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What would Mike and Vicki do?

Resource helps youth safely make bad choices

Terri Kalaski (left) and Nikos Theodosakis try out the Mike and Vicki Project, an interactive online resource they created. Credit: Mark Brett

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Mike and Vicki's relationship has its ups and downs. Vicki flirts with other guys and Mike doesn't handle his alcohol well.

When they're invited to a party one night, Vicki chooses to go and Mike reluctantly ends up going to try to keep her safe. But when Vicki chides him for being too boring, he's faced with three choices: take ecstasy, drink alcohol or take care of Vicki.

Youth in British Columbia are being presented these choices through the Mike and Vicki Project — an online, interactive resource created by the RCMP, the Interior Health Authority and Mind Festival Learning.

Through a choose-your-own-adventure story featuring characters Mike and Vicki, youth can make choices for the teenagers about drug and alcohol use and relationships, and then watch the consequences unfold.

Every different choice alters the storyline and can lead them down a different path each time.

Freedom to choose

The project was a response to the recent rash of ecstasy-related deaths in British Columbia. The original idea was to create a 15-minute YouTube video that followed characters at a party and show how the choices they made that night affected themselves and others in the community.

But the group ultimately decided that a more hands-on product would have a greater impact.

"Young people are really not engaged by passive viewing and prefer to engage in the material more richly," says Nikos Theodosakis, from Mind Festival Learning, who helped design the resource. "They'd rather not just watch the video, but be actively involved in choosing."

Together with Terri Kalaski from the Penticton Detachment, and Ginger Challenger from Interior Health, Nikos and his wife Linda built the product. Kalaski and Challenger provided real-life stories that youth had discussed with them in the past, which helped make the resource more realistic.

With backgrounds in education, Nikos and Linda added layers to these stories to build the characters and help the message resonate with youth that bad choices aren't always made in isolation.

"There are so many factors that influence choice and we were trying to get that through in the story," Challenger says. "Vicki has problems at home and relationship issues with Mike, and Mike has responsibilities and a younger brother within a single parent home. Those are realistic situations youth can relate to that reflect their realities."

The team also wanted to make sure that the resource wouldn't penalize the user right away for making a wrong decision, such as if he or she decided to take ecstasy or drink and drive.

"I think that if we can slow things down and look at how situations affect choices and how choices affect outcome, and we don't judge if those choices are good or bad, but just provide an opportunity to see the outcome of them, that would be a good service to youth," says Nikos.

Less preparation

Kalaski says that she often encourages members to go into schools and talk to students about these issues, but their responses were always the same: they didn't have a resource to use. But with the Mike and Vicki Project, members have something they can use right away in a classroom instead of having to prepare an entire presentation.

"If somebody with Ginger's expertise is in front of the class, it will draw more out of the resource, but on the other hand, it's still a very useful resource for someone who doesn't have the necessary background in facilitation or counselling," Kalaski says.

Members in E Division have already begun presenting the resource in schools, and Kalaski says many students have used the word "awesome" to describe it, which she says is quite uncommon feedback to hear about a police teaching tool.

"You have a member standing there in full gear saying, 'OK guys, do we want to do E? Do we want to drink?' " Kalaski says. "It kinds of releases the tension right away."

The resource has also been popular with parents who are using it at home to start conversations with their children about drugs and alcohol.

To access the Mike and Vicki Project or find more information as a facilitator, visit mikeandvicki.ca.

Reprinted with permission from the Pony Express (No. 1, 2014).

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