Lately I've been interested in the idea of credit, in the sense of, how much credit are we giving teenagers to be able to process information and make responsible decisions on their own? It makes sense to me that, in this period of self-exploration that comes before adulthood, what should separate childhood from the teenage years is the little bit of leeway allowed for free choice and decision making. This is not to say that I believe that teenagers are capable of processing all life choices on their own, but that at this point in my life I would hope that the direction that teachers, parents, and media would be steering me in is one that would lead me toward independent and responsible decision making in the long term.
When I hear the phrase decision making, I am almost immediately overwhelmed with memories of a bored suburban D.A.R.E. officer trying to steer me away from drugs with the promise of free tee shirts and other ad specialty products with the D.A.R.E. logo. The other day my friends and I were discussing our experience in public education with drug and alcohol awareness programs, and we all seemed to recall similar things. Everyone remembered getting to touch a cancerous lung. Everyone remembered acting out a scenario in which strangers would randomly approach you and try to force you to take drugs. (Aside: has anyone ever been approached by a stranger and handed drugs for FREE?!) Everyone remembered a lot of talk about decision making, but not a lot of conversation around how to actually make a decision. What D.A.R.E. was, at its core, was really just a 45 minute course of how to say no without question.
I checked up on the website for Above the Influence, a prominent anti-drug organization, and today's anti-drug message seems to remain the same. The PSAs are full of hip music, appeals to emotion, and other things that show how "down with the kids," an anti-drug message can be. Strangely enough, these videos don't really seem to offer young adults any actual decision making skills. I'm not pushing a pro-drug agenda here, I'm just asking, what sort of future are we building if we are encouraging young people to blindly follow given advice, instead of equipping them with the skills necessary to process complex data and make sound decisions?
This anti-drinking video from the 1950s is a nice foil to the Above the Influence PSA. In this video, a group of teens have a frank and heated discussion about drinking and DUIs. Obviously, the execution and fashions are out of date, but I think that this style of video sends a much more positive message. I'd be willing to bet that an updated version of this, with better acting and faster pacing, would be more successful in equipping kids with decision making skills.
Video from Prelinger Archives