Prevention Scare Tactics for Kids: Learn Why They Don’t Work (And What Does)

Scared straight programs. Whether you’ve seen mocked-up drunken driving crash scenes with bloodied teens playing “dead” or watched drug danger school assemblies, you may be familiar with these programs designed to frighten kids into good behavior. But do scare tactics work for preventing substance abuse and other risky behaviors? The foundation for using scare tactics seems relatively straightforward: well-meaning adults focus on creating fear and anxiety in the hopes those emotions will prevent risky behavior in youth.

So why don’t scare tactics work?

Kids’ brains are still developing, which means their perceptions of messages and how they react to them are different than what we experience as adults. What’s more, since their brains are still developing, they often live “in the moment;” when an unhealthy situation arises, they’ll make decisions based on what they’re feeling then and there, instead of making a reasoned, more adult-like decision. The most effective prevention programs don’t try to scare youth into avoiding alcohol, drugs, and other risky behaviors. In fact, high-risk children and adolescents, such as those who are impulsive or sensation-seekers, can become more attracted to an unhealthy behavior presented in scare tactics. And while effective prevention is more complex than saying “Drugs are horrible and this is what will happen to you if you take them,” it is so important to remember:

Effective prevention is doable!

We need to prepare kids—not scare them. Effective prevention programs for drugs and other risky behaviors prepare children and teens for the intensity of the emotions they’ll feel when they’re in that moment of decision… When a tween’s older sister hands her a joint. When a teen boy finds himself home alone for the first time—and dad’s liquor cabinet is in easy reach. When a young teenager is being pressured by peers to have sex with her boyfriend. Compass Mark has developed proven prevention programs that give kids the life skills they need to make the right call in that moment of choice. To learn more about what we offer in Lancaster County, check out our risk prevention program offerings:

Contact Compass Mark at (717) 299-2831 to start a conversation about which program will help kids you care about make healthy decisions about drugs and other high-risk behaviors. For more information on helping children and adolescents make healthier choices, check out Tips for Substance Abuse Prevention That Works and Peer Factor: Teen Risk-Taking May Be Sparked by Peer Influence [Research].     Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/