What Most of Us Think (and do) May Surprise
Most youth do not engage in substance abuse, but most may think their peers do. Similarly, parents may think most teens drink alcohol, but they may not think it is an issue they need to address with their own child.
The Youth First Most of Us® social norms marketing approach to prevention corrects misperceptions like these and, in the process, changes attitudes and behaviors for the better.
Youth First works in partnership with the Evansville-Vanderburgh School Corporation (E-VSC) and the Southwest Indiana Schools and Community Collaborative (SISCC) to implement and promote the Most of Us® campaign.
The Youth First Most of Us® projects are supported by funding from the Southern Indiana School Community Coalition's Safe Schools Healthy Students Federal Grant and Toyota Motor Manufacturing of Indiana.
Goals of the Most of Us® efforts are to:
The Youth First Most of Us® campaign is a research-based
strategy which recognizes that many young people want to conform to
peer norms or feel the social pressure to do so. A growing number
of studies document that both high school and college students'
personal drinking behavior is strongly influenced by their
incorrect perception of peer drinking norms (Berkowitz, 2003).
Students typically think that the norms for both the frequency and
the quantity of drinking among their peers are higher than they
actually are. In addition students generally believed that their
peers are more permissive in their personal attitudes about
substance use than is in fact the case (Perkin and Berkowitz,
The Social Norms approach works to correct negative misperceptions by collecting actual data that measures beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors. The data is then incorporated into a marketing campaign using media materials and messages to correct commonly-held beliefs like "everybody does it." By continuing to market the positive messages and true norms, the misperception that "everybody does it" is slowly altered until the group realizes
Research shows repeated exposure to a variety of
positive, data-based messages can change the misperceptions that
help sustain problem behaviors. Over time, the negative behaviors
of a group begin to shift toward the more accurately perceived
safer and healthier norms.
Other popular media-based prevention strategies, like scare tactics, awareness weeks, and providing factual/educational information, have not been shown to reduce risky behaviors associated with substance abuse. However, research shows Social Norms Marketing, if done correctly, will work.
High schools in Evanston and Naperville, Illinois were among the first in the country to utilize a social norms model on the high school level, and they have seen significant improvements after just two years. The data showed an 11% reduction in students who drink alcohol regularly.
Youth First collaborates with schools, colleges, and the community to collect data, develop messages, and implement campaigns. Youth First provides a Program Coordinator who manages meetings, activities, and evaluations. The Most of Us® coordinator works with marketing and media professionals, school personnel, students, parents and community members to ensure the success of the campaigns.
What is the Youth First Most of Us®
A researched based campaign which works to correct misperceptions, reduce underage drinking, reinforce positive parenting habits and to support the majority of students who are making healthy choices.
How does it work?
Most of Us® uses the "Science of the Positive" to encourage people to continue or adopt healthy social norms. Research shows promoting positive social norms and correcting misperceptions can increase healthy behaviors. It is the opposite of the typical but unproven prevention strategies which seem more like "Health Terrorism" - scare tactics, negative images, and fear-based activities. In fact, these approaches can actually increase risky behaviors by inadvertently suggesting that unhealthy choices are the norm.
What are social norms?
Social norms are behaviors, thoughts, or feelings shared by most people in a given group (over 50%). The Youth First Most of Us® campaign measures social norms and misperceptions of norms through surveys. Over 4,500 EVSC high school students responded to the Youth First Most of Us® survey in the spring of 2007. The same survey was administered to all Gibson, Posey and Warrick County high schools during fall 2009. A total of 4,855 students completed the survey.
Why do misperceptions matter?
It is the difference between what we THINK our friends do and what our friends REALLY do. Overestimating or underestimating what our peers do can have negative consequences. For instance, teens who believe that "everybody does it" or "most do it" may feel greater pressure to drink alcohol. Parents who believe "everybody does it but not my child" may be less likely to have crucial conversations with their kids about the dangers of alcohol.
What is the solution?
Hear the conversation (what teens and their parents say), and then steer the conversation to correct any misperceptions and promote the positive norms. In other words, find the untold goodness and continuously spread it through mass media marketing efforts, school-based activities, or even dinner table conversations.
Thanks to Youth First's Most of Us®, teens, parents, teachers, and other adults are empowered to talk the talk and walk the walk in an effort to reduce alcohol abuse.
Contact Denise Schultz, Youth First, Inc. 812-421-8336, ext. 8
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