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Prevention Presents: Scare Tactics

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  donna-bacon

Scare Tactics: Make Them
Aware or Give Them a Scare?

Donna Bacon, M.Ed., LSC
Prevention Education Specialist

College students passed out on filthy public restroom floors, twisted remnants of cars with broken bloody windshields, lung cancer victims gaunt and suffering, a revolver loaded with shot glasses….  We’ve all seen images like this, images meant to warn us of the dangers of drink and drugs.  They are meant to evoke our emotions, make us FEEL the dangers, and they usually emphasize the worst-case-scenarios available.  They are called Scare Tactics, they have been around since the 1960’s, are usually aimed at youth, and often only address the most harmful consequences of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs.

Try to remember when you were in school and how much you loved to do everything you were told to do and how you NEVER did anything that someone said was dangerous, against the rules or just plain a bad idea.  Having trouble?  Most of us will.  Most people like to rise to a challenge, and overcoming dire consequences is a popular one.  Scare tactics provide some youth with just that.

Using fear (and even disgust) to prevent harmful behaviors can lead to responses that might backfire and indeed encourage negative actions.  Especially with impressionable youth.  It is important to remember that teens and young adults process information in a different way than adults do.  They have less life experience, more emotional volatility, their brains are still growing and the majority of them have that feeling of indestructibleness that tends to accompany youth.  Showing lung cancer surgery might convince some folks to stay away from cigarettes, but watching something so raw might make other people crave a cigarette or a drink just to deal with the stress of seeing it.  Studies have also shown that youth in high risk groups (sensation-seekers, risk-takers, impulsive) might be MORE attracted to the behaviors they are so strongly warned against.  Scare tactics can also send unintended messages such as making  drug and alcohol abuse seem more prevalent than it is or making kids feel more vulnerable to pressures.

Fortunately, there is also research that shows us how we can avoid the negative consequences of using scare tactics to keep our kids healthy.  In 1997 the National Institute on Drug Abuse stated… “students learn better with a low fear appeal message and with a credible communicator”.  Prevention programs taught by qualified personnel that educate at age-appropriate levels, encourage participation and interaction, and provide lots of practice with social and resistance skills are a much better method of teaching youth the long and short-term dangers of drugs and alcohol.  Another important aspect of a good prevention program is that it not only warns of the dangers, it makes a point of stressing and modeling the benefits of a healthy and drug-free lifestyle by sharing positive messages, not fear.  

At Harbor Prevention we have had lots of success with the evidenced-based Botvin Life Skills, Second Step and Project Alert programs.  Please contact Dee Washington if you are interested in how Harbor can provide prevention programming at your child’s school.

https://www.prevention.org/resources/sapp/documents/ineffectivenessoffearappealsinyouthatodprevention-final.pdf

https://www.drugfreeactionalliance.org

https://captus.samhsa.gov/sites/default/files/capt_resource/scaretactics_substanceabuseprevention.rem_.4_12_15.pdf

 

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 dee-washington

Lock the Cabinet
Dee Washington, M.Ed. OCPS I
Manager, Prevention Education

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