Experts favor positive strategies for helping teens stay safe at prom and graduation time
NORTHAMPTON — While mock car crashes and cautionary tales by survivors of drunken driving accidents are still popular ways to reach teens, experts favor safety programs that take a more positive approach.
Effective programs are those that “include coping strategies for ways young people can avoid risky behavior,” says Marisa Hebble, coordinator of the Northampton Prevention Coalition based at Northampton High School.
Hearing from a crash survivor or seeing a mock crash can certainly have an impact on a young person, Hebble said.
“But research shows the effect tends to be very short lived and can sometimes move people further away from change,” she added. “It’s like seeing a horror movie and turning your head.”
A more effective way to reach teens is through “comprehensive programs at the school, community and family level,” Hebble said.
She cited small group discussions, where students talk to each other on a regular basis, and “social norms marketing campaigns” that remind students about positive behaviors among their peers.
The Northampton and Easthampton Prevention Coalitions have launched such campaigns using posters and post cards mailed to school families showing how many teens do not use alcohol or drugs.
The Northampton Prevention Coalition has also just released an updated edition of its “Safe Homes Directory,” which lists school families from NHS, JFK Middle School and Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School who have agreed not to serve or allow minors to consume alcohol or drugs in their homes. Hebble said 266 families are on the roster, “our biggest directory yet.”
Desi Vega, assistant principal at Belchertown High School, said his school has moved away from mock car crashes in favor of an annual mandatory safety session for parents and students attending prom.
Parents receive information about the state’s social host liability law that holds them responsible for underage drinking on their property and students are reminded that “we could give them a Breathalyzer test at prom,” Vega said.
How can school leaders tell which safety approaches work best with teens?
“We really can’t,” Vega said. “But if we can get through to even one or two people, we will be doing our job.”