Counteracting Teens’ Risky Choices with Fatal Reflections®

According to a Time.com article on teen thought processes and risky behavior, teens think very differently than adults do. While adults tend to concentrate on the end results of a behavior, teens “may get lost in the details about specific risks and (become) overly focused on possible rewards, while ignoring the overall ‘gist’ of the problem—i.e., the ultimate consequences.”*

Although she’s an elementary school teacher by training, Norma Sower works with teens through western Michigan’s Spectrum Health’s community education outreach, United Lifestyles. Since she takes her program, Project Save Our Children (PSOC), into all seven high schools in Montcalm County, she’s seen firsthand that teens do love risk. For the last six years, she’s used Fatal Reflections® to counteract these tendencies with the truth about the consequences of risky driving behaviors.

Sower became aware of a real problem in her area of western Michigan when she started looking at data on student driving. “I wanted to be more proactive,” she says. That meant taking the truth about risky driving behaviors right to high schools. “I decided to design a program around Innocorp products.”

She got to work and landed a $22,000 start-up grant—a nice beginning to purchase products, but there was a problem. How would she get everything to the schools? Sower used her powers of persuasion to talk a local business person into donating a truck.

Today, Sower uses a variety of Innocorp products in her two-day teen education program, which is free to high schools. Project Save Our Children sets up different stations manned by staff workers using products like the intoxiclock®, the Line Detector®, Distract-A-Match®, and Fatal Vision®. goggles. While all the stations make an impact on the students (for instance, they use 26 pairs of the goggles), Sower’s favorite station is Fatal Reflections®.

“We have a variety of stations because each student learns differently,” she explains. But she believes that the Fatal Reflections® station goes deeper and forces students to think through the consequences of risky driving behavior because Fatal Reflections® helps them see themselves in the situation. “They’re getting slapped in the face with reality.”

Small groups of five students travel from station-to-station. When they get to Fatal Reflections®, the staff person at the station takes photos of each and puts them in the crash while the students do the Personal Risk Assessment. The staffer then initiates a discussion about what their personal ratings on the Risk Scale could mean if they drive while intoxicated or with a driver who’s intoxicated.

“That initial discussion is then stretched into what happens in Michigan, what the penalties and outcomes are in both their county and at the state level,” Sower says. “The discussions are mind-blowing. They really pull out the deep issues.”

It’s the impact of those discussions that makes Sower love Fatal Reflections®. “It promotes great discussions, great feedback,” she says. “We encourage kids to take the images home to spark family discussion.” If they don’t feel comfortable doing that, teachers urge participants to post that crash sheet in their locker as a reminder of the truth and consequences of risky driving behaviors.

Since the program travels so much in the fall and spring, Sower appreciates how easy Fatal Reflections® is to set up and take down.

Fatal Reflections® also has a video aspect, which Sower finds comes in very handy when she has the necessary time and resources. “It’s great as extra reinforcement,” she says.

Students take a pretest/survey online before PSOC hits their school. Sower uses Innocorp tests that are tweaked specifically for the high school. After the program, students do a post-test online, too, along with an evaluation of the program.

Sower’s surveys can reveal a school district’s special needs. For example, the pretest uncovered a growing ecstasy problem in a wealthy urban district. One year, few students knew what ecstasy was; the next year, students were using it regularly. “That is very useful information to schools,” Sower says.

In addition to using surveys like this to communicate with districts, Sower also gets an overall picture of the county by keeping tabs on student behaviors. They help her to continuously improve the program. “And this helps get funding,” she states.

Also helpful in attracting funding is the impact PSOC has among students. For instance, Sower reports that it’s most difficult to convince students of the dangers of texting and driving because “they have an extra level of comfort with the phone.” Yet last year, she saw an 11 percent shift in students acknowledging it as a dangerous driving behavior. The surveys have also let her know that the Fatal Reflections® station places second in impact on students, second only to simulated impaired driving.

PSOC has expanded from traveling to each of the seven high schools in the county to traveling to seven additional ones outside the county, when funding allows. In the last two years, the program has engaged 1,700 students. “Now we’re hitting some schools twice per year,” she says, adding, “My vision is to get a mobile classroom to expand the program throughout Michigan.”

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*“Why the Teen Brain is Drawn to Risk” by Maia Szalavitz; Oct. 8, 2012 (updated). http://www.cnn.com/2012/10/08/health/time-teen-brain-risk/index.html. Quote from article paraphrases Dr. Valerie Reyna, Cornell University professor of human development and psychology.