Why students are sold on substance abuse norms
I am writing in response to Heather Hildreth’s May 27 letter entitled, “Summit Prevention Alliance (SPA) beliefs in teen behaviors upsetting.”
As community prevention coordinator for SPA, I coordinate the “This Is Us” program. Primarily, I would like to commend Heather for a well thought-out, intelligent and persuasive letter in response to the SDN April 30 article “Changing teens’ perceptions: Survey results indicate progress since an anti-substance campaign began.”
Her comments indicate she is a mature, well-educated young woman who, when confronted with choices involving alcohol, tobacco and other drugs, chooses to say no.
I would like to address two of Heather’s points. She is absolutely right in commenting on the lack of parent involvement in This Is Us. Currently, we have one outstanding parent volunteer, Lori Adams, on our committee.
We are in the process of strategizing on how to best engage more of our community’s parents. As this is quite a challenge for our committee, I have a proposal for Heather. Can you help us? Can you offer a proposal to help educate parents about This Is Us and the positive behaviors of Summit High students? We would warmly welcome your input.
Secondly, I’d like to respond to Heather’s notion that SPA thinks very little of the high school students it claims to be helping. While I can understand her point from a student vantage – don’t try to manipulate me through posters on my school walls – the fundamental theory, social norms, upon which This Is Us is based, demonstrates why we have chosen to use this approach.
The theory of social norms is grounded in years of sociological research that confirms certain behavioral or social norms exist within any group of people.
If people perceive a certain behavior such as drinking to be the norm, they tend to alter their behavior to fit the norm. If the norm is misperceived, people are at risk of altering their behavior to fit a false norm.
According to the Summit High School (SHS) Alcohol and Other Drug Surveys in 2002 and 2003, students at SHS perceive that their peer groups engage in alcohol, tobacco and other drug use up to three times more often than they actually do.
The danger of misperception is that it is based on incorrect information, based on something an individual thinks is happening.
We want to ensure that when faced with a choice involving alcohol, tobacco and other drugs, students do not make decisions based on their misperceptions.
Our goal and our reason for choosing the social norms approach to prevent substance abuse is simple.
This Is Us wants to inform students that the majority of their peer population is engaged in healthy and active behaviors. In fact, most SHS students are involved in sports, most hold a part-time job and most reported a GPA of 2.7 or better last term.
Furthermore, the social norms approach has proven successful in reducing alcohol, tobacco and other drug use in many university and college campuses across our nation.
As such, I have another proposal for Heather. Our next This Is Us committee meeting is Thursday, June 12, from noon-1:30 p.m. at Summit High. Please join us. We welcome the opportunity to have your input.
For information about This Is Us and youth substance abuse prevention in Summit County, call (970) 668-2077.
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