ONLINE EXCLUSIVE: Welcome to the Dark Side

Going through high school can change someone- for better or for worse.


Walker Winkler

Even the most innocent people have the potential to be corrupted.

There comes a time in every kid’s life when they are no longer the little angel that their parents once knew. Losing innocence is a part of life that occurs for everyone, but now, the time to grow up seems to have become sooner rather than later. If an adult were to ask their parents what they were doing at 13 or 14, the responses would surely be drastically different than those of today’s teenagers.

The present is a very different time than decades ago, when current high schoolers’ parents were themselves in high school. The biggest change would obviously be the rapid growth of the Internet. All the information in the world is at the fingertips of the young. Instead of having sitcom characters as role models, today’s youth are more likely to gravitate towards “cool” people: YouTubers and rap stars who flaunt the best aspects of their often reckless lifestyles on social media, while not properly displaying the downsides of such a life.

Even with these major cultural shifts, one thing in particular that has stayed consistent over the past few decades is the effect of transitioning into high school. High school can be a terrifying place, given that it accepts kids who may not have even hit puberty yet and, four years later, churns out adults ready to start their own life. Within this fragile ecosystem, freshmen are often regarded as the most innocent of the bunch and some may not quite be prepared for all of the new information and experiences that high school has to offer. This is especially true for senior Joshua Lahti, who was homeschooled for eight years before entering high school.

“The type of person I was as a freshman was very innocent and pure, in a way,” Lahti said. “I began to see what was socially acceptable … I wasn’t ever exposed to kids vaping in class or throughout the school day. Then when I came to high school it was a lot more prominent than I expected.”

This loss of innocence has carried over to today’s freshmen as well. Freshmen, such as Mark Deutschmann, decide to look, but not to touch.

“I would say that I know about not so innocent things,” Deutschmann said. “[However], I wouldn’t take it to the level that some people choose to take.”

Being young, some are vulnerable to certain actions, such as vaping, smoking or drinking, that are common among older kids or even adults. Being exposed to these destructive behaviors so early on can make it extremely difficult to acknowledge a problem or break from those behaviors and while any of these actions may not necessarily cause a person to lose their innocence, it can certainly cause someone to completely change from who they were before.

For some, drugs and alcohol only came into their lives through curiosity, just trying a little bit with some friends to see what it’s like. This curiosity is natural when substances are viewed by many as a necessary part of the high school experience and culture, but even just a little bit can have a major effect on someone. An anonymous student describes their transition out of innocence.

“I lost my innocence at around the time of the end of freshman year,” the student said. “I had never had a drop of alcohol in my life, and then towards the end of the year I began to try it with my friends. [I also] began to experiment with marijuana … once I tried marijuana for the first time, I enjoyed it and kept doing it from then on.”

Not all change out of curiosity. Within the high school ecosystem, only the strong survive. The strong are those that fit in, while the weak struggle to keep up. The need to fit in is a part of high school that often seems like a necessity and can lead younger students to adopt the lifestyles of those they aspire to be. Another anonymous student details their journey to try to fit in and become one of the strong.

“In middle school I did not have any friends,” the other student said. “The “friends” that I thought I had would make me get them lunch, carry their stuff for them and would have sleepovers with each other but not invite me … when I found people that actually wanted to invite me places and do crazy things, I didn’t think it was that big of a deal because I was getting friends out of it. It was my way to get friends, I guess.”

A factor that can also play into effect with these types of situations is when one does not feel fulfilled with themselves. Seeing oneself as not worthy enough and unable to accomplish anything can cause a depressed mood that motivates someone to experiment with drugs, especially if they seem like the “bad child” in the family.

“Both my older sisters are successful,” the other student said. “One is in law school, my other sister is this soccer star playing in college, and then there’s me … I felt like I wasn’t good enough for my family and I wasn’t living up to the expectations that were already set for me. So, drugs were my way to escape from that.”

Losing innocence sometimes isn’t always a choice for people. It can be seen as poor decision making and sometimes even as throwing one’s life away. In reality though, losing innocence by no means is a bad thing. Everyone begins to act more “adult” at some point in their lives, it just happens earlier for some than others. It is an essential part of growing up, and everybody goes through this as they mature throughout their four years of high school.