
So, what is a school nurse to do? The first thing I have done is educate myself. I recently attended a conference that included a keynote speaker (Dr. Judson Brewer) who addressed addiction in the adolescent brain. One of the main areas he covered was vaping. I have spoken with colleagues. I have read countless medical journals and articles. I have learned so many scary facts associated with vaping that it is impossible to share them all in a single blog post. Vaping is a challenge for schools around the world, and Oak Hill Academy is no exception. We are a boarding school. Our students live here as well as attend classes. This means we must monitor classrooms, dorm rooms, and all other areas for vaping supplies. Teachers, resident life staff and administrative staff are all working together to tackle this very difficult issue. In healthcare, the best treatment is and always has been prevention. Vaping is absolutely a health crisis. I want my students to live healthy, fulfilled lives while they are with me and long after they leave me. That is why I became a school nurse. Children are the future of our world–and their success depends on their long-term health.
In order to decrease teen vaping rates, it is imperative that our students are educated about harmful effects of vaping BEFORE they try it. At Oak Hill Academy, we are currently developing educational materials to be included in our robust resident life curriculum, and we continue to explore other ways to educate our students. I ask that you, as parents and caregivers, become part of the team in helping fight this war. Educate yourself about vaping and its harmful effects. Share these facts with your children as soon as possible, and as often as possible.
Here are some excellent resources you can use to do this:
Thanks for reading!
Betsy Anderson, RN, BSN
Oak Hill Academy Nurse