If you’re a generation Xer like myself, you grew up in the golden era of Public Service Announcements. Everyone from Nancy Reagan to GI-Joe was telling you to say no to drugs. Smokey was telling you not to start fires; we knew that if we gave a hoot we wouldn’t pollute and McGruff was always there in his Colombo trench to warn us away from perverts and pedophiles.
These PSAs were such a part of our lives that a PSA featuring a bunch of talking pills inspired one of Busta Rhymes best songs.
PSAs about drugs, crime and cheating have been pretty good over the years. But Sex? That’s always been another issue. Because of America’s puritanical attitudes towards sex, adults barely have intelligent conversations about sexual behavior and health and kids hardly ever hear any well crafted messages about responsible sexual behavior, partners etc. That’s when Michele Perlman and The Teens P.A.C.T. project based out of New York City got involved and changed the face of PSAs forever.
Teens P.A.C.T. – which stands for Positive Action and Choices for Teens – has received a great deal of national attention in recent weeks for their groundbreaking PSA’s about teen sex, smart choices and the consequences of promiscuity. What makes their PSA’s stand out from everything that’s come before? High school students wrote, directed and starred in all of the videos.
“People are afraid to talk about the realities of teens and sex. The racial and ethnic disparities in disease, and socioeconomic status,” project director Michele Perlman tells me. In order to combat these issues the students were given extensive training in Public health Social and behavioral change theories as well as how to create impactful messages.
The result, a video that mocks young people who want to go ‘rawdogging’ (having unprotected sex) another video that teaches about social boundaries and when it’s okay to say no to sex. In other words, rather than having some sitcom or pop star lecture you about sex and morality, these messages are getting through because they are created by kids for kids.
So far the response has been overwhelmingly positive. Only one politician has spoken out about the explicit nature of some of the videos and most have been cautiously optimistic that this model should be expanded to other areas and school systems. Michele Perlman is “hesitant to say you [anyone] should just do this.” In large part because she believes the success of the program and the messages comes from the fact that the teens involved are receiving training in how to properly craft the videos and messages rather than just giving them a camera and telling them to download onto YouTube.
Anything that can make a dent in the rapid rise of sexually transmitted diseases amongst teens is welcome. Perhaps when public officials see that teen sexuality isn’t something to be afraid of this type of innovative program can be implemented beyond the boroughs of New York City. In the meantime, PSA’s for sexual education will continue to rely on discussions that re-hash old Salt & Peppa videos.
This article originally appeared online at Politic365.com.