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May 22, 2000

Teens Tell State How to Keep Kids Drug Free

SPRINGFIELD -- In the wake of the first Illinois death attributed to a new fad drug, PMA, teenagers gathered at the first Governor's Teen Summit in Springfield this week to tell officials what messages will work to keep their age group from smoking, drinking or using drugs.

The consensus among the nearly 100 seventh through tenth graders attending the two-day summit that ended today was that anti-drug messages aimed at their age group need to show more of the short and long-term consequences "after the good time," give more facts and "shocking statistics," and point out that "most people don't do it."

Illinois First Lady Lura Lynn Ryan opened the meeting with a challenge for the group. "What you choose is your choice," she told the young audience. "You are bombarded with messages that tell you what to do, what to wear, what to drink and where to go," she said, adding, "We are here to ask what kinds of messages don't help you and what can we, as adults, do to help you make the best decisions for you." The teens got right to work Sunday afternoon coming up with their "rules" for the state to use when advertising or otherwise communicating with teenagers about cigarettes, alcohol and other drugs.

On their list was to not only tell teens to say "no," but to show them realistic situations they can relate to and how to handle them. They also said that more needs to be done to target parents to get them to understand the importance of talking to their children about how to handle situations and to be better role models when it comes to smoking, drinking and drugs.

After developing their advertising "rules," the summit participants actually created their own no-use message ads.

One group developed a print ad picturing a parent lying in a hospital bed, child by her side, with the copy reading, "When you smoke, you aren't the only one who suffers."

A television commercial another group wrote was of a beauty pageant contestant who smiles to reveal yellow teeth. The host, wearing a gas mask, asks about her new perfume. In answer to a question about what she does in her spare time the contestant remarks, "I've managed to isolate myself from my family and friends, plus I spend most of my pay check to support my addiction."

In addition to offering their suggestions to the state about what kinds of messages teens need to hear about drugs, they participated in a freewheeling Town Hall Meeting. Moderator Merri Dee, Director of Community Relations at WGN-TV, Chicago, engaged the group in a discussion that ranged from what they think is the right age to begin talking to children about drugs to how they feel when they see the adults around them smoking, drinking or using drugs.

Teenage Research Unlimited, a Northbrook-based research company specializing in the teen market, designed the Summit program to elicit specific information that will be used by the state to design a social marketing campaign aimed at reducing teen drug use through prevention.

The Governor's Teen Summit was organized as part of the state's Futures for Kids program, the statewide resource for programs and policies related to the health, safety and education of infants, children and teens. Students were selected through applications sent to InTouch offices around the state.


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