Research

Media influence youths’ substance use experimentation

Pro-alcohol messages are pervasive in the media. It is estimated that children are exposed to an average of three alcohol ads per day. This level of exposure can affect their attitudes towards illegal drinking; children report more favorable beliefs towards drinking after viewing ads for alcohol. Even a single advertisement has been shown to affect a child’s judgment for two days (Rand, 2018).

A recent longitudinal study (Ellickson, Collins, Hambarsoomians, & McCaffrey, 2005) found that middle school students who reported greater exposure to alcohol advertising were more likely to drink alcohol in high school than those who reported less exposure. Since children spend so much of their time engaged with the media, which is laden with pro-alcohol messages, interventions targeted at equipping youth with the tools to resist the persuasive content of media messages is a necessary step in addressing the problem of underage drinking.

Media messages that promote tobacco and nicotine are pervasive as well. The correlation between youth exposure to pro-tobacco media messages and tobacco use by youth is well-documented (Hébert et al., 2017). In numerous empirical studies, high levels of exposure to smoking in movies are associated with smoking initiation (Dalton et al., 2009) and this media exposure has the largest effects on youth who are traditionally at a low risk for smoking.

Additionally, the e-cigarette industry has recently experienced explosive growth. Approximately 20% of high schoolers have used an e-smoking device within the past 30 days, and many companies make candy-flavored pods that could directly appeal to youth (CDC, 2018). With fewer standardized health warnings and a general lack of public knowledge, young people may be unaware of the many negative health effects that may result from using vaping devices (O’Brien, 2018; Pepper, 2018).

What is media literacy?

Media literacy is the ability to analyze, evaluate, and ask questions about the content we read, watch, and experience. In a world dominated by interactions with media, understanding how it communicates messages and tries to shape our behavior is vital for avoiding harmful influences.

Recent research suggests that teens in the US spend an average of almost 9 hours a day watching videos, listening to music, and otherwise consuming media (Common Sense Media, 2015). This use exposes them to a large number of advertisements, including for products illegal for them to consume. Media literacy education gives children the tools to understand and refute unhealthy media messages while helping them be more conscious consumers in their everyday life.

Media literacy education can help students to:

  • Develop critical thinking skills they can use to intelligently navigate the media and filter the hundreds of media messages they receive every day.
  • Enhance their understanding of media message production processes, the commercial sources and beneficiaries of advertising, the ideology of messages contained in commercial and news media, and the techniques advertisers use to persuade viewers.
  • Recognize the persuasive intent of advertising, assess the realism of media portrayals, and question societal norms regarding behaviors such as substance use.

Media literacy education is a promising approach to school-based substance abuse intervention. Among the various outcomes associated with media literacy education are:

  • Reduced interest in substance use experimentation (Scull et al., 2017; Kupersmidt et al., 2012; Kupersmidt et al., 2010)
  • More accurate beliefs about rates of substance use among peers (Shensa et al., 2016, Primack et al., 2014)
  • Increased media deconstruction skills (Scull et al., 2017; Kupersmidt et al., 2012; Kupersmidt et al., 2010)
  • Stronger disapproval of drinking and smoking behaviors, both in real life and advertising (Draper et al., 2015)

Media Ready’s Efficacy

iRT was contracted by the NC DMHDDSAS to create an evidence-based substance abuse prevention program using a media literacy education approach; the result is Media Ready.

A plethora of evidence shows the strong effects of media on youths’ attitudes toward substances, and iRT has spent over a decade researching how to effectively use media literacy education to prevent substance abuse. Media Ready represents the cutting edge of this research. Using theoretical models and empirical testing, Media Ready delivers a program perfectly suited to middle schoolers’ needs.

Research on the effects of the Media Ready program (Kupersmidt, Scull, & Benson, 2012) found that Media Ready reduced intentions to use alcohol for boys and intentions to use tobacco for youth who had tried tobacco in the past. Students who took the program also demonstrated enhanced critical thinking about media messages.  The Third Edition of Media Ready incorporates modern methods of marketing including social media and expands the tobacco content to include vaping/e-cigarette products, refuting the claim that they are “safe” or “clean” alternatives to smoking.

Dalton, M. A., et al. (2009). “Early exposure to movie smoking predicts established smoking by older teens and young adults.”Pediatrics 123(4): e551-558.

Draper, M., et al. (2015). “Educational intervention/case study: Implementing an elementary-level, classroom-based media literacy education program for academically at-risk middle-school students in the non-classroom setting.”Journal of alcohol and drug education 59(2): 12-24.

Ellickson, P. L., et al. (2005). “Does alcohol advertising promote adolescent drinking? Results from a longitudinal assessment.”Addiction 100(2): 235-246.

Hébert, E. T., et al. (2017). “Exposure and Engagement With Tobacco- and E-Cigarette–Related Social Media.”Journal of Adolescent Health 61(3): 371-377.

Kupersmidt, J. B., et al. (2012). “Improving media message interpretation processing skills to promote healthy decision making about substance use: the effects of the middle school media ready curriculum.”J Health Commun 17(5): 546-563.

Kupersmidt, J. B., et al. (2012). “Improving media message interpretation processing skills to promote healthy decision making about substance use: the effects of the middle school media ready curriculum.”J Health Commun 17(5): 546-563.

O’Brien, E. K., et al. (2018). “Mobile website characteristics of leading tobacco product brands: cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, e-cigarettes, hookah and cigars.” Tobacco control: tobacco control-2018-054549.

Pepper, J. K., et al. (2018). “Adolescents’ understanding and use of nicotine in e-cigarettes.” Addictive Behaviors 82: 109-113.

Pierce, J. P., et al. (2018). “Association Between Receptivity to Tobacco Advertising and Progression to Tobacco Use in Youth and Young Adults in the PATH Study.” JAMA Pediatrics 172(5): 444-451.

Primack, B. A., et al. (2014). “Comparison of media literacy and usual education to prevent tobacco use: a cluster-randomized trial.” J Sch Health 84(2): 106-1

Rideout, V. J., et al. (2010). Generation M2 Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-Year-Olds, Kaiser Family Foundation.

Scull, T. M., et al. (2017). “The effectiveness of online, family-based media literacy education for substance abuse prevention in elementary school children: Study of the Media Detective Family Program.” Journal of Community Psychology 45(6): 796-809

Scull, T. M., et al. (2017). “The effectiveness of online, family-based media literacy education for substance abuse prevention in elementary school children: Study of the Media Detective Family Program.” Journal of Community Psychology 45(6): 796-809.

Shensa, A., et al. (2016). “A randomized crossover study of web-based media literacy to prevent smoking.” Health Educ Res 31(1): 48-59.