How Many Times Do I Have To Tell You

“If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times.”

Have you ever had this said to you or even said it to someone yourself? This statement is usually said in annoyance and frustration after saying something repeatedly to someone.

But did you know there are times when having to repeat yourself is a necessary and even effective communication strategy with students?

Anyone with kids understands the power of redundant communication. How many children will clean their room the first time a parent tells them to do it? Or even the second time?

If you want a specific message to stick in the brains of kids they need to hear the same consistent message over and over and over from you. Repetition in communication is a tool you should use intentionally with your students.

The idea of communicating a message over and over again isn’t new and its roots are in advertising and marketing. “Effective frequency” is a term used to define the number of times a person needs to hear an advertising message before responding to it. Different experts have different ideas for what that magic number is. The most agreed-upon is probably the “Rule of 7,” which suggests consumers need to hear a message seven times before they will consider taking action.

Applying the “Rule of 7” to the messages you want to have sink in with your students is something to carefully consider, especially if you want them to take certain actions.

The first thing you need to do is determine what the most important messages are you want to have sink in with your students. It’s better to have fewer messages communicated as long as the messages are the most effective at getting the desired behavior you want from your students.

For example, if your goal is to keep your students from engaging in risky behaviors, it is important you are communicating proven, research-based messages. Communicating just any prevention message over and over will likely not reap the results you are hoping for.

The next thing you need to determine is who the most influential messengers of each message will be. The more adults a student hears the same message from validates the message and increases the likelihood the student will believe it and act on it.

Stop and think about how many different adults in one day an adolescent is in contact with who can communicate an important message. A parent, bus driver, carpool driver, custodian, classroom teacher, school administrator, coach, afterschool staff, friend’s parent, adult sibling…the list goes on and on.

Once you determine who the most influential messengers are make sure they are all communicating the same message consistently. An inconsistent message repeated over and over can sometimes do more harm than good.

Now, let’s go back to your goal of keeping your students from engaging in risky behaviors…If your prevention message is delivered by one teacher in your school or organization through a specific prevention curriculum or program and the teacher or the program doesn’t reinforce the same message at least seven times over, then you are not likely getting the best return for your investment. Rather, having more people delivering and reinforcing the same prevention message in multiple ways, in addition to the teacher and the prevention program, increases the likelihood of meeting the “Rule of 7” and getting the behaviors you want from your students.

If you are worrying your students are going to tune you out if they hear the same message repeated too much, don’t worry. They aren’t paying nearly as much attention to your communication as you wish they were. You are likely to get tired of hearing yourself repeat the same message over and over before they do.

So, the next time you find yourself thinking or saying, “If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times,” to your students, don’t be annoyed or frustrated. Just smile and pat yourself on the back. You are doing what you need to be doing.

Teen Nicotine Vaping Leveling Off, But Still Remains High

For the first time in its 45-year history, the Monitoring the Future (MTF) study of adolescent substance use was stopped prematurely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The MTF survey is conducted annually by the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research and funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). It is conducted with students in 8th, 10th and 12th grade across the U.S. who self-report their substance use behaviors over various prevalence periods: daily, past 30 days, past 12 months and lifetime. The survey also documents students’ perceptions of harm, disapproval of use and perceived availability of drugs. The survey results are released the same year the data are collected.

From February 11 through March 14, 2020, the MTF survey investigators collected 11,821 surveys in 112 schools before the surveying stopped with the closure of schools nationwide. While the completed surveys from early 2020 represent about 25% of the sample size of a typical year’s data collection, the results were gathered from a broad geographic and representative sample, so the data were statistically weighted to provide national numbers.

The MTF study is one our most credible national studies offering a yearly snapshot of adolescent substance use. I turn to the MTF study to see what the usage trends are each year. I’ve seen a lot of trends with different substances – trends that primarily show a decrease in use while other trends have raised some serious concerns.

Since the prevention of risky behaviors, specifically vaping among adolescents, was one of the topics many of you indicated as being the most important to you in the survey I conducted in last week’s blog, I thought it would be helpful to offer a summary of the 2020 MTF survey data with you today. I believe it can help set the tone and direction you and I take in our prevention efforts throughout the year.

One of the most important findings of the 2020 MTF survey is that levels of nicotine and marijuana vaping did not increase from 2019 to early 2020, although they remain high.

In the four years since the survey began including questions on nicotine and marijuana vaping, use of these substances among teens have increased to markedly high levels. From 2017 to 2019, the percentage of teens who said they vaped nicotine in the past 12 months roughly doubled for 8th graders from 7.5% to 16.5%, for 10th graders from 15.8% to 30.7% and for 12th graders from 18.8% to 35.3%. In 2020, the rates held steady at a respective 16.6%, 30.7% and 34.5%.

In the report of 2020 MTF results, NIDA Director, Nora D. Volkow, M.D., stated, “The rapid rise of teen nicotine vaping in recent years has been unprecedented and deeply concerning since we know that nicotine is highly addictive and can be delivered at high doses by vaping devices, which may also contain other toxic chemicals that may be harmful when inhaled. It is encouraging to see a leveling off of this trend though the rates still remain very high.”

Past-year vaping of marijuana also remained steady in 2020, with 8.1% of 8th graders, 19.1% of 10th graders and 22.1% of 12th graders reporting past-year use, following a two-fold increase over the past two years.

Survey results also showed that reported use of JUUL vaping devices (also known as e-cigarettes), which contain nicotine and were previously the most popular brand among teens, significantly decreased from 2019 to 2020 among the older two grades. In 10th graders, past 12-month use of JUUL vaping devices decreased from 28.7% in 2019 to 20% in 2020 and in 12th graders, it decreased from 28.4% in 2019 to 22.7% in 2020.

Overall, investigators concluded nicotine vaping for 10th and 12th graders remained steady, despite decreases in use of JUUL, because teens moved to use of other vaping device brands, such as disposable, single use vaping devices.

Yesterday, my local school district – Lincoln Public Schools (LPS) – announced they were joining 250 other school districts around the country in suing JUUL Labs, Inc. for allegedly creating a highly addictive product and targeting young people with fruity and minty flavors and easily concealed pods. Called a mass-action litigation, the LPS lawsuit will be consolidated with lawsuits from 22 states in a California federal court. The lawsuits seek monetary damages to help schools with prevention efforts, such as vaping detectors, supervision, counseling and education efforts. (Read More about the mass-action litigation.)

In the meantime, what do these findings mean for you and me and our work with kids?

  • We need to personally recognize the harmful effects of vaping. It is not a safer option that cigarette smoking.
  • We need to use proven, research-based prevention strategies to address vaping and other substances with adolescents.
  • We need to equip parents with the tools to recognize and address vaping use with their children.
  • We need to advocate for more research on vaping and its adverse effects and more regulation of the marketing and sale of e-cigarettes to kids.

Investigators are working with schools to deploy the MTF survey early this spring to gather 2021 data that will reflect substance use during the COVID-19 pandemic and related periods of social distancing.

In the meantime, let’s all do the prevention work we need to do for the sake of our kids.

P.S. Are you a high school guidance counselor or know of someone who is? In collaboration with a renown national prevention research organization, I am seeking input from guidance counselors for a major prevention research grant proposal we are preparing that will target high school seniors as they transition into post-secondary life as a young adult. Click here to learn how your input can earn you a ticket to be first in line for participation in the study and receive free programming and incentives to enhance your local prevention efforts should it be funded..

Get First In Line for Prevention Research Study

In collaboration with a renown national prevention research company, I am seeking input from high school guidance counselors for a major prevention research grant proposal we are preparing that will target high school seniors as they transition into post-secondary life as a young adult.

We are proposing to develop an online substance use prevention program targeting high school seniors and their parents in the spring semester of their Senior year. The transition from high school to young adult life is a high risk period for increased substance use. Reaching students at this time and before graduation to help prevent or reduce substance use is vitally important.

The content of the online program will focus on substance use, but will also talk about the transition they are about to make and the choices they will encounter at that time.

Although the target is long term prevention of substance use, we expect there will be short-term benefits even before graduation (such as reducing use and/or negative consequences of use during prom or graduation), that high schools will find important.

We are planning to recruit high schools / school districts nationally to participate in this study. The grant would cover all the costs of the program for the students, along with all necessary training of staff.

We expect that once a school decides to participate, we would most likely be working with guidance counselors to implement the program at their school. 

At this time, we are in need of input by high school guidance counselors to help us determine the best strategies and incentives to secure their participation in the study, the participation of high school seniors in the actual prevention program and ideas on how it can integrate and enhance their prevention efforts locally.

This feedback is crucial in not only preparing a fundable proposal, but carrying out a successful project after it is funded.

Are you a high school guidance counselor and would you be willing to participate in a brief online focus group to offer this important feedback?

Participating in the focus group does NOT require you to participate in the study if it is funded. It simply extends you and your school the first opportunity to be one of the limited number schools involved in the project.

I am offering two online focus group opportunties for you to participate in. They will be held Thursday, January 21, at 2:00 pm EST and 3:30 pm EST.

If you are interested in participating in one of the two focus groups, email me as soon as possible at Please tell me which focus group you want to join in (2:00 pm EST or 3:30 pm EST). I also need you to provide me your name and the name and address of your school, along with a phone number and email address you can be reached at. I will send you the log in information for the focus group of your choice by Tuesday, January 19.

This is a very exciting opportunity to make a difference in the world of prevention research, future prevention programming and in the lives of your students! I hope you join me in this endeavor