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Vol. LVII, No. 8
April 22, 2005
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Middle Schoolers Targeted by NIAAA Web Site

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism recently released a new version of The Cool Spot, a web site for middle school (11- to 13-year-old) children. The site can be accessed at http://www.thecoolspot.gov.

"The Cool Spot uses engaging games and graphics to deliver important messages about the risks of underage drinking and ways to resist peer pressure," says NIAAA director Dr. Ting-Kai Li. "It's vital to reach this age group, because the younger people are when they start to drink, the higher their chances of developing an alcohol problem at some point in their lives." Research shows that more than 4 in 10 people who start drinking before age 15 eventually become alcohol-dependent.

The Cool Spot's new content is largely based on curriculum for grades 6-8 developed by NIAAA-supported researchers at the University of Michigan. Designers used a popular Japanese comic book style called "anime" that appeals to middle school students.

The original curriculum was the basis for a large scale, multi-year project called the Alcohol Misuse Prevention Study (AMPS). One goal of AMPS was to give young teens a clearer picture about alcohol use among their peers. Teens tend to overestimate how much other teens drink. But when they are provided with accurate information about peer-group drinking habits, teens may feel less pressure to drink. Other goals of AMPS were to help kids learn skills to resist pressure to drink and to give them reasons not to drink. The Cool Spot incorporates these goals and other features:

Reality Check quizzes kids about how much drinking is really going on in the U.S. The answers, which often surprise kids and adults alike, are based on results of the 2002 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

Deep Digging depicts why using alcohol as a solution to problems, or a way of trying to cope, is trouble.

Peer Pressure Bag of Tricks presents animated scenes that invite kids to identify some common peer pressure "tricks." It also lets kids know that spotting these tricks is the first step to resisting them.

Know Your No's, an activity that introduces kids to a variety of ways to say no, helps them learn which one is the most effective.

A 10-question quiz encourages visitors to glean some of the chief learning objectives. Middle school teachers, counselors and after-school providers can have students complete and print the quiz to show they have grasped some basic prevention messages.

The site's interactive peer pressure sections were a standout, according to middle school boys and girls who participated in focus testing. "I didn't know there were different types of peer pressure. I just thought it was one big thing," said one youth. Others said that "it taught you a lot" and it was "important because peer pressure is the main thing in drinking." Parents who visit the site may learn some new things, too, and later will be able to reinforce with their child the lessons in spotting peer pressure and choosing effective ways to say "no."

For details about the site, contact Maureen Gardner at (301) 443-4734 or mg65k@nih.gov.

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