Appellate Judge Mike Pinsky isn't blowing smoke up your butt.
"My family's name is printed on the side of seven billion packs of cigarettes a year. Why am I telling you this? Because I want my family to be on the right side for a change."—Patrick Reynolds
Patrick Reynolds remembers his father this way: estranged, rarely present, dying. Most of Reynolds' memories of his father involve the elder Reynolds, scion of one of the largest tobacco companies in America, in a hospital bed, wasting away from emphysema. These memories turned Patrick Reynolds into a crusader against the very products that made his family incredibly wealthy and powerful.
A Talk With Your Kids About Smoking features a forty-minute speech by Patrick Reynolds culled from visits to two Fort Worth, Texas, high schools. He presents this speech around the nation—you can even invite him to your school (although it will cost you three grand plus travel expenses). Reynolds talks about the dangers of cigarettes and chewing tobacco—particularly brands from R.J. Reynolds—punctuated with parody ads meant to catch the attention of his teen audience. He is a strong speaker, although I wonder if students stuck in an assembly hall listening to him are really listening, or just thinking that this is just another suit-and-tie adult hectoring them about how to behave.
In fact, I was so curious about whether or not this DVD, made and marketed for families (schools can also purchase a license to screen it, for a heftier fee), might actually be effective that I turned to an expert. My wife is a school guidance counselor with thirteen years of experience in teaching drug/alcohol/smoking awareness programs. So I made her watch this DVD and tell me what she thought about it. Here are some of her comments:
"This is as much about counseling techniques as it is about anti-tobacco. Reynolds uses emotions, discusses the teens' need to rebel and to fit in, and pulls on heartstrings. For example, in the opening, he likens himself to the audience via his parents' divorce and asking students from divorced homes to raise their hands. Reynolds doesn't 'talk down' to his audience, and he attempts to address the motivating factors for teens who begin smoking. Reynolds further discusses the power of the advertising tobacco machine by teaching about Pavlovian response, operant conditioning, and the unconscious mind choosing a nicotine fix. Reynolds wants to empower them as communicators by teaching the 'PNP' sandwich communication technique: sandwiching a 'negative' between two positive comments. [In the program, he calls this the 'I Believe' technique.] He sagely advises the audience not to ask smokers more than three times per year to cease smoking, warning them that they are a 'nag' (one does not always know the families from which some teens come).
"[The second half of the speech begins with a long section about chewing tobacco.] Maybe it's me, but this part is dull—important, but did not hold my attention. The story about the Sean Marsee who died of chew is too heavy-handed. I like that he encourages people feeling hopeless to talk with someone they trust and 'affirm the positive.' To be honest, teens are not typically realistic about what they can do in the future…think about how many teens believe they will have a long, successful career being a professional athlete." While I agree with most of what she says—the second half gets sentimental—I also found Reynolds' utopian vision of a smoke-free society had some strange millennialist undertones (especially in his references to some unspecific "faith"). Still he does seem to be targeting a psychological foundation for smoking behavior, rather than just piling up statistics and hammering the usual "just say no" rhetoric.
The program comes with a parents' guide for follow-up discussions. My wife remarks, "It reviews the highlights nicely (though someone should have proofed their spelling on page 2, mistakenly using complement and compliment interchangeably). The guide does a nice job of reinforcing and expanding upon the PNP sandwich and I-Feel statements. I do love his recommendations for parents. Teens especially need to know that there is a 'safe zone' with their parents where teens can tell their parents ANYTHING."
I want to add at this point that the technical side of the disc is a bit thin. The program is offered in one long chapter, even though parents are encouraged to break at the mid-point for discussion. There are no menus or extra features on the disc. The speech itself is awkwardly intercut with anti-smoking PSAs from Truth (an organization founded using money from the multi-state anti-tobacco legal settlement a few years back), the American Lung Association, and others. Reynolds is shot on a standard video camera, and there are even a couple of static bursts on the soundtrack. Of course, this production is not meant to show off your high-end equipment: this is entirely pedagogical. But anything that might distract a teen and make this look "uncool" should be taken into account.
So, the bottom line is, should you shell out twenty bucks for this, or wait until your school guidance counselor covers this material in a classroom lesson? Here is what my wife thinks: "I would definitely recommend parents purchase this. It is difficult to get good material for parents to use with teenagers at home. Most middle school and high schools do address anti-drug and anti-tobacco; however, it is CRUCIAL that teens hear this message from their family…a counselor that presents to a whole class once per year is not as effective as the teen's family keeping open communication and a running dialogue about peer pressure, big tobacco's advertising, and reasons/ways to refuse tobacco."
But she did offer this caveat, which I offer to let her have the last word: "If I were doing this as a school counselor, I would present part one only, verbally summarizing part two because, working as a school counselor, there is limited time and access to the students; also, school counselors have access to other materials to supplement this lesson (parents typically don't). As a parent, however, I would definitely show my children both parts."
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