A guest post from NIDA’s Sara Bellum Blog team.
The teen years: Emotional turmoil. Rampant physical changes. A still-developing brain. It's no wonder that adolescence is a time that holds both promise and risk. Teens are hard at work, through experience and social interactions, constructing and sharing a narrative to establish their unique place in the world—one separate from family.
In the Journal of Social Marketing (February 2013), the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and IQ Solutions published a case study on NIDA’s Sara Bellum Blog (SBB), an online forum where teens can engage with NIDA scientists, teachers, and each other to learn the science behind drug abuse and share comments.
In the case study, the NIDA blog team set out to show how SBB can engage teens around the neuroscience of addiction and, in the process, take advantage of a developmental window for promoting healthy decision-making.
Sharing Stories, Shaping Awareness
Teen brains are messily wired for thrill-seeking, boredom-avoiding, and emotionally charged experiences. Teens today—steeped in a confession-drenched culture through TV, social media, and online worlds they create—grow up expecting to validate their experiences through sharing.
Yet, without the facts, online forums may merely be echo chambers amplifying myths about drugs and addiction.
SBB, as a social medium, provides scientists a chance to inject reason into the conversation. Consider the conversation between commenters that grew out of a question posed by a high school student: “Why does peer pressure influence teens to try drugs?”
SBB presented research showing that when friends are watching, teens behave in ways that adults might deem reckless—like speeding through a yellow light. In the anonymous comments section, some readers exchanged thoughts about the far-reaching effects of peer pressure. @Jason commented (excerpted),
So, after falling prey to peer pressure and getting into weed, I'm beginning my journey towards recovery. I will be going to…get help for my addiction. If you are thinking of doing pot, I can only say don't start. My life has been totally wrecked by the drug, even though it was supposed to be "harmless". I'm a senior and I'm going to …rehab…, but this isn't the way I anticipated finishing high school...
thats great Jason!! i hope you stay clean!! and im almost done with highschool and drugs messed up my life... i have been clean for 6 months!! if there is anyway u wanna talk to me more and get to know each other let me know.. i love helping other people.
Other posts open the window for NIDA experts to debunk misinformation perpetuated by commenters. In a post presenting new research showing that long-term marijuana use can lower IQ, @shake’n’bake said (excerpted),
[Marijuana] comes out of the ground and that means that God created it. If you would just try it you would change your mind.
Responding to help dispel what is a common myth among teens, NIDA replied (excerpted),
…There are many natural things that are harmful or even deadly that come out of the ground.
Beyond responding to comments, NIDA uses the insights it gleans from comments to develop new, relevant content. For example, NIDA responded to the comment above by authoring the blog post “Can It Be Bad If It’s Natural?”
SBB stands as an example that shared online engagement promotes listening and healthy interchanges around sensitive subjects, where offering facts and engaging without judgment can defang real-life drama.
SBB provides a refereed forum for teens to grapple with how everyday decisions shape the narrative of their lives.Sara Bellum Blog team members Robin Stevens Payes, Everly Macario, and Sarah Byrnes contributed to this story.