Children learn. They learn from observing – adults, role models, film stars, sports stars, television shows, cartoons, internet,and this list may go on. Most learning happens through this indirect mechanism of vicarious learning or learning through observation. This is where the concern lies, when we discuss smoking in school children on this World Quit Tobacco Day.
The fact is that all that the children see around them validates the behavior of smoking. Even though recently regulatory mechanisms have been instated in the form of showing of clips before film screening and enlisting the negative effects of smoking behaviors in print format, it does not seem to have brought about a significant change in the incidence of smoking in school aged children. The need of the hour lies in creating methodologies which are self-sustaining, enable the development of a thought process, and also impact a larger audience in a shorter duration of time, providing greater efficacy and effectiveness. What has been shown to work the world over as well as in our experience is the creation and utilization of children as peer supports in spreading the message across school communities, thereby percolating to the larger society.
What is needed is the creation of awareness through inculcating media literacy, enabling children to understand the what, why and how of media messages so that they can develop a thought process and critically evaluate the impact of their decision. At the same time, providing training in assertiveness and building social skills to be able to say a “No”is an imperative as a lot of experimentation and then habituation happens post peer pressure to try things and not being able to say a “No”. Sensitizing children to understand some of these aspects is a must if the menace of smoking problems in school aged children needs to addressed in a comprehensive manner. Support mechanisms need to be incorporated by making children aware of the availability of help and guidance through counselors and counselling services.