Schools Need to Leverage Media Literacy to Cut Teen Smoking
> 10/20/2006 1:54:46 PM

The old quip about "things not being like they used to be" actually goes a long way in describing the mind-bogglingly dense media environment these days. We're bombarded on all sides by media content and advertising, while producers are constantly looking for the next place they can catch your eyeballs, and hopefully your attention. That's why research like that of Dr. Brian Primack and his team at University of Pittsburgh should be so encouraging.

Dr. Primack, in his latest study, has illustrated that teaching media literacy can have a profound effect on making sure teens don't start smoking. There are many factors that come into play in a teen's choice to begin smoking, many of which we are powerless to affect, but media literacy can and already is being taught.

Overall, nearly one out of every five students [in the study](19 percent) were current smokers and four out of every 10 (40 percent) were categorized as susceptible to smoking at some point in the future. Those who had parents, siblings, or friends that smoked were more likely to be current smokers than were their peers.

Students with higher smoking media literacy, however, were less likely to be current smokers or to be considered susceptible to future smoking than were their peers.

In particular, those who scored above the median score in smoking media literacy, which indicates higher levels of media literacy, were nearly 50 percent less likely to report current smoking than those who scored below the median score. Students who scored above the median were also found to be half as likely as their peers to be susceptible to starting smoking in the future.

Media literacy, teaching kids to see past advertisers, has been part of alcohol and smoking education for some time, and this evidence shows that it is working. While factors like family and friends smoking habits and risk seeking tendency are often difficult to counter, schools can counter the effects that media has in shaping beliefs and opinions.

Beyond smoking, Primack also notes that this data shows evidence that teaching media literacy can have positive effects on other areas of risk for teens including alcohol consumption, sexual behavior and eating habits. The media provides us with very mixed messages on each of these aspects of our lives. By adulthood many of us have developed strategies and filters that help us better address these issues, while many continue to struggle. Making a more concerted effort during the schooling process to make sure that our children have the tools to make their own decisions is one of the best things we can do. Cutting smoking should only be the beginning.

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