“Above The Influence” Teen Anti-Drug Campaign

As a parent, you understand the importance of helping tweens and teens stay away from alcohol and drug abuse.

However, you may be wondering if adolescents are less prone to alcoholism and drug addiction after seeing an anti-substance abuse campaign like Above the Influence (ATI).

Following is a look at how the national program works.

A new approach to saying “no”

Above the Influence launched in 2005 as a combined outreach by the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), The Partnership at Drugfree.org, and advertising agency Foote Cone & Belding. However, in 2013 the Partnership at Drugfree.org took complete control of the project. The non-profit will now lead the campaign, which includes in-school materials, advertising, and an online presence that features a website and social media accounts.

The goal of ATI is to give youth the information they need to make their own smart and healthy decisions about alcohol and drugs. Above the Influence goes beyond simply preaching to kids that abusing alcohol or drugs is bad or telling them “don’t do it.” Rather, its goal is to get tweens and teens to value their autonomy and independence so they won’t choose to self-destruct through substance abuse. For example, its ad titled “Little Brother” depicts an older brother teaching his sibling how to say “no” to drugs. The ad ends with the announcement: “Big brothers who live above the influence have little brothers who live above the influence.”

How “Above the Influence” connects with teens

Above the Influence connects with tweens and teens in several ways. The group website provides a teen-friendly environment where kids can learn facts about specific drugs, like marijuana or meth. The site offers information regarding how alcohol or drug addiction affects the mind and body as well as how it negatively affects the lives of addicted teenagers.

The ATI website also empowers youth to help friends who may be abusing alcohol or drugs. Adolescents can learn the signs a friend may be abusing substances; however, they can also learn how to start a conversation with that person. Additionally, the site provides guidance for tweens and teens worried about parents who may be alcoholics or drug addicts.

Social media websites are becoming an increasingly critical part of the group’s youth outreach. One reason is that teenagers now frequent social media sites to connect with each other and with brands. However, after federal funding for Above the Influence was discontinued, the group was forced to find more cost-effective ways to get its message out. Social media websites, including Facebook and Twitter, allow ATI to share its message without making as many expensive advertising buys on television and in print.

The group’s Facebook page has garnered more than 1.8 million followers. The page is used to share positive messages and video clips about concepts like self-confidence and self-worth.  It also engages youth by starting conversations about everything from fashion to sports. For adults, it might not seem like those topics play into drug and alcohol abuse prevention. However, having conversations with youth about subjects that interest them shows the kids their opinions have value.

Facebook isn’t the only social media site ATI utilizes. It also hosts its own YouTube channel, where it posts teen-targeted Above the Influence commercials. ATI has a presence on Tumblr, which is a popular micro-blogging social network among teens. The initiative invites youth to share group-related artwork, photos, or writing. The Tumblr account is used to engage youth as well. After a recent Glee episode honoring Cory Monteith, a series actor who died from a mix of heroin and alcohol, ATI invited teens on Tumblr to join a conversation about addiction.

Above the Influence also provides alcohol and drug addiction materials for schools, communities, and parents. The group offers posters, postcards, multi-cultural parent resources, customizable letters to parents, and free email newsletters containing advice and strategies for helping teens make healthy decisions about alcohol and drugs.

Getting the message out to the kids

Research suggests Above the Influence has a positive impact on kids’ decisions regarding substance abuse. One study of 20 communities nationwide found that middle-school students who had seen the anti-drug campaign reported less marijuana use than those who had not seen it. Furthermore, the study confirmed the campaign’s broad-reaching effect; nearly 80% of the students surveyed reported seeing the advertisements. Students who had seen the ads also reported they believed marijuana use would interfere with their aspirations and goals.

A study of a similar program, Be Under Your Own Influence, produced comparable results. Students in schools that participated in the targeted campaign reported half the alcohol and drug use of those in schools that did not use the program.

These results are promising, especially considering that Above the Influence’s predecessor, the My Anti-Drug campaign, was deemed unsuccessful. Independent evaluations found no evidence that the earlier program had a positive impact on teen alcohol use or drug addiction. Some experts believe that earlier attempts at anti-drug ads, in particular those that explicitly stated “don’t do drugs,” actually made teenagers more curious about drug use.

Parents play an important role too

Above the Influence can play a role in keeping teenagers free from alcohol and drug use; but it’s only part of the picture. Parents and caregivers still need to take the lead when it comes to substance abuse prevention. Engage tweens and teens with back-and-forth conversations about substance abuse and healthy decision making; set clear limits regarding behavior; and follow through on consequences when those limits are violated.

You are the single biggest influence in your adolescent’s life, no matter what he or she might say. For more information on making a positive difference in your teen’s ability to make healthy decisions about drug addiction and alcohol abuse, see the Above the Influence website.

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