In The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell tells the story of a very promising proto-campaign against teen smoking that took advantage of teenagers’ desire to show their independence of the norms of adult society. The ads highlighted how tobacco executives lie and deceive, so that not smoking is a way to stick it to the Man. Why would you want to smoke when evil liars are trying to get you to?
In Malcolm Gladwell’s story, the campaign never got off the ground because it was deemed too offensive to tobacco executives. But this story showcases the importance of telling teens something they will actually believe when you are trying to get them to do something. Teenagers are wired to be alert to the possibility that their interests might diverge from the interests of the adults who are trying to get them to do or not do something. This makes it difficult to get teens to do something by giving them a slanted account of how the world works. That slanted account won’t ring true and will be discounted.
Tobacco, alcohol, marijuana and illegal drugs, like almost everything, have both pluses and minuses. Most teens won’t believe you if you say drugs only have minuses. And if you exaggerate the harms, then one or two cases of friends taking drugs without apparent harm can falsify your portrayal.
David Scheff, in the essay shown above, gives these measured things to say about legal and illegal drugs (all eight quotations are from his essay shown above, “Teens Need the Truth About Drugs”):
Nine out of 10 people who become addicted tried drugs before the age of 18
About 17% of teenagers who smoke [marijuana] develop substance-use disorders, according to two Cambridge University studies.
… most adolescents who drink won’t become alcoholics, but according to research by the National Academy of Medicine, 15% will.
Teenagers with blood-alcohol content of .08% are 17 times more likely to die in a car crash, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
… brains are changing more in youth and adolescence than they ever will again and that drug use at their age can hurt that development. Drugs really do change the brain, which is a big reason that people take them. But while some changes are temporary, others can be permanent.
Using drugs to cope with difficult experiences in school or relationships can set a dangerous pattern for adulthood.
Those with a family history of addiction are more likely to use drugs and become addicted themselves. … Those with untreated mental illness, learning disorders or behavioral disorders are also at an elevated risk, as are those who’ve experienced traumas such as physical or sexual abuse, bullying, poverty, family discord or loss of a loved one.
… the more you stress mice, flies or monkeys, the more they choose drugs, even over food and sex. A comprehensive 2008 report in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences confirmed that humans use drugs to alleviate stress, too, and that there is a correlation between stress and drug use among teens.
Whether adults like it or not, teens are likely to make their own decisions. And they are not that easy to successfully deceive into believing drugs are worse than drugs actually are. The truth often rings truer than falsehood. So telling teens the truth about drugs without exaggeration is a reasonable strategy.
Don’t miss these other posts about drug use: