Media Detective Family

Building healthy attitudes towards media, together

Media messages are all around us, and many of them may be sending unhealthy messages. By learning how to analyze those messages early in life, children can better protect themselves from the persuasive influence of tobacco and alcohol marketing.

What is Media Detective Family?

Media Detective Family is a web-based program with fun activities and media analysis lessons to help the whole family discover the hidden messages of advertising. Working together, families will use clues to find the truth behind advertisements and learn how to effectively resist negative media influences. Media Detective Family has been proven to effectively reduce children’s use of alcohol and tobacco over time, and families report that the program is motivational, age-appropriate, and easy-to-use.

Media Detective Family includes:

  • A major case to solve with interactive activities and opportunities for families to talk together

  • 26 Cold Case Files, which are enrichment activities to practice your family’s Media Detective skills

Media Detective Family is an effective way to prevent youth from experimenting with alcohol and tobacco

Media Detective Family was tested in a randomized controlled trial (RCT), the “gold standard” of evaluation studies. Most importantly:

  • Children who completed Media Detective Family were significantly less likely to experiment with alcohol and tobacco than children who did not take the program.

Additionally, parents found the program beneficial in a number of areas. The majority of parents who used the program reported that it helped them to:

  • Be aware of the health risks left out of ads for tobacco and alcohol

  • Assess the realism of advertising

  • Talk with their child about media messages

  • Help their child understand the purpose of advertising.

How does it work?

An online portal gives parents access to several interactive lessons on the five clues one needs to decipher advertisements. Each lesson builds on the previous, concluding with the family building their own counter-ad using the skills they learned. Once participants have graduated from Media Detective school, they can tackle dozens of “Cold Case Files”, each with their own unique activity and potential for discussion.

Media literacy education aims to empower children with the skills they need to draw their own conclusions about advertisements, particularly those with misleadingly positive messages about alcohol and tobacco. Media Detective participants have found the journey from being passive to active media consumer to be intellectually stimulating. To be sure, this is but one element in what must be a multi-faceted approach to the problem of youth substance abuse, but it is one that is designed to engage young people and spur them to action.

Scull, T.M., Kupersmidt, J.B., & Weatherholt, T.N. (2017). The effectiveness of online, family-based media literacy education for substance abuse

prevention in elementary school children: Study of the Media Detective Family Program. Journal of Community Psychology, 45(6), 796-809.