Call it positive peer pressure. Drug-education advocates are throwing down the gauntlet to teens and asking them to persuade their friends to stay away from drugs.
Their pitch is no-nonsense: You come up with the antidrug message. We'll deliver it.
Students Taking Action Not Drugs - known as STAND - is the first national student competition to create antidrug public service announcements (PSAs) for national media.
The contest is inviting America's 23 million secondary school students to create PSAs for print, radio, TV, or the Internet.
"We know that young people listen to their peers, and that very often an effective way to teach students about the dangers of drugs is to have students themselves deliver the message," Richard Riley, secretary of the Department of Education, said in a prepared statement.
Teens see thousands of beer commercials on TV and colorful cigarette ads in magazines, on billboards, and at sporting events; they hear references to getting high and going for "altered states" in songs, movies, and on TV.
Such media messages can reinforce a belief that drug use is harmless fun and a great way to escape stress, says Renee Hobbs, a media literacy expert who developed a curriculum for antidrug PSAs for students.
"Over and over, the mass media reinforce the false belief that consuming products can take away all pain and stress, making you feel truly alive," Ms. Hobbs explains. "But the media don't often show us that the best way to reduce stress and feel truly alive is not by consuming a product - but by doing something meaningful, like being with people, learning, being creative...."
Hobbs's guide helps teachers work with students to develop antidrug PSAs while spurring knowledge about alcohol and drug use and honing critical thinking skills about media.
Lessons range from "Understand the Concept of Target Audience" and "Evaluate the Effectiveness of the Ad" to "Learn more about Drug Use and Drug Addiction" and "Develop a Persuasive Strategy."
"The contest is a good idea," says Tonoccus McClain, from Widefield High School in Colorado Springs, Colo.
He is thinking up ideas for a television PSA. "Students would tune in more if they know that other students were behind the message and the production," he says.
Janelle Green and Monica Baggett, juniors at Hillcrest High School in Springfield, Mo., are working on a TV PSA. "It ... makes you look at things differently," Janelle explains.
"We always see these commercials with TV stars, but people would be more likely to listen if it came from teenagers," says Monica. She has a 10-year-old brother and keeps him in mind as her target audience. "When he gets to high school, I want it to be better for him."
Sponsored by Channel One Network, Partnership for a Drug-Free America, and the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, the contest aims to educate students about media as they work on their messages.
"Response has been terrific so far," reports David Tanzer, president and CEO of Channel One Network. Everyone from student and teacher groups to government and advocacy groups wants to get on board, he adds.
Winners in each of the four categories will reach a national audience through TV (Channel One News, ABC Television Network); radio (ABC Radio); print (Seventeen, Weekly Reader, USA Weekend, and more); and various pages on the World Wide Web.
How to enter
Entries must be postmarked by April 1, 1997 and winners will be announced in May.
For guidelines and more information about entering, teachers and students should visit the STAND entry on the Web page (www.channelone.com).
The mailing address is: STAND, c/o Channel One Network, 600 Madison Avenue, 6th Floor, New York, NY 10022.
Phone inquiries: 888-80-STAND (78263).
Any student or team of students in middle, junior high, or high school in the United States can enter original work.
Here's what to enter:
TV: 30 seconds taped on a 1/2-inch VHS videocassette tape.
Radio: 30 seconds recorded on a standard audio cassette.
Print: Sketch, type, or "desktop" your idea on a paper that is 8-1/2-by-11-inches. (Please do not mount.)
Web page: Text only HTML file with accompanying graphics in GIF or JPEG format on a 3-1/2-inch computer disk.
Attach the following on the back: Media category, student(s) name(s), ages(s), grade level(s); school name and address; school phone number; e-mail address if possible.
All entries must be postmarked by April 1, 1997.