Magazine article Addiction Professional

Cultural Factors in Adolescent Prevention: Multicultural Approach Works Well; Curriculum Should Be Part of Continuum of Care

Magazine article Addiction Professional

Cultural Factors in Adolescent Prevention: Multicultural Approach Works Well; Curriculum Should Be Part of Continuum of Care

Article excerpt

Societal problems with alcohol, tobacco and other drugs (ATOD) ebb and flow, but require constant vigilance else the flow returns to the dangerous levels of the latter part of the 20th century. Even at its lowest levels, the painful effects of ATOD abuse are felt through our society in broken lives, broken homes and lost opportunities. With the scope of the problem spanning individuals, families and communities, and involving a multi-billion-dollar business, collaborations are needed among all levels of government, local communities, schools and private enterprise, as well as addiction prevention and treatment professionals.


Those who are often most painfully affected and need the most help are our children and adolescents. The solution is a continuum of care, stretching from improved family functioning to school programs, media campaigns, out-of-school activities, and treatment. The more comprehensive and evidence-based the efforts, the more likely we are to minimize the damage that can be done by ATOD abuse.

Recently, as part of this continuum, our Drug Resistance Strategies Project developed a school-based prevention program called "keepin' it REAL," designed to reduce ATOD use among middle school students in Phoenix. Keepin' it REAL (kir) is based on these central premises:

* Adolescents who have stronger anti-drug norms, communicate effectively, assess risks, and make good decisions are less likely to get involved with substances.

* Programs are more effective if adolescents can recognize themselves in the messages or feel that the program was designed for young people like them.

While the first point has been discussed a great deal in the prevention literature (see, for example, various articles in Prevention Science) and by prevention specialists such as those in the Society for Prevention Research, our own approach is unique because we believe that interventions will be more effective if they are developed from adolescents' own experiences and involve other adolescents in their development. As a result, kir is a culturally grounded curriculum that adopts a "from kids through kids to kids" philosophy.

All messages are more effective if people can relate to them. Most of us know that if you want to explain something to someone, you do it in terms they can understand because they are part of the receiver's life experience. People need to know how something relates to their own lives.

So what does this mean for prevention? It means that adolescents, the "targets" for our messages, need to be able to relate to prevention messages, seeing themselves, their families and their communities represented in them. We call this "cultural grounding"--basing our prevention messages in the cultures and lives of the adolescents who participate in them. This involves both the content and form of the prevention messages. Adolescents recognize messages that come from adults. That is why we adopted a "from kids through kids to kids" philosophy.

How did we accomplish this? First, we start with adolescents' own stories or narratives describing their experiences with drugs and drug offers. These narratives become the messages we use to encourage adolescents to assess risks, make good decisions, and communicate effectively.

We have found that when adolescents hear one another's stories, they develop norms against ATOD abuse and learn how to resist drug offers, whether the offers come from peers, strangers, or even relatives. We also make sure the narratives and other prevention materials reflect the values and practices of the adolescents' cultures.

Next, we recruited students at South Mountain High School, a performing arts magnet school, to help us create videotapes. The high school students read the narratives we had collected and then collected additional ones from other middle school students. These narratives formed the bases for scripts that became five videos that were the central elements of a 10-lesson, in-school component. …

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