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Say It Straight

Ages 8-18

Rating: Level 3


Say It Straight (SIS) is a communication skills program developed to prevent destructive behaviors and promote wellness in young people, parents, and other adults. The program targets destructive behaviors such as violence, risky sexual behaviors, and use of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs. Promotion of wellness concentrates on increasing self-awareness, personal and social responsibility, good communication skills, positive self-esteem, and positive relationships.

SIS creates opportunities for people to discover their internal resources, connect to their deepest wishes, and develop the skills needed to express and implement them in appropriate ways. Trainings are action-oriented and use visual, auditory, and kinesthetic modalities to involve people with different learning styles. The use of role-plays such as body sculpting (that is, placing one’s body into certain physical postures) as a facilitative strategy helps participants understand empowering (e.g., supporting, caring) and disempowering (e.g., placating, people-pleasing) communications. Students and adults create films that help them explore significant situations in their lives. Exploring different communications and coping behaviors by acting a role is theorized to help contribute to prohealth behaviors and facilitate the change process.

Because the training is co-created by participants, it gives them a sense of ownership and transcends culture, age, and gender. Addressing individual, family, and community risk and protective factors, SIS aims for the development of self-sustaining prevention communities.

The distinctive features of the Say It Straight program include the following:

  • Flexibility to be applied across settings (e.g., schools, support groups, prisons, treatment agencies, community-based organizations, churches) and across age groups (8 to adult) and roles (e.g., students, parents, teachers, healthcare providers).
  • Training entire classrooms or schools, rather than selected students who have been labeled in negative ways. This gives the message that everyone can improve their communication skills, creating bonds rather than separations among people.
  • Concentrating on solutions, on improving coping skills, and on one’s strengths and resources. At no time during the training is factual information about alcohol or drugs given.
  • Giving ownership and responsibility for the training to participants by letting them choose the content of the films—that is, letting them co-create their training. This not only ensures cultural, ethnic, developmental, and gender relevancy, but it also respects the participants’ freedom.


The effectiveness of Say It Straight in the prevention of violence, delinquency, alcohol and drug abuse, and HIV/AIDS has been studied since 1982.

Study No. 1
One of the more rigorous studies of the effectiveness of SIS on preventing or reducing alcohol and drug abuse among 11- to 13-year-olds used a quasi-experimental design with random assignment to condition. Three middle schools were randomly assigned to treatment or control.

The treatment school was compared with two control schools that implemented their own information-oriented drug-prevention program. A total of 509 students participated in the SIS program. Of these, 202 were sixth graders, 215 were seventh graders, and 92 were eighth graders.

In the control schools, 1,539 students were measured on alcohol- and drug-related suspensions. Along with the suspensions, in the second control school, a subset (of the total 714 students) was measured on variables related to positive communication (specifically, communication using “leveling and assertive attitudes”) before and after their usual drug prevention program. The subset sample consisted of 21 sixth graders, 35 seventh graders, and 28 eighth graders.

Pretest and posttest measurements of the effectiveness of SIS included a questionnaire designed to measure attitudes toward communication that included “assertiveness and leveling,” an open-ended measure asking what was learned after the program, and rates of alcohol and drug school suspensions. A 1-year follow-up looked at the program’s lasting effects on alcohol- and drug-related suspensions in the eighth grade.

Study No. 2
This study was a continuation of Study No. 1 from the previous academic year. Because of the success of SIS in the treatment school, SIS was requested in one of the previous year’s control schools. Further, the original treatment school asked the program developer to do SIS with all the incoming sixth graders and do SIS reinforcement with seventh and eighth graders who had been trained as sixth and seventh graders the year before. Finally, one elementary school asked that their fifth graders also be offered SIS. Alcohol-/drug-related school suspensions were monitored for all fifth to ninth grade students in the city during throughout the academic year. This included the ninth graders trained as eighth graders in Study No. 1. The SIS Social Skills Questionnaire (SISSSQ) was administered before and after training to the fifth graders, to the incoming sixth graders in the previous year’s treatment school, and to sixth to eighth graders in one of the previous year’s control schools. The Subjective Feedback Questionnaire (SFQ) was administered after SIS.

Study No. 3
A 6-month pretraining baseline period was used to monitor juvenile police offenders among all 740 ninth to 12th graders in a city. The most rigorous design was applied to the ninth grade. SIS was offered to all ninth graders, and 186 out of 208 participated. The number of juvenile offenders among this trained group of students was compared with offenders among 211 ninth graders who were not trained during the following school year and thus provided a control group. Comparisons for these two groups were done during equivalent timeframes (Feb. 1 through Aug. 24) of two consecutive years. SIS was also conducted with 108 out of 221 tenth graders, 35 out of 166 eleventh graders, and 28 out of 145 twelfth graders. Participants in the program were administered the SISSSQ before and after SIS and the SFQ after SIS.

Study No. 4
This study involved a large-scale replication done by 96 teachers, counselors, school nurses, school administrators, and community volunteers and two project coordinators who were trained to facilitate SIS with students, parents, and communities in high-risk environments. They trained 2,781 third through 12th graders in classrooms, in student support groups, in a school within a chemical dependency treatment facility, and in a school within a detention facility. They also trained 227 parents and other adults. Two parent groups had Spanish-speaking trainers, and questionnaires were administered in Spanish. The SISSSQ was administered before and after SIS with students. Five additional questions pertaining to sexual behavior were added to the SISSSQ and were used by some of the trainers with 9th through 12th graders. The SIS Communications Questionnaire (measuring empowering and disempowering communications/behaviors), the Quality of Life/Family Questionnaire (QLQ–F), and the Quality of Life/Group Questionnaire (QLQ–G) were administered to the adults before and after SIS. Students and adults both received the SFQ after SIS.

Study No. 5
Effectiveness of SIS was evaluated with 36 mothers in residential chemical dependency treatment with their children. All were indigent, 32 had previous criminal offenses, 14 were on probation or parole at the time of training, and 27 had dual diagnoses. Their ages ranged from 19 to 42. The average number of days in treatment before beginning SIS was 85.6, with a range of 10 to 223 days. Although it was not possible to assign women to treatment and control conditions, it was possible to compare women in treatment a relatively short time (an average of 40 days) with women in treatment a much longer time (an average of 141 days) prior to SIS training to evaluate the impact of SIS. The following questionnaires were administered before and after SIS: the SIS Communication Questionnaire, QLQ–F, QLQ–G, and the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Questionnaire. The SFQ was administered after SIS.

Study No. 6
This study evaluated SIS in a residential treatment facility (chemical dependency, sexual compulsivity, compulsive gambling, eating disorders, as well as psychiatric diagnosis) with 26 men and women. Effectiveness of SIS was measured by comparing leaves from the treatment facility against medical advice before SIS and during SIS, as well as with questionnaires used in Study No. 5. Another questionnaire was used to evaluate anomie (the sense of alienation) before and after SIS.


Study No. 1
Students in the treatment school were significantly less likely to have alcohol- and other drug-related school suspensions and referrals during the academic year than were students in the two control schools. Notably, of the 12 suspensions and referrals that occurred in the treatment school, none occurred after SIS. Students trained in the treatment school were followed during the entire next academic year. Not a single “new user” (defined by alcohol- and other drug-related school suspensions) was identified among them.

In addition, only students in the treatment school showed statistically significant positive shifts on the SISSSQ that indicated a greater willingness to implement constructive decisions in difficult situations and feel more at ease doing so after SIS. These shifts were highly “statistically significant.” Finally, on the SFQ students indicated that they had learned and were motivated to use the skills and knowledge taught by the program when faced with a relevant situation in real life.

Study No. 2
Alcohol- and drug-related school suspensions were significantly lower among the 1,483 sixth through ninth graders who received SIS, compared with 1,295 students who did not have SIS. The fifth graders were excluded from this analysis because no such suspensions were incurred either by trained or untrained fifth graders.

Scores on the SISSSQ showed highly “statistically significant” increases for fifth through eighth graders after SIS. A subjective feedback questionnaire was also administered to these students. As in Study No. 1, in every grade students reported on the SFQ that they had learned and were motivated to use the skills learned.

Study No. 3
This study demonstrates the long-range effectiveness of SIS in reducing the number of juvenile police offenders among 9th to 12th graders. The police department monitored juvenile police offenses for all 9th through 12th graders for a baseline period of 6 months before SIS and 19 months after SIS. During the pretraining period, the number of offenders among the 357 students who would later receive SIS did not differ statistically from the number of offenders among the 383 students who would not receive SIS. During 19 months after SIS, there were statistically significantly fewer juvenile police offenders (behaviors ranging from aggravated assaults, vandalism, and burglaries to traffic violations) among 9th through 12th graders who received SIS compared with students who did not receive SIS. Further, students who did not receive SIS had more severe offenses, as ranked by the police department, compared with program participants.

Scores on the SISSSQ showed highly “statistically significant” increases for 9th, 10th, and 12th graders after SIS and were not significant for 11th graders after SIS. Students in all grades reported on the SFQ that they had learned and were motivated to use the skills learned.

Study No. 4
Although 2,781 students were trained, data analysis was based on 2,695 students for whom paired pretest and posttraining questionnaires were available. Data loss occurred because of absences during pretest or posttest, lack of ID numbers to allow matching pretests and posttests, and two teachers who administered different pretests and posttests (making analysis impossible). All grades showed statistically significant increases on the SISSSQ, with 4th through 12th grades showing highly significant results. Analysis by gender showed the same results.

Scores on the five added sexual behavior questions also showed highly “statistically significant” increases, even when analysis was done by gender. Students in all grades reported on the SFQ that they had learned and were motivated to use the skills learned. Students in detention and treatment showed similar results to students in regular school settings. In addition, a group of eight students in the treatment facility were evaluated by their counselors on the Communications Questionnaire before and after SIS. The counselors evaluated the students as being highly “significantly more likely” to use empowering communications/behaviors after SIS and engaging highly “significantly less” in disempowering communications/behaviors after SIS.

In regard to parents and other community adults, these adults reported highly “statistically significant” increases in empowering communications/behaviors and highly significant decreases in disempowering communications/behaviors, as measured on the SIS Communications Questionnaire, and highly significant increases on QLQ–F and QLQ–G after SIS. Adults reported on the SFQ that they had learned and were motivated to use the skills learned.

Study No. 5
For the whole group of women, disempowering communications/behaviors showed highly significant decreases after SIS. Empowering communications/behaviors showed significant or highly significant increases on QLQ–F and QLQ–G. Self-esteem, assessed with one group of eight mothers, also showed a highly significant increase after SIS. Self-reports on the SFQ regarding training effectiveness also were highly positive. Some examples of what mothers reported: “Now I feel I can get my messages clearer to my children”; “I can speak from the heart how I truly feel”; “I am learning to say it straight to my mom and son; this is increasing my self-esteem.” A limitation to this study is the lack of a control group.

Study No. 6
Self-reports of empowering behaviors, quality of family and group life, and self-esteem showed highly significant increases following SIS. Self-reports of disempowering behaviors showed highly significant decreases following SIS. Anomie showed a significant decrease. Subjective reports regarding training effectiveness were also highly positive. One resident reported “finding his voice” as a result of SIS and how this was important for him in coping with triggers for relapse. Treatment staff reported that SIS resulted in a prevalent attitude of increased concern among residents for one another’s recovery and willingness on the part of residents to go out of their way to assist staff in forestalling residents leaving against medical advice as well as to intervene informally on their own with greater frequency. This attitude was reflected in a decrease of over 50 percent in leaves against medical advice, thereby increasing treatment retention and completion.

Risk Factors


  • Anti-social behavior and alienation/Delinquent beliefs/General delinquency involvement/Drug dealing
  • Early onset of aggression and/or violence
  • Early sexual involvement
  • Favorable attitudes toward drug use/Early onset of AOD use/Alcohol and/or drug use
  • Life stressors
  • Poor refusal skills
  • Teen parenthood
  • Victimization and exposure to violence


  • Family management problems/Poor parental supervision and/or monitoring
  • Family violence
  • Pattern of high family conflict


  • Low academic achievement
  • Negative attitude toward school/Low bonding/Low school attachment/Commitment to school


  • Availability of alcohol and other drugs
  • Neighborhood youth in trouble


  • Association with delinquent and/or aggressive peers
  • Peer alcohol, tobacco, and/or other drug use
  • Peer rejection

Protective Factors


  • Healthy / Conventional beliefs and clear standards
  • High expectations
  • Positive / Resilient temperament
  • Positive expectations / Optimism for the future
  • Self-efficacy
  • Social competencies and problem-solving skills


  • Effective parenting
  • Good relationships with parents / Bonding or attachment to family


  • High quality schools / Clear standards and rules
  • Opportunities for prosocial school involvement
  • Strong school motivation / Positive attitude toward school
  • Student bonding (attachment to teachers, belief, commitment)


  • Clear social norms / Policies with sanctions for violations and rewards for compliance
  • Presence and involvement of caring, supportive adults
  • Prosocial opportunities for participation / Availability of neighborhood resources


  • Good relationships with peers
  • Involvement with positive peer group activities


  • SAMHSA: Model Programs
  • Department of Education


Englander–Golden, Paula, Elizabeth Gitchel, Craig E. Henderson, David E. Golden, and Rebecca Hardy. 2002. “Say It Straight Training With Mothers in Chemical Dependency Treatment.” Journal of Offender Rehabilitation 35(1):1–22.

Englander–Golden, Paula, David E. Golden, William Brookshire, Cathy Page Snow, Marey Sohl Haag, and Albert T.S. Chang. 1996. “Communication Skills Program for Prevention of Risky Behaviors.” Journal of Substance Misuse 1:38–46.

Englander–Golden, Paula, Joan Elconin Jackson, Karen Crane, Albert B. Schwarzkopf, and Patricia S. Lyle. 1989. “Communication Skills and Self-Esteem in Prevention of Destructive Behaviors.” Adolescence 94:482–502.

Englander–Golden, Paula, Joan Elconin Jackson, and Kevin J. Miller. 1985. “Say It Straight: Adolescent Substance Abuse Prevention Training.” Academic Psychology Bulletin 7:65–79.

———. 1986. “Brief: Say It Straight Training and Follow-Up in Adolescent Substance Abuse Prevention.” Journal of Primary Prevention 6(4):219–230.

Englander–Golden, Paula, Joan Elconin Jackson, and Virginia Satir. 1986. “Assertive/Leveling Communication and Empathy in Adolescent Drug Abuse Prevention.” Journal of Primary Prevention 6(4):231–43.

Wood, Tom. 2004. “Reduction of Anomie Through the Use of Say It Straight Training.” Doctoral Dissertation. Denton, Texas: University of North Texas.


Paula Englander–Golden, Ph.D.
Say It Straight Foundation
6254 Paseo Elegancia
Carlsbad, CA 92009
Phone: (760) 431-1147
Fax: (509) 278-7009
Web site:

Technical Assistance Provider

David E. Golden, Ph.D.
Say It Straight Foundation
6254 Paseo Elegancia
Carlsbad, CA 92009
Phone: (760) 431-1147
Fax: (509) 278-7009
Web site: