“The social norms approach is a proactive prevention program that communicates the truth about peer norms in terms of what the majority of students actually think and do, all on the basis of credible data drawn from the student population.”
H. Wesley Perkins
Many of you may remember the Social Norms survey that was offered to our students last spring. The survey provided our faculty and administration with a wide range of information on students’ attitudes and perceptions about such issues as school climate, participation in extracurricular activities, teacher-student interaction, and alcohol and drug use in particular.
Prevention specialists and educators have long known that peer influence is a major factor in a young person’s decision to try or use tobacco, alcohol or other drugs. Although peer influence is often deservedly viewed in a negative light, research over the last several decades has demonstrated that the desire of adolescents to fit in with their peers also can be a powerful tool for bringing about positive behavior change.
The Social Norms approach is based on the idea that people’s behavior is influenced by what they believe others are doing, and that these beliefs are often dramatically incorrect. When misperceptions are corrected, and individuals are made aware of the actual behaviors of others in their peer group, behavior is likely to shift in the direction of the “norm” of the group; that is, the more common behaviors of the group.
A key strategy in the Social Norms approach for reducing high-risk behavior is communicating research-based facts about local peer behavior to students in a positive and credible way. Since the facts are based on anonymous data gathered from students’ peers, the messages carry a weight with young people that avoidance messages do not.
This letter is to inform you about our approach to the prevention of underage drinking and drug use, and that in the upcoming months you will see our Social Norms media campaign with student-created posters, banners, email blasts, TV 35 advertisements and other kinds of communications that promote the positive and healthy behaviors that are already in abundance in Cranford High School.
We know that parents have an enormous effect on the decisions their child makes and serve as positive role models and reliable sources of information. We look forward to working together with parents and the entire community to support our students. A social norms approach will allow us to better understand peer and personal attitudes and behaviors, shifting behavior away from any misperceptions. Our goal is to connect the gap between perception and reality, and harness the power of positive peer influence.