Whether talking about body piercing, having a 3 a.m. curfew, or other trends, parents often hear “Everyone else does it.” The power of social norms, whether real or imaginary, cannot be overlooked.
A social norm is defined as a pattern of behavior that is accepted as normal. When it comes to alcohol use by young people, many believe that most of their peers drink. However, most do not.
Those interested in preventing underage drinking find that sharing this knowledge with students is very powerful. The aim is to dispel the myth about drinking being the norm and instead to reinforce those who choose not to use.
Communities that have taken the “social norms approach” to reducing underage drinking have found that youth respond to these initiatives with more realistic perceptions of peers, problem behavior decreases, and positive, healthy behavior grows stronger in the population.
A case in point
In 2009, in partnership with the Thurston County-based community mobilization program TOGETHER!, Tumwater High School began a social norms campaign that highlighted the results of a health-related survey completed by students. The survey results were used to contradict common misperceptions, including those around alcohol use, and to reinforce positive behaviors. Check out this YouTube video to see how the campaign is being conducted.
Follow-up surveys are conducted during the spring at Tumwater High School to see how the campaign is influencing behavior.
If you are interested in starting a social norms campaign in your community, you can find more information at: