Teens and Technology Drive Prevention Message Home in Eastchester, NY
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly one out of four high school students has ridden in a car during the past month with a driver who had been drinking. Another chilling statistic is that alcohol is involved in more than one third of all traffic deaths among persons ages 16 to 20.
For Eastchester teens, the risk of an alcohol-related traffic injury is higher. More than one out of four 11th- and 12th-grade students report being a passenger in a car driven by someone who had been drinking. Eastchester Communities That Care (ECTC) and members of M-Powered, ECTC’s youth division, used a 2012 Town Hall Meeting to drive home the message that it’s not just someone else’s teenager who may become a traffic fatality. M-Powered teens took to the stage to dramatize the dangers faced by teens who drink and drive or accept rides from those who have been drinking. The skit titled “What Should I Do?” (PDF 199 KB) was made all the more real through the participation of local emergency medical technicians and emergency room nurses and doctors.
Because Town Hall Meetings are an excellent opportunity to move attendees from information to action, ECTC used the event to discuss Contract for Life, an agreement between parents and youth that includes the promise of a safe ride home from any situation without judgment. Every person in attendance received a copy as he or she arrived. According to ECTC Project Director Jay Genova, “What we were trying to launch through the forum was to really resurrect the Contract for Life, to really give parents a guide to speak with their children and to help them make the choice to be drug and alcohol-free, not to drink and drive, and not to accept a ride from a passenger who has been drinking.” Contract for Life is modeled on a Students Against Destructive Decisions publication.
ECTC took a novel approach to engaging participants in discussions by using an audience response system called Poll Everywhere, which allowed attendees to answer questions about underage drinking via texting from their smartphones. Attendees also could pose their own questions from their seats, without using a microphone. The technology, which recognized audience input in “real time” and allowed them to participate anonymously, was a hit with attendees.
To help bolster attendance, ECTC gave any teen who attended a free chance to win a pair of BEATS headphones and an i-tunes gift card. The raffle was held at the end of the forum and winners had to still be in attendance to win. Additionally, health and physical education teachers from Eastchester Middle and High Schools redeemed “losing tickets” by giving 1 point of extra credit to teens who attended and could present a ticket as proof.
This event will be the last for the organization in the near future, as ECTC prepares to move to an all-volunteer model beginning in July due to lack of funding. Genova hopes that the various community members who make up the organization’s coalition will remain vigilant and not become complacent about recent reductions in substance use that have been made among Eastchester teens. According to a biennial prevention needs assessment survey of Eastchester teens, measures of underage drinking have been declining steadily since 2006:
- Lifetime use of alcohol has declined for 8th- to 12th-grade students, with declines ranging from 10 to 23 percentage points.
- Thirty-day use of alcohol has declined for 9th- to 12th-grade students, with declines ranging from 6 to 12 percentage points.
- Binge drinking also has declined for 9th- to 12th-grade students, with declines ranging from 4 to 12 percentage points.
Genova attributes these reductions to a change in local social norms around underage drinking, prompted in part by ECTC’s Town Hall Meetings. The 2010 event was an “overwhelming success,” with 260 people in attendance. Teen skits from this Town Hall Meeting are now video public service announcements, in which teens urge parents and other adults in their community to help prevent underage drinking and prescription drug abuse.