Thursday, May 29, 2008

Parents Universal Resource Experts (Sue Scheff) Norms aren't Normal

By Connect with Kids

“If you grow up listening to that stereotype, that you’re gonna grow up and do drugs, that you’re gonna grow up and have sex, then yeah … you’re gonna believe that.”

– Ryan Hentz, 18

What do teens think other teens are doing on a Friday night?

“If you want to be cool, you have to drink and go out … ,” says Leah Conover, 18.

“Partying, having sex … weed, smoking, stuff like that,” 17-year-old Latricia Smith adds.

Tad Kulanko, 18, agrees: “Drinking or all smoking pot; doing drugs all the time.”

Experts say that idea – that everyone is doing it – can be a powerful, self-fulfilling prophecy.

“Teenagers are often trying to find themselves. They want to fit in [and] they want to be part of the crowd,” says Dr. Sherry Blake, a psychologist.

“If you grow up listening to that stereotype, that you’re gonna grow up and do drugs, that you’re gonna grow up and have sex, then yeah, it’s gonna be implanted in your head and you’re gonna believe that,” says Ryan Hentz, 18.

But the stereotype is a myth, according to a movement called “social norming.” This movement’s message is that what’s “normal” for most teens isn’t getting drunk or high, having sex, getting pregnant or vandalizing property.

“The adolescent will realize that, ‘I have choices, and guess what, everybody is not doing this and I don’t have to be drunk or I don’t have to be high to be cool,’” Dr. Blake says.

“Social norming” has caught on at about 40 college campuses nationwide. But experts say parents can use the same concept with their own children well before college age.

Blake says to let them know that “there are a lot of teenagers doing positive things … the norm is not where we have to go out and party and drink.”

Tips for Parents

‘Social Norming’ Latest Trend to Curb Risk-taking

For years, study after study has focused on the number of teens who take negative health risks like smoking, drinking alcohol and abusing drugs. These widespread statistics lead the public to believe that bad behavior among today’s youth is at an all-time high, yet the opposite seems to be the case. Consider these statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 2005 Youth Risk Behavior Survey:

About 56.7% of high school students said they had not consumed an alcoholic beverage within the past 30 days.

An estimated 90.1% had not driven a car while under the influence of alcohol within the past 30 days.

Only 13.4% of students had smoked one cigarette a day for the last 30 days.

Nearly 61.6% have never tried marijuana.

About 87.6% have never sniffed glue, breathed the contents of aerosol spray cans or inhaled any paints to get high.

An estimated 96% have never taken steroids with or without a doctor’s prescription.

Several colleges are now finding that if the general impression is that most kids don’t drink alcohol, then those who do drink will drink less, and fewer will start drinking in the first place.

This philosophy to curb unhealthy habits, called “social norming,” is also catching on in high schools and middle schools across the country. Officials hope that as they promote the general good health of students, more parents and teens will recognize that taking less health risks is now the “norm.”

While you can’t protect your child or teen from taking a bad health risk, you can become a strong and positive influence in his or her life. The National PTA offers these tips for staying involved in your child’s life so that you can minimize the risks he or she takes:

Keep the lines of communication open. You need to have regular conversations with your teen and supply him or her with honest and accurate information on the many issues he or she faces. Start important discussions with your teen – about smoking, drugs, sex or drinking – even if the topics are difficult or embarrassing. Don’t wait for your teen to come to you.

Set fair and consistent rules. You need to set boundaries that help your teen learn that with his or her new independence comes responsibility. You and your child can work together to set appropriate limits. Be sure that your child understands the purpose behind the rules.

Support your child’s future. Even if you don’t feel you can help with homework, you need to demonstrate that education is important to you and your child’s future. It’s important to you’re your child’s teachers and to create a home environment that supports learning.

Be an example. You need to demonstrate appropriate behaviors. Show concern for and be involved in the community and at school. Maintain regularly scheduled family time to share mutual interests, such as attending movies, concerts, sporting events, plays or museum exhibits. Your teen will often “do as you do,” so don’t take negative health risks, such as drinking or smoking.

If your adolescent does cross the boundaries you have set in order to take a negative health risk, the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry suggests you keep in mind the following points about discipline:

Trust your child to do the right thing within the limits of your child’s age and stage of development.

Make sure what you ask for is reasonable.

Speak to your child as you would want to be spoken to if someone were reprimanding you. Don’t resort to name-calling, yelling or disrespect.

Be clear about what you mean. Be firm and specific.

Model positive behavior. “Do as I say, not as I do” seldom works.

Whenever possible, consequences should be delivered immediately, should relate to the rule broken and be short enough in duration that you can move on again to emphasize the positives.
Consequences should be fair and appropriate to the situation and the child’s age.


American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
National PTA