The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), has released a new version of The Cool Spot, the institute's website for middle school (11- to 13-year-old) children. The website 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 Ting-Kai Li, M.D. "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. The curriculum was used in 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 AMPS goals in these 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.
The site has a 10-question interactive quiz that 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.
To appeal to the target audience, the website's new graphic design incorporates animated characters based on a popular Japanese comic book style called 'anime." In pre-tests of the new site conducted among nearly 300 adolescents:
93 percent found it easy to use, 96 percent liked its appearance, and 89 percent said they wanted to visit the site again to learn more.
NIAAA conducted additional focus testing on the site's content and usability with small groups and one-on-one interviews of 11- to 13-year olds. The site's peer pressure sections were stand-outs, according to participants. The middle schoolers reported that the site helped them clarify types of pressure they had already felt-such as put-downs or rejection-but had not recognized as forms of peer pressure.