Two weeks ago I presented during two different “Wellness Days” sponsored by different Oklahoma school districts. My topics were safe online social networking, cyberbullying prevention, and Internet safety. At the end of the afternoon session when my presentation was over, a high school senior who had won a regional beauty pageant was given the microphone and provided with an opportunity to address 300+ eight grade students. Her message was short and clear: Make good choices, don’t use drugs.

I wonder how many of those students not only listened, but actually took her message to heart? I didn’t hear her say “don’t drink alcohol underage,” although I am sure the school counselors who organized the event would have liked her to say that. Role models ARE important, and I am not entirely discounting the potential value of having a local high school beauty pageant winner encourage other students publicly to “make good choices.” I do wonder about the potential for that short message to have a real impact, however.

Personally, I think short videos / advertisements like “Underage Drinking Prevention – Emily” from the US Ad Council could have a bigger potential impact on student thinking about alcohol consumption, abuse and addiction.

Following up a video like this with small group discussions seems like a more realistic way to encourage students to actually rethink their own perceptions and ideas of underage alcohol consumption, than simply listening to a beauty queen talk for sixty seconds about “good choices.”

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4 Responses to Meaningfully addressing underage alcohol drinking

  1. Clay Burell says:

    Better still (?), having students make such PSA’s themselves, and challenging them to make them with scripts and production values as compelling as this one. Thanks for sharing this. There’s a language arts / film production lesson in there too: it’s the creativity of the idea, the originality, that makes it so compelling.

  2. Alec Couros says:

    I’ve witnessed a number of anti-drug messages from beauty pageants, role models, and on the side of things, former drug addicts, and even young people disfigured in alcohol-related car crashes. While I think in some cases, messages from the latter do have an impact on a few young people, for the most part, the effects are quite temporary.

    The issue is the legislation, the “war on drugs”, advertising, pop culture … a society of mixed messages. I spend a lot of time in countries Europe where “underage” drinking doesn’t exist because it is not legislated that way. There is very little abuse in comparison to North American culture. Additionally, the treatment of drugs in North America, the message from parents, schools, and law enforcement, that Marijuana and Meth Amphetamine are equally as bad … when young people try “milder” street drugs, they feel that they’ve been duped by everyone.

    There needs to be an honest conversation about alcohol and drugs in schools and our homes. Legislation/taxation must be revisited. Scare tactics don’t work. The role model approach doesn’t work either, especially seeing as young people look beyond their own schools for role models … the Lohans/Cobains/Spears/Hendrix/Cobains, etc, have more effect on young people than we know.

  3. Clay Burell says:

    Alec makes a very good point, in my view. I lived in Germany for 5 years, and saw teens drinking very adult-like, not like the boneheads doing it for the taboo thrill in America, and thus overdoing it.

    The point about marijuana is compelling. Anybody who has smoked it knows it’s more manageable than alcohol, but its mention by the Puritans and police in the same breath as heroin very likely has the opposite effect on the young. When they see that their elders lied about marijuana, they very well might conclude they lied about heroin too – and try it due to their adult community’s lies.

    There’s an interesting group of law enforcers who have formed a movement to end the War of Drugs and de-criminalize many of them because they saw through the hypocrisy of the war, first, the impossibility of winning it, second, and third, the catastrophic effects it has on American communities.

    Thanks, Alec, for opening up the issue beyond the merits of the film (which I still, by the way, think is a great model for teaching film-making in school). I got so caught up in the tech I forgot to think about the philosophy 😉

  4. Alex Couros says:

    Clay, I really do think that film/video projects are powerful ways of having students produce/counter/construct/deconstruct messages around drugs and alcohol. I’m developing an online undergraduate digital video course that will be offered Jan 2009. I would love to our students with yours … let’s chat.

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