How Drug Abuse Resistance Education Did Anything But Educate Our Youths to Resist Abusing Drugs - Kevin Rix
How Drug Abuse Resistance Education Did Anything But Educate Our Youths to Resist Abusing Drugs - Kevin Rix
A program that is used in 75% of school districts in the United States and 43 countries throughout the world in most cases would be widely considered as one of the most effective public health programs (1). In the case of the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) program which was established in 1983 by Police Chief Daryl Gates of the Los Angeles Police, it may be one of the most widely spread failures that has ever existed, and it is still being used today (1). The premise of D.A.R.E. was to have police officers come into schools over a ten-week period and teach students about the dangers associated with the use of illegal drugs. According to D.A.R.E., the group has reached over 36 million students world wide, and 26 million students in the United States (1). Though they’ve been able to reach this many students most research would suggest that this is not a positive thing. In 2001, the United States Surgeon General released a statement that categorized D.A.R.E., as an “ineffective primary prevention program”, and that D.A.R.E. was counterproductive in some communities, which caused graduates to be among the groups who tended to use drugs (4). This became so alarming that as of 2004, D.A.R.E. America is under investigation to lose all governmental funding, because the U.S. Department of education prohibits funding ineffective drug prevention programs, and since this report, D.A.R.E. has lost nearly 80% of its federal funding (15).
In a 1992 study performed at the University of Illinois at Chicago, graduates of the D.A.R.E. program were found to be at much higher rates of using illegal drugs (2). This was especially prevalent in the use of marijuana, which saw 10.2 percent of 8th graders in 1991 reported using marijuana to 19.9 percent in 1995 (2). The increase in marijuana use flies directly in the face of the D.A.R.E. program at its apex, with students who were exposed to the program in the late 1980s. In 1998, psychologist William Colson stated, “As they get older, [students] become very curious about these drugs they’ve learned about from police officers (3). The use of police officers as the messengers was one of the largest of many mistakes the D.A.R.E. program used in trying to prevent kids from using drugs, because it provided adolescents with a speaker they could not relate to, who could not be a model for them to think about during tough times, and essentially was telling them what to do.
Critique 1- Do Kids Want To Listen to Cops?
At first glance, having an authority figure who is able to not only explain the dangers of using drugs to kids, but also the legal repercussions that they could face one day if they decided to use drugs. For the most part, police officers are role models for young kids, with position in society school departments would look at them as a group that would be ideal to talk to their developing students on why the use of illegal drugs is going to hinder them in the long run. The major problem and concern is that the use of police officers are not directly relatable to the students they are trying to convey a message to. By using police officers as the main communicators of the message of trying to prevent kids from using drugs, proponents of the D.A.R.E. program do not adhere to a primary factor in communication theory, of making the speaker relatable or likeable.
The youth population is among the toughest to reach and relate to in the United States. In most studies conducted, the student’s perspective on how they felt the D.A.R.E. program was being carried out was overlooked, in favor for how the teachers in their classroom were seeing it. In a study in the Journal of Alcohol and Drug Education, researchers looked at “Educator perceptions of the D.A.R.E. officer”, to see how those who were delivering the message were received in schools (5). This study showed that the D.A.R.E. program was being seen in a positive light overall, and that approximately 2/3 of educators viewed the D.A.R.E. program as being positive (5). The major problem with this is that it is the educator’s perspective. Teachers evaluated this program based upon how they perceive teaching should go about. This failed to measure student’s perception of the officer’s in their classroom and how they believed their education was going. The message being delivered was a positive one of not taking drugs, but the students were not hearing it from someone they could relate to. A police officer in a classroom setting is another adult teacher to the students. Students exposed to the D.A.R.E. program were mostly in the elementary school level, and those students would grow up to find the drugs they learned about as kids to see the effects they had for themselves (6). The inability for a police officer to relate to a group of nine to thirteen year olds caused the D.A.R.E. program fail the first basic of “communication theory”. Likeability is the first step to being successful at getting a person to change his or her mind about something, D.A.R.E. assuming a cop is likeable enough as a person, did not realize that likeability meant that the kids enrolled in the program needed to accept a police officer not only as a messenger, but someone the students felt would want to like on a personal level.
Critique 2- You know what will get kids on our side…. Taking away Freedom
In the process of getting youths to avoid using illegal drugs, the D.A.R.E. campaign capitalized on the idea that if the kids were to sign a pledge saying they wouldn’t use drugs, then all the kids the would feel morally obligated to not use drugs. The major problem with the decisions of the D.A.R.E. campaign was that by having the kids sign this pledge, the students were not gaining anything, just losing freedom. D.A.R.E. is a program that is run in the classrooms in the elementary to middle school level. Each student enrolled in the classroom is forced to sign the petition and in return get a free t-shirt that says “D.A.R.E. To Resist The War On Drugs”. Students being told that they are going to be drug free, without making the choice for themselves goes completely against the Psychological Reaction. The people running the D.A.R.E. program failed to give the kids freedom to choose whether they would be drug free, and told the kids these drugs are something you can’t have. Comparatively, The 84 took the exact opposite approach to getting youths to remain cigarette free. The 84 is a group composed of Massachusetts teenagers who comprise the 84% of Massachusetts teenagers who choose not to smoke (7). The key in this group, and how they differ from the D.A.R.E. program was that it empowers the adolescents to choose not to smoke, and become a part of a group much larger than themselves. By providing the group to make decisions for themselves, they remove the psychological reaction of being told they can’t have something. With The 84, no student is told they cannot have a cigarette; each student makes a conscious decision to say that they will not be a smoker, because they know it is bad for them, even though smoking is an available option.
This point ties into the idea that scarcity will only increase the desire of a group to get something. In an article by Wu and San-san in the Journal of American Academy of Business, they found that, “scarcity enhances value… directly through enhancing quality and symbolic benefits thinking” (8). For signers of the D.A.R.E. pact, illegal drugs are not scarce in the idea that they cannot be easily acquired, they are instead scarce in the fact they have been told to not use them, and then signed a pledge at a younger age saying that they will not use them. This is directly related to the idea that people want what they cannot have. The D.A.R.E. pledges based upon their pledge agreement have created a scarce, “forbidden fruit”, limiting their own personal freedom and choices, because a police officer has come in, told them it was bad, and made them sign something. In a study conducted titled, “Forbidden Fruit and the Prediction of Cigarette Smoking”, researchers looked at the association prospective use of cigarettes and the idea of the forbidden fruit (9). The study suggests that, “adolescents who believed that society views smoking as an adult appropriate behavior that is not youth appropriate, but who personally approved of youth smoking were two and half times more likely to smoke cigarettes (9). This same concept can be used to describe how the D.A.R.E. program created a situation where drugs became the forbidden fruit. The important point to take away from this article is that when an adolescent perceives that society is telling them what is appropriate for them, without regard to how they feel about the topic, they are more likely to partake in that action. With the D.A.R.E. program they put this idea right in the face of the children, by having their teachers and a police officer essentially say, “we don’t want you to do this, so you shouldn’t and won’t”.
Critique 3- Who are the Students suppose to be modeling?
A third major problem with the D.A.R.E. campaign is that it ineffectively creates a model for students to follow or even see. Social learning theory states that, the emphasis needs to be on “the importance of observing and modeling the behaviors, attitudes, and emotional reactions of others” (10). In other words, people will do what they see, not what they hear. The D.A.R.E. program relies heavily on the statistical figures that officers can present to kids, not a person or group of people who can come in and show the kids why using illicit drugs isn’t a positive thing do. By relying on data to influence an adolescent’s decision to use or not use drugs, the D.A.R.E. program limited themselves with what information a student would used when actually put into the situation of choosing to use drugs or not. When actually placed into a situation, adolescents model their behavior around those who are important to them.
By not having an effective model for students to follow or copy, the model that adolescents follow is often what their peers are doing (12). In some cases the modeling may even be, what they perceive their friends are doing (13). In a study that looked at the trajectory of peer influences on the projection of drug use, researchers found that marijuana use was most influenced by peers at the middle school level (11). This speaks directly to the ineffectiveness of D.A.R.E.’s ability to create a model for students to follow. According to the paper, the group that is most affected by peer influence, is the group that D.A.R.E. just had their officers talk to, the years prior. D.A.R.E. relies on the policeman delivering the message, to be the model for the children. Police officers are a good profession for kids to aspire to, but they are not a model for kids to think about when put into the situation of deciding if they want to use drugs. Due to this, the D.A.R.E. program is essentially without a model all together. Without an important person in the adolescent’s life to model him or herself after, they rely on the automatic response humans have associated with social learning theory (14). D.A.R.E. failed to recognize that just because the person who began the program was a police officer, did not mean that students everywhere would want to model their decisions around police officers. D.A.R.E.’s focus remained that if students would see a police officer in their classroom relating to them, they would want to do not only what was best legally, but when faced with a decision, they would think back solely to what the police officer had taught them, as the reasoning for why they would say no to drugs instead of just reacting as people do.
Proposed Intervention-The High School in Your School Intervention
In seeing how the use of police officers consequently has essentially not only lead to the demise of the D.A.R.E. program, due to their inability to follow basics of social learning theory, communication theory, and psychological reactance a new intervention that uses these theories with the addition of advertising theory and social expectations theory can be put into place to improve on the idea of preventing adolescents from using illegal drugs. This intervention titled, “The High School in Your School”, is a program that focuses on using high school age students as the main message carriers that give a slightly older demographic the same information on not using drugs, but making it much more meaningful to the students receiving the message.
The premise of the program is to first create a community of high school students in a program in which they become knowledgeable of drug use, as well are able to share stories with one another about their own experiences around drugs. The purpose of this group would be to not only know the dangers of drug use, but at the same time being able to explain that each member has had some kind of story to tell behind it in their lives. The students in the high school, during the school day would then travel to local middle schools, the age in which peer influence on drug use seems to be the highest (11, 12, 13). The group entitled “STUD” which stands for “students together understanding drugs”, would then go into the school dressed in their regular clothes and tell stories to the students on how they have said no to using drugs, and how just a few years ago they were right where the students are sitting now, and successes they’ve had since leaving middle school. They would explain that realistically the drugs are out there, and it’s not about telling the student to never use drugs, but how when they are in a situation where using a drug could arise they are able to resist and say no by their own choice. The students in the middle school class would then all be able to ask questions of the high school students that not only focus around what the drugs themselves do, but anything they wanted to know about the lives the high school students have lived since refusing to use drugs. Each student would then be given the opportunity to join the high school students in becoming “STUDs” without signing anything, but to be able to call themselves equals with the high school students. Each student would be given a shirt saying, “I’m a Stud”, as part of their new membership to the group. Then when they finish, middle/junior high school in one or two years, they will be able to join the “STUDs” and come back and talk to whoever is sitting in their seat then. The high school students would then act as an outreach for any student who they’ve spoken with to come and talk to them about anything.
Defense 1- The Proper Role Model
The use of high school age students is key to the success of this program, because of the level of comfort they will be able to establish while talking to the middle school age students. Unlike the D.A.R.E. model, using a officer of the law many years the age of an elementary school student, the “STUD” program capitalizes that the presenters are only a few years superior in age, students themselves who are going through trials and tribulations as teenagers just as the students who are sitting there. By using a group that the adolescents can view as their peers, harness the major aspect of communication theory and the use of human persuasion, that the presenter delivering the message is likeable. The program is designed to use local high school students as the messenger; in most local communities there would be at least one face that each student would be able to relate to personally, whether it be a neighbor, sibling, or just someone they know. The program would succeed in creating a face for which the students will be able to model themselves after; there would be a real person who they could talk to regarding any situation that arises in the future.
In a study conducted on peer relationships and levels of acceptance, it was found significant that students who found themselves socially accepted by their peers were less likely to face depression and less likely to put themselves in harmful positions including the use of drugs as a method of coping (16). Establishing a system where an older generation student already is there to provide a level of acceptance to the student facilitates the idea of reciprocity. The older high school student would be there to give the younger student the acceptance that all students desire, while the younger student would feel the responsibility to do something for the high school student, and in this case, not use drugs (17). This program, is designed to not only tell students they shouldn’t use drugs, but to show real life examples of people who were able to not use drugs in a very similar situation and prosper. This reflects the ultimate idea of modeling, because they are able to see an end result, without needing to go through the situation for themselves yet.
Defense 2- Fulfilling Their Desires
The second major advantage that this plan offers that the D.A.R.E. project is unable to offer effectively is the use of advertising theory. The basics of advertising theory are that the product being offered fulfills the deepest desires of the person you are trying to target. In this situation, the people you are targeting are really not thinking about their deepest desire, which is social acceptance and the product being sold is being part of this saying no to drugs group. The underlying message is that if you remain drug free, and you remain a “STUD”, then you will be more popular and more successful than if you decide to use drugs.
The first key to advertising theory in this program is the use of stories being told by high school students. Using stories instead of using the facts about the damaging effects of drug use creates images in the mind of the students they are trying to talk with. It enables the student to visual not only the person telling the story in the situation, but placing him or herself in the story as well. In a paper by Chiu, Hsieh, and Kuo, they looked at the proper way to align stories with the product they were trying to sell. They found that the authenticity of a story was more important to consumers than the actual product being sold, and that if people were able to feel as though the story was authentic enough they would use the product (18). The similarly is what the program is intended to accomplish, the middle school students should feel as though they are encapsulated by the story of the older students, and if they ever found themselves in a similar story they would make the same drug free decision.
The second key to advertising theory in this program is normalization of the daily lives of the students. Each student dressed in regular clothes and not the t shirt that the kids receive, is to create an idea in the students mind that each of them to start is on the same level as well to allow students to know this is part of every day life. Studies show that students and models that dress in moderately attractive, to average clothing are more effective to adolescents than those who stylize or attempt to become more attractive (19). By advertising with average looking students, the program is designed to make the kid visualize themselves sitting among the panel when they are in high school and coming back. The key is for them to do this they must remain drug free, which not only promotes the product of remaining drug free, but also gives the kids a goal to aspire to. When using advertising theory, the goal is to make the kids believe that, this will be them in a few years provided they decide to not use drugs. Unlike D.A.R.E., advertising theory plays one of the largest roles in helping to determine the success of the students remaining drug free, because it creates something for the students to attain other than being healthy, which is the only main thing D.A.R.E. can offer.
Defense 3- Psychological Reactants/FREEDOM!
D.A.R.E.’s ultimate fatal flaw, resides in the fact that this program takes away some freedom from a group of people that relish every bit of freedom they can receive. The “STUD” program uses social expectation theory combined with understanding of psychological reactants to make students feel as though the freedom to determine the outcome is completely within their control. Social expectations theory states that perceived social expectations dictate people’s actions. This is especially important when talking about the relationship between adolescents and the adults involved in their lives. A study by Brook et. al, which looked at the relationship between Adolescent Illegal Drug Use and Family and Environment Factors, found that children with any evidence of impulsivity, rebelliousness, or delinquency range 2 times to 5 times the likelihood to use marijuana (20). This is likely to be expected as a way to garner freedom from their parents and the environment they are in. This only compounds social expectation further, because D.A.R.E. is telling the students, drugs are things, you’ve signed that you will not touch, so you cannot have them. This makes the drugs the exact thing they want to attain, because it is the ultimate form of rebellion from their environment, as it was similar to the childhood inaccessible toy experiment (21)
The “STUD” program, takes the opposite approach to this, because part of discussion is telling the kids if they really want drugs, they are going to be available to them. Informing adolescents drugs are not going to be something they can’t have, rather something they are going to choose to not want to have. The first point is that it takes away the lure behind drugs being this special thing that they have to try when they get the chance. An estimation out of surveys conducted by Columbia University suggests that 1 in 5 teens today smoke or use drugs at school (22) The program also establishes that each student is going to have his or her own personal freedom, to make the decision regarding his or her drug use. According to Christopher Daddis, a researcher at the Ohio State University, “teenage needs for autonomy stems from the desire to establish their own personal domain and own personal worth” (23). The program focuses on helping individuals establish for themselves what is best for them, while looking through a world of new social expectations. In the new program under these new social expectations, self-worth is going to be determined that the only way to really have self-worth is if your reaction when presented with drugs would be to say no, and that this will be your only way to continue to have the extra freedom that was given to you by committing to the “STUD” program.
The fundamentals of D.A.R.E. are positive, because students not using drugs is better for all of society, but realistically D.A.R.E. only created an environment where students had more information about drugs, but had no real moral obligation or reasoning to not use them other than a paper they signed in 5th or 6th grade, when they probably didn’t have access to them. By creating a model for kids to aspire to, and model themselves after, and providing not just health incentives, but freedom and material incentives, there is a way to inspire kids to not use drugs, while playing to all their deepest desires.
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