Thursday, December 26, 2013

New Avatar-Based, Online Role-Play Tool Helps U.S. Parents "Start the Talk" With Youth About Underage Drinking
First-time drinking doubles in the month of December and remains high into January

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (PRNewsFoto/SAMHSA)

WASHINGTON, Dec. 19, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) introduces Start the Talk, its new videogame-like tool that helps parents practice tough conversations about underage drinking in a risk-free virtual environment. Start the Talk comes at a crucial time as the rate of youth using alcohol for the first time doubles in the month of December and remains high into January.1


Start the Talk is the newest component of Talk. They Hear You., SAMHSA's underage drinking prevention campaign that launched last May. The campaign equips parents and caregivers with the information, tools, and confidence they need to start talking to youth early—as early as 9 years old—about the dangers of alcohol.

Start the Talk is an evidence-based behavioral tool that uses life-like avatars to engage in interactive conversations. The simulation is based on research in social cognition, learning theory, and neuroscience. Each virtual role-play conversation is structured as a 10- to 15-minute interactive, videogame-like experience. Users enter a risk-free practice environment, assume a parental role, and engage in a conversation with an intelligent, fully animated, emotionally responsive avatar that models human behavior and adapts its responses and behaviors to the user's conversation decisions.

"The holiday season is a time of year when families come together," said Frances M. Harding, Director of SAMHSA's Center for Substance Abuse Prevention. "Now is the perfect time for parents and caregivers to connect with their children and talk about the dangers of drinking alcohol. Short, frequent discussions can make all the difference. Start the Talk provides a safe place to practice these conversations and build confidence."

"Ongoing, open, and calm conversations between children and their parents and caregivers are important to preventing underage alcohol use," added Harding. "Even when children seem like they aren't listening, they really do hear us."

Studies have shown that parents have a significant influence on young people's decisions about alcohol consumption,2 especially when they create supportive and nurturing environments in which their children can make their own decisions.3 This is why talking to children early and often can have a significant impact on how a child thinks about alcohol. Equipping parents with a tool such as Start the Talk can foster these discussions.

Realizing that many parents and caregivers are "on the go," SAMHSA plans to launch a mobile application version of Start the Talk in spring 2014. In addition, SAMHSA will soon redesign Start the Talk in 3D and allow users to choose from a new selection of diverse avatars.

Parents and caregivers are asked to try Start the Talk and share it with friends and family. SAMHSA also urges the prevention community to share Start the Talk and the Talk. They Hear You. campaign resources on their websites, through social media channels, and in newsletters.

Talk. They Hear You. is SAMHSA's national public service announcement campaign that empowers parents to talk to young children as early as 9 years old about the dangers of underage drinking.

Visit to try Start the Talk and for more tips and information.

For more information about SAMHSA, visit

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is the agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that leads public health efforts to advance the behavioral health of the nation. SAMHSA's mission is to reduce the impact of substance abuse and mental illness on America's communities.

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