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To Get Your Child and Teenagers to Listen About Health Dangers, Try Using Positive Messages

Teenage Couple Taking Drugs At Home

A new study found that when it comes to getting through to young people, you may be better off focusing on the positive, rather than using scare tactics.

If you’re a parent, you may at times get frustrated by how hard it is to get your children to listen to you when you warn them about the dangers of smoking, drinking alcohol, speeding when driving, or whatever the possible danger is.

The study, done at University College London in England, involved participants between 9 and 26 years old, who were asked to estimate their risk of suffering certain bad events, like being in a car accident or getting lung disease (from smoking). They were then told the actual statistics for those events.

Researchers found that younger study subjects were less likely to modify their views based on the negative information they were given — while positive information influenced the views of participants across the board.

Lead author Dr. Christina Moutsiana theorized that this could explain why scare campaigns targeted at young people, spotlighting the dangers of cigarette-smoking, have had little effect at cutting down on the number of teens who start smoking regularly in Great Britain.

Researchers offered that health and safety campaigns highlighting the positive outcomes of desired behaviors might influence young people more than campaigns currently used. The results of this study were published in a recent issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

All of us who are adults were once young, and we remember how, as teenagers, we used to think of ourselves as invincible. Young people tend to think that something bad won’t happen to them personally. Rather than always harping on the negative consequences of something, then, it may be useful to highlight the good. Some examples:

To discourage smoking:

Point out to your child that people who smoke don’t usually wind up looking like the beautiful models used in the ads. Talk about how smoke ages and dries the skin, causing wrinkles. Years of smoking could well result in emphysema, something not very often talked about. Explain that emphysema is incurable, and once a person has it, every single breath they take is a struggle.

The other side of that is that if a person doesn’t smoke and they live a healthy lifestyle, they can have lovely, youthful skin for many more years than if they smoke. If they refrain from smoking, eat healthy and exercise, the will increase their life expectancy by many years or even decades.

According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every day, about 1,000 young Americans under 18 years of age become daily cigarette smokers; 69 percent of all smokers want to quit completely, and smoking is responsible for 1 in 5 deaths in the United States.

To discourage speeding or drunk-driving:

Explain that most people who get in car accidents don’t die, but they are often left with injuries that can impair their ability to move for the rest of their lives. Car accidents also leave lots of people with bone pain that will never go away completely.

As far as fatal accidents, of which there are far too many, the upside of being a careful driver is that we lessen our chances of dying in an accident. Help your teenager think about, and relish, the future: falling in love, having children, being successful at their chosen livelihood, etc. Remind your child often of how much you love them; if your child knows that he or she is loved, they will be less likely to take chances, to impress or fit in with peers (or rebel from you).

To discourage sexual activity:

Point out to your pre-teen and teen that it is unwise to have a baby too young, as that will greatly limit the person’s options as far as schooling and career later on. Explain that no birth control method is 100 percent reliable. Talk to them even briefly about the many sexually transmitted illnesses that they could catch, some of which are incurable! Any kind of physical contact can be risky, even if they don’t go “all the way.” Emphasize that there is no way at all to know if another person is free of disease just by looking at them, no matter how clean or attractive they may look.

The only totally sure way to avoid catching a serious illness, or having an unwanted pregnancy, is to abstain from sex until they are older and until they know their romantic partner better.

By Jamell Andrews

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