Youth Initiative Magazine 2021

Safe Youngsters, Save Youngsters

Written by Nur Aishah Jasmine Mohd Nasir, 1st December 2021
Illustration by Saptadipa Mallick

When we think about youth, we generally attribute them with liveliness, eagerness, boundless curiosity, and definitely carefree. I believe we can all agree that our youth is the time of our lives! However, unfortunately, for other young people, it could also lead to the end of their lives! Although many of the features that describe youth have a positive connotation, there are risk factors that all youth face. These risk factors may contribute to situations where poor decisions are made or where impulsivity contributes to substance use behaviour. No one is immune to these risks and every youth should be exposed to evidence-based substance use prevention that helps them build skills to deal with the challenges they may face in their life.

Among the most popular misconceptions, surrounding youth are “Teenagers are rash, reckless individuals who merely want to have a good time and go out partying.” Some adults seem to believe that youth are unconcerned about their future, and they try to control youth in order to prevent them from engaging in self-destructive behaviour. As a youth myself, I can definitely agree with the fact that having fun is important for young people. But having a good time is not the only focus of our lives and we understand that it shouldn’t come at the expense of our life and future, or the lives of any other young bright individual. But here’s the thing, we need help learning the skills to make better decisions, to have a safe plan, to deal with stress, and to communicate effectively. When you resort to controlling, shouting, restricting, and confining us, this does not help us learn how to deal with the challenge of substance use and it may drive us further away from you. Even though we are not always aware of it and would never confess it; we need you, we need your protection and we actually desire your protection. Most young people are aware that the world is a frightening place and worry that it might negatively impact our bright souls. Be there for us, talk to us, listen to us, and help us learn the skills we need to thrive.

I’d like to share with you a better way to address this issue that will help you connect with youngsters more effectively. This concept came to me as a result of an epiphany amidst New Years. It was November 2019, and December was just around the corner, bringing with it the promise of new possibilities ahead. Ideas and plans for how to spend the final days of 2019 began to pour in. Invitations to music festivals, gathering celebrations, and firework events were widely advertised in order to garner as much crowd as possible. May I remind you that this was the time before the virus with the C hit us? I was equally bursting with excitement to celebrate New Year’s Eve with my friends, particularly the countdown to the new year, as movies depicted it as a great moment to experience with your mates. That is until I came upon a horrifying number that made me realise how wrong I was.

Across the globe, the highest injury and fatality rate in a single day occurs on New Year’s Eve. Catastrophic episodes include substance overdoses, traffic accidents involving driving under the influence, serious injuries incurred through impetuous behaviour, and what seemed like an endless list of mishaps. My enthusiasm quickly faded and was replaced by a mound of anxiety. I’m quite concerned about my own and my friends’ safety. But I didn’t want to be the party pooper by telling them I wouldn’t go or by saying they shouldn’t go. As fate would have it while volunteering with Green Crescent Malaysia, I met another person who shared my concerns, however, his fears stemmed from the tragic loss of his elder brother due to a narcotic overdose while celebrating New Year’s Eve.

This shared concern steered us to organising a Substance-Free Underground Music Festival event where youth could gather to have a good time and celebrate New Year without the negative influence or exposure to harmful substances. It was worthwhile to see all of the youth expressing themselves freely without worry, knowing they were safe and sound when they returned home to their families. This sparked a desire in me to organise more substance-free youth engagement events. The events I organised under Green Crescent Malaysia were either free or affordable, and they spanned from music festivals to carnivals to water sport activities, virtual activities and I’m planning more to come.

Apart from the enjoyment from participating in the activities, we incorporate and highlight open discussions about mental health management and healthy coping skills into this programme. Since we applied an open approach, youth were more willing to ask questions and share their problems with us. We were also able to effectively identify youth who were struggling with substance misuse and refer them to professional help, some even requested that we refer them to a treatment centre to help them conquer their addiction issue. This was the summit of everything; young people willingly reached out to us for help.

Now that I’ve shared the formula, the most essential question is: would you play your part and help us expand these types of youth programmes? We need adult role models and volunteers to support these events. You see, for us to learn from our mistakes, evolve and develop into responsible adults, what we need is a safe environment. In order for us to thrive and channel out limitless potential into something greater for the planet, what we need is gentle guidance and strong role models rather than harsh control. As a youth on the verge of becoming adults, we want to discover not just what the world has to offer, but also what we can offer to the world. Every action that we transmit is really a form of self-exploration. We may become lost in oblivion if we are not guided. We need experienced adults to serve as our explorer guides and protector so that together we can pave way for a brighter future for the globe.

Hence, I implore every future stakeholder (everyone) to develop future-ready youths by supporting and implementing evidence-based substance use prevention programmes beginning from a very early age. Likewise, if you are able to volunteer to assist in the implementation of substance-free events and environments in your community, I would really appreciate your support! With that in mind, flip over to the following page where I present several evidence-based strategies to productively reach out to youth from UNODC International Standards on Drug Use Prevention.

Made possible with the support of the Russian Federation and the Sovereign Order of Malta