Considering that 21% of elementary school students have already consumed alcohol, it is never too soon for drug and alcohol education. Not surprisingly, media and marketing really does influence a child’s perception of drugs and alcohol. Shows and advertisements often times make drinking alcohol look glamourous, cool, and fun. A study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics found that teaching media literacy is an effective method of keeping kids away from drugs. Students who underwent the media literacy education became significantly more aware of the drug and alcohol marketing geared toward them.
To test the value of media literacy, researchers went to twelve different schools to collect data. Half of the schools received instruction from Media Detective, a program for 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade children. The program was designed to help students interpret media messages specifically “to delay or prevent alcohol and tobacco use.” The other half served as the control group and received none of the supplemental classes. Once before the classes began and again after their completion, students responded to surveys inquiring about their attitudes toward tobacco, alcohol, and related merchandise, which they rated on numerical scales. These scores were compared to test the effectiveness of the Media Detective training.
The results spoke volumes. The boys who completed the training were especially adept at deconstructing alcohol ads and adopting the techniques. These classes also increased self-efficacy: those in the class who had not used drugs felt even more confident that they would continue to turn down illegal substances. Even the students who had used drugs and alcohol previously reported that they were more prepared to withstand peer pressure after the classes than the students in the control group who had experimented with substances and received no training.
The training encourages young students to ask themselves five questions after watching advertisements:
- What is the item that is for sale?
- Who is the company trying to convince to buy their product?
- What gimmicks are being used to excite the audience?
- What is the ad’s hidden message?
- What information, such as health effects, is absent from the ad?
Granted, the figures were gathered shortly after the education classes concluded when the subject matter was fresh in student’s minds, so its long-term effects can only be guessed until longitudinal studies are conducted.
Because children’s beliefs are still especially impressionable, it is crucial to empower them with the skills of critical thinking. Rather than leaving them susceptible to alcohol advertisements and merchandise, educators should teach them media literacy, which the study defines as “the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, and produce media in a variety of forms and a desire to act on these abilities in a manner that benefits a healthy and democratic citizenship.” Media literacy appears to be a powerful tool for educators and parents to combat the media’s inherent message that booze and cigarettes are cool.
When it comes to altering your kids’ minds, wouldn’t you rather it be through education than drugs and alcohol?