Program Goals/Target Population
Media Ready is a media literacy education and substance use prevention program for sixth through eighth grades students. The goal of the program is to prevent or delay the onset of underage alcohol and tobacco use by increasing students’ critical thinking skills about media messages, particularly those related to alcohol and tobacco products, and to encourage healthy beliefs and attitudes about abstaining from substance use.
On average, youths between the ages of 8 and 18 spend more than 7½ hours a day involved with media activities, such as watching television, listening to music, and playing video games (Rideout, Foehr, and Roberts 2010). Youths often are exposed to many media messages that advertise risky and unhealthy behaviors, including substance use. Media literacy education programs, such as Media Ready, are designed to improve youths’ abilities to deconstruct media messages so they can understand the underlying persuasive elements and develop skepticism about advertisements that attempt to send positive messages about certain behaviors such as alcohol and tobacco use. The program intends for students to apply those critical thinking and deconstruction skills in everyday life and to encourage students to stop and think before accepting media messages.
The program is based on the Message Interpretation Process (MIP) Model, which provides a framework for understanding the cognitive processes associated with the interpretation of media messages. The MIP Model draws on social cognitive theory, dual-process theories of attitude change, and the theory of reasoned action to illustrate how individuals use media messages in their decision-making process about certain topics such as substance use. According to the MIP Model, individuals apply both emotion and logic to their processing of media messages. Messages that seem more relatable and realistic to an individual’s life and experiences are more likely to influence decisions in ways that are consistent with the message content. For example, if a message about alcohol or tobacco makes these substances seem cool—and individuals perceive the message as realistic or similar to them—then the message will be more likely to influence individuals’ substance use.
The Media Ready program has 10 lessons lasting about 45 minutes each that build cumulatively on one another. Each lesson is scripted within a teacher manual to facilitate program implementation. The lessons include interactive activities, hands-on practice, and small group work. Important questions that are discussed in the program include:
- Is the message positive or negative?
- Who paid for it?
- Who is the target?
- What is the implied message?
- What was left out?
- Do I like this message?
- If I don’t like the message, what can I do about it?
The first part of the program (lessons 1 to 4) concentrates on changing students’ perceptions of the realism and similarity to advertising media messages. Students participate in activities where they learn to apply key questions to analyze and evaluate media messages found in advertisements for a wide range of products, such as toys, shows, perfumes, and cars. Students also analyze literacy devices and visual design techniques that are often used in advertisements to attract and influence viewers to purchase or use a product.
During the next part of the curriculum (lessons 5 and 6), students apply their newly developed deconstruction skills to analyze and evaluate several advertisements for alcohol and tobacco products. During these lessons, students tackle the question of whether any information is left out of the advertisements. For example, to determine if there is important information missing from alcohol and tobacco advertisements, students are provided with drug education research to help them determine what was factually correct or incorrect. Alcohol and tobacco products and advertising are not mentioned until the fifth lesson, after students have acquired the core media literacy skills, so that the program does not blatantly present an antidrug message that may be prematurely dismissed by students.
During the seventh lesson, students review self-regulated advertising and marketing guidelines established by the alcohol industry, and draw their own conclusions about whether the manufacturer violated any of the industries’ own guidelines and why. In the final part of the program (lessons 8 to 10), students—informed by research on counter-marketing campaigns—work on designing a media product. The creation of counter-attitudinal advocacy products in the Media Ready program allows students to express themselves while using their media literacy skills.
12 to 14
Intentions to Use Alcohol
Kupersmidt, Scull, and Benson (in press) found that there were no significant differences between the Media Ready intervention group and control group on measures of intentions to use alcohol. However, there was a significant interaction between sex and study condition. Boys in the control groups had significantly higher intentions to use alcohol than boys in the intervention group (0.60 versus 0.47). Control group boys also had significantly higher intentions to use alcohol, compared with girls in the intervention and control groups (0.60 versus 0.50 and 0.46, respectively).
Intentions to Use Tobacco
Students in the control group reported significantly higher intention to use tobacco in the future, compared with students in the intervention group (0.38 versus 0.14). Previous tobacco users reported significantly higher intentions to use tobacco in the future than nonusers; however, there was a significant interaction between the variable previous use of tobacco and the variable study group. Previous users in the control group had significantly higher intentions to use tobacco again than previous users in the intervention group (0.61 versus 0.20).
Media Deconstruction Skills
Intervention group students showed significant improvement in critical thinking skills regarding media messages about alcohol and tobacco use. At posttest, students in the intervention group had significantly higher mean scores for measures of media deconstruction skills compared with students in the control group (10.78 versus 9.00).
HLM analyses also revealed that intervention group students did not differ on outcome measures of intent to use alcohol and tobacco, meaning the program was equally effective in the sixth, seventh, and eighth grades. In addition, to better understand the mechanisms that are associated with a reduction in intentions to use between pretest and posttest, multilevel mediator analyses were conducted using data from students who indicated at least some intention to use substances in the future. The analyses indicated that deconstruction skills, perceived realism, and perceived similarity (components of the Message Interpretation Process (MIP) model) mediated the effectiveness of the Media Ready program to reduce students’ intentions to use alcohol and tobacco in the future.
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