Promoting the Positive

Social norms are the expectations and beliefs we hold around what is acceptable–for youth, families, individuals, and the community as a whole. Our perceptions about youth, their beliefs about each other, and what data and science tell us about youth behaviors are important factors when working to reduce youth substance use and promote overall health and well-being.

Beginning March 2013, the Coalition released a series of new posters with positive messaging that are posted at local high school campuses. Youth were very involved in the development of the messaging through focus groups and feedback participation over several months.

Traditional prevention efforts have often focused on negative behaviors and a just say no approach with a minimum of positive outcomes. The messaging in this series of posters reflects our intentional switch of focusing on the positive behaviors that our youth are engaged in. Science tells us that this switch of highlighting the positive leads to a growth in positive behaviors.

The Truth is… Nevada County teens are a great group of young people who are making mostly good choices in their lives. Recent data tells us that in many areas it appears that youth are reducing their substance use – except for marijuana – and they are experiencing greater connectedness at school and in the community.  So what do we do to help them continue making good choices? We arm them with the truth: Most teens don’t use alcohol or other drugs.

What is the Positive Community Norms (PCN) Campaign?

An evidence based strategy, our campaign works to correct misperceptions, reduce underage drinking and other drug use, reinforce positive parenting habits and raise awareness of the fact that the majority of students in Nevada County are making healthy choices.

What most think (and do) may surprise you…

Most youth do NOT engage in substance use, 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.

Our strategy to promote Positive Community Norms corrects misperceptions like these and, in the process, helps us all shift perspective, attitudes and even our behaviors for the better.

Goals of the PCN Campaign

Correct student misperceptions regarding their peers’ alcohol and other drug use.

Increase the number of youth who believe that alcohol and other drugs are harmful to their health.

Reduce youth substance use.

Correct community and adult misperceptions about teen alcohol and other drug use.

How it works

The Positive Community Norms campaign is a research-based strategy which recognizes that many young people are likely to conform to peer norms or feel the social pressure to do so. A growing number of studies show that both high school and college students’ personal drinking behavior is strongly influenced by their incorrect perception of peer drinking norms. Students typically think that the norms for both the frequency and the quantity of drinking among their peers are higher than they actually are.

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 strategy 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 there is a realization that “not everyone does it.”

The Results

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.

The positive is real, exists in our community and is worth growing. Scientific data and research called the “Science of the Positive” shows us that by focusing on growing a culture of positive, healthy attitudes and behaviors, we improve health and reduce substance abuse. We didn’t have to look too far to find examples of positive attitudes, behaviors and health here in Nevada County.