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Study: Adults' messages can alter teens' attitudes on drinking

With spring break and prom season coming up, it's important to think about young people's attitudes toward underage drinking and, of course, driving. It often feels as if adults have little influence over whether teens will take part in these behaviors, but that is not necessarily true.

According to a 2014 survey by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), parents' attitudes about the acceptability of underage drinking carry through to their kids.

Messages from other adults have an impact too, according to a recent study by American University. Researchers showed videos they had created to 14-17 year-olds and then evaluated their attitudes on the heavy drinking depicted in the videos.

In various versions of the video showed heavy alcohol use leading to either positive or negative outcomes. As you might expect, teens who were shown the version with a positive outcome reported more positive attitudes toward drinking.

However, another version of the video had a positive outcome but also an epilogue. "What you see on TV is not real," the epilogue said. "In reality, alcohol changes your behavior in a bad way; it makes you do things you might regret."

The teens who were shown the positive ending with the epilogue reported more negative attitudes toward excessive drinking than those who saw the video with the positive ending alone.

Yet another version of the video showed a negative outcome with the epilogue. Interestingly, the teens who were shown that version reported no more negative attitudes toward alcohol than those who had seen only the negative outcome.

The professor in charge of the study says these results demonstrate the power of storytelling. Moreover, when negative consequences are the central theme of the story, there is no need to drive the message home with an explicit message.

"When stories convey a message that can be good for the audience to see, such as drinking leading to bad outcomes in the anti-alcohol TV episode, it's best to let it run its course and exert its subtle influence," he said.

This year, consider sharing a few stories with your teens. When it comes to underage alcohol use and drunk driving, there are many negative consequences to draw from. People under age 20 tend to drink an average of 5 drinks per occasion, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, and that can lead to serious alcohol-related harm, including alcohol poisoning. Drunk driving can lead to a host of negative legal consequences -- and it can result in injury or even death to others. Make sure your teens have a plan for how to stay safe.

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