Underage drinking affects not only teens, but their families and the community-at-large. An ongoing project in EDC’s Health and Human Development Programs (HHD) is working to change the social norms that contribute to dangerous teen drinking in Revere, Massachusetts, an urban community of 47,000 just north of Boston. Called the Power of KNOW, the Partners Healthcare-funded project is a community-based social marketing campaign to promote parent empowerment and prevent and reduce drinking among youth.
Town officials had long noticed teenage drinking and its consequences in Revere, even among the youngest of middle school students. Survey data routinely collected in middle schools confirmed that slightly over half of students were indeed drinking. To address this problem, the Revere CARES (Community Awareness, Resources, and Education to Prevent Substance Abuse) Coalition hired HHD communications staff Diane Barry and Kim Netter to create a campaign to give parents of middle school students the confidence and support they need to address and set clear “no-use” messages about drinking with their children.
As a first step, Revere CARES commissioned a community-wide survey of adults in Revere concerning their views of underage drinking and their perception of the problem in the community. The overarching message from the interviews was that adults believe that youth drinking is widespread—but it does not involve their kids, thus showing a real disconnect in parents’ perceptions of teen drinking and the realities of the problem.
HHD conducted focus groups and key informant interviews with community leaders and parents to learn why this disconnect exists and ways it can be bridged. They found that parents often felt powerless to address alcohol use with their teens. However, research shows that among this age group, parents are still the primary influencers of their teens’ decisions about drinking.
In 2003, Revere CARES and HHD launched the Power of KNOW campaign to reduce alcohol use among 11- to 13-year-olds, based on the premise that parents are key influencers, but may be reluctant or ill-equipped to address and restrict alcohol use among their children.
Targeted at parents of middle schoolers, the campaign messages encouraged parents to set boundaries with their kids, check in with them often, and set a positive example. The campaign also conveyed the message that parents have the support of other parents and institutions, thereby seeking to change social norms. Developed in consultation with parents, the campaign materials were tested among focus groups of parents and refined based on their feedback.
“The campaign was designed to encourage and empower parents to use their important status as influencers to set appropriate limits for their children,” says Diane Barry, HHD’s Communications Director. “The long-term objective is to enlist parents’ help to delay the age of first alcohol use by Revere youth.”
The primary message of the campaign was, “Ask your kids the tough questions: who they’re with, what they’re doing, where they’re going and when they will be home. Because you care. Because Revere CARES.” Campaign components included advertisements, town hall meetings, opinion-editorials, media outreach, community outreach, posters, and events for parents to meet and talk with one another.
Another critical component of the Power of KNOW is the Parent Pledge Campaign in which parents promise to ask their kids the “who, what, where, when” questions, and to be good role models with their own behavior. The campaign is now in its fourth year and over 1500 parents have signed the pledge. The campaign’s efforts were complemented with environmental prevention strategies to limit youth access to alcohol, such as fighting an increase in the number of liquor licenses to reduce access to alcohol in the town.
The campaign enjoyed strong recognition and credibility because it was designed with input from the community, especially Revere CARES coalition members and parents. And because key stakeholders—including the mayor, chief of police, the superintendent and high school principal, local journalists, and postal service workers—became active and vocal supporters of the Power of Know campaign, the campaign gained credibility and momentum.
“The Power of KNOW campaign was the catalyst for change in Revere,” says Kitty Bowman, Coordinator of Revere CARES. “It brought the community together to give our youth a consistent message about the dangers and consequences of underage drinking.”
Evaluations show the campaign had an impact. It increased awareness of underage drinking in Revere and communicated the important role parents play in preventing teen drinking. It reminded parents of their influence on their teens and reinforced the presence of other like-minded parents who wanted to prevent underage drinking. The campaign also raised awareness about Revere CARES and, as a result, greater numbers of parents volunteered to work with the coalition on subsequent campaigns and on various committees of the coalition. Finally, Revere has earned national and local recognition through awards, papers, and presentations, including a 2006 Community Initiative Award from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
The next phase of the Power of Know campaign will build on prior success and expand to new audiences, including high school parents, as well as parents of new immigrants and Latino students.
Originally published on April 1, 2007