Studies Find Public Policies For Children And Teenagers Not Very Effective

August 15, 1997

D.A.R.E., Sex Education and TV Content Legislation Fall Short of Their Intended Goals

CHICAGO -- Initiating public policies to help educate youths about drugs, curb sexual behavior and regulate children's television programming is popular public policy, but for the most part it has failed to prevent harm. Three studies examining the shortcomings of Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.), school- based sex education programs and the Children's Television Act (CTA) will be presented at the American Psychological Association's (APA) 105th Annual Convention.

Drug Abuse Resistance Education

Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.), the most widely used school-based drug use prevention program, isn't nearly as effective in preventing drug use as policy makers had hoped, says a new study that looks at the program's long-term effects.

"The only clear effect that D.A.R.E. had six years after the program was that male high school seniors who participated in the program used harder drugs like amphetamines/barbiturates, cocaine, LSD significantly less than those males who weren't in the program. The program failed in lessening both male and female students' use of alcohol, cigarettes or marijuana," said sociologist Richard L. Dukes, Ph.D., and psychologists Judith A. Stein, Ph.D., and Jodie Ullman, Ph.D.

In this study, the program was offered to 356 sixth grade students to help build self-esteem, improve decision-making skills, resist peer pressure, increase respect for authority and delay the onset of experimenting with alcohol, tobacco and other drugs. These students were compared on life style and drug use with 264 other students who did not participate in the program. Both groups were re-examined six years later when they were in the twelfth grade.

Besides D.A.R.E.'s lack of effect on drug usage, the researchers also found that the program made no difference in a student's time spent on homework, number of classes skipped, educational aspirations or attitudes toward school or teachers. There were also no difference between those who participated in the program and those that didn't when looking at incidences of fighting, assault, theft, trespassing, curfew violation and gang membership. Former D.A.R.E. participants did report that they committed less vandalism and attached more importance to helping others than the nonparticipants.

Presentation: "Long-Term Effects of D.A.R.E. on High School Seniors," Jodie B. Ullman, Ph.D., and Judith A. Stein, Ph.D., University of California, Los Angeles, and Richard L. Dukes, Ph.D., University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. Session 4210, Monday, August 18, 1997 1:00 - 2:50 pm, Sheraton Chicago Hotel and Towers, River Exhibition Hall (H-6).

School-Based Sex Education

Because sexual activity has increased so much among high school age students in the last 25 years, school-based sex education was introduced to help children manage their sexual behavior. But it hasn't worked very well, say psychologists who have found that the sex education curriculum ignores the importance of family and social skills development and is too focused on abstinence.

In a review of the research that examined the effectiveness of the different school-based sex education programs over the last 20 years, researchers Diana P. Oliver, M.S., William O. Dwyer, Ph.D., and Frank C. Leeming, Ph.D., found that most failed at changing long-term behavior or behavior that had already been established.

"The most recent programs focus on helping teenagers develop social skills to resist peer pressure to have sex and building relationships with parents and other family members to improve communication about topics concerning sexuality. Evaluations of the programs that focus on the development of social skills indicate that they do help students who are not sexually active delay the initiation of sexual activity. These programs did not, however, keep teenagers who were already sexually active from having sex or having unprotected sex. More research is needed in the area of improving parent-child communication through school-based sex education programs," the researchers said.

After reviewing over 35 studies, the authors concluded that "teenagers' attitudes about sex have not been changed much by sex education, that attitudes that have changed are unlikely to last for very long and that focusing on abstinence as an option without social skills training does not work and may completely backfire."

If school-based sex education is to work in decreasing adolescent sexual activity, "school systems must develop programs that address the needs of the students and their families and they must be allowed to evaluate those programs using meaningful measures such as self-report surveys," said the authors.

Presentation: "School-Based Sex Education: Are We Getting Anywhere?" Diana P. Oliver, M.S., University of Memphis. Session 4233, Monday, August 18, 1997, 2:00 -2:50 pm, Hyatt Regency Chicago, Haymarket Room.

Children's Television Act

To ensure that broadcasters provide "a reasonable amount of educational children's shows," Congress implemented the Children's Television Act of 1990. The Act states that broadcasters must provide shows that are specifically designed to meet the educational and informational needs of children.

"The Children's Television Act (CTA) was supposed to force networks to make their television programs more educational and informative, yet it clearly has not achieved that goal," said psychologist Dale Kunkel, Ph.D., and Ursula Goette.

In their presentation that examined children's programming reports that came from 48 stations who submitted license renewal files to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Kunkel and Goette found that "broadcasters reported an average of 3.4 hours per week of educational programming that specifically was designed for children, although much of the content reported was of questionable educational value. Programs like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Yogi Bear were listed as content specifically designed to serve the educational needs of children."

Consequently, the 3.4 hour figure represents an overstatement, though to an unknown degree, of the actual educational programming available to children. Much of the programming that was claimed then as educational reflected little more than the creative re-labeling of many pre-existing shows as educational," said Dr. Kunkel.

"We found that only 0.4 hours per week of so-called "educational programs" actually targeted a limited age range of the child audience, which is the most effective approach to educational television," said Dr. Kunkel. "Overall, the CTA has yet to stimulate the significant improvements in educational programming that the Congress intended to achieve. Our study shows that nothing has really changed in making TV content more educational for children."

In response to the study, the FCC has recently tightened its definition of educational programming and established a three-hour- per-week requirement that will take effect later this year.

Presentation: "What is An Educational Television Program," Dale Kunkel, Ph.D., University of California at Santa Barbara. Session 2023, Saturday, August 16, 1997, 8:00 - 9:50 am, Palmer House Hilton Hotel, Salon VI.

(Full text available from the APA Public Affairs Office.)

The American Psychological Association (APA), in Washington, DC, is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States and is the world's largest association of psychologists. APA's membership includes more than 151,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 50 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 58 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance psychology as a science, as a profession and as a means of promoting human welfare.

American Psychological Association

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