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Social Norms

Social norms is an evidence based approach to promoting positive behaviour change in young people. Although it is best known for successfully reducing drug use, it has much wider applicability in promoting positive behaviour change. 

It usually involves a local campaign that educates students about actual norms, highlighting the discrepancy between these and perceived norms.

It is an approach particularly well suited to Wiltshire, where we have many examples of healthy norms.

NCB highlight the social norms or normative approach as an honest, positive and effective way of improving the health of young people in comparison to ineffective approaches such as "health terrorism", in which extreme negative scenarios are presented to young people that are irrelevant to their experience and can undermine the credibility of the educator.

"Recent research demonstrates that normative education is a highly important positive influence on knowledge and behaviour change.
It also provides opportunities within the curriculum to address attitude development and discuss what influences young people’s decision making"(DfES, 2004, Drugs: Guidance for Schools).

A social norms approach provides information which is realistic and relevant to the lives of young people. This fits well with current recommendations for the approach of life skills programmes, which take a positive approach to health education that does not attempt to shock or create feelings of guilt in pupils. 

Useful links:

Social norms overview

Positive Guidance on aspects of Personal, Social and Health Education (NCB, 2006)

Social Sense work in Swindon schools (Children & Young People Now, 2013)

Social norms and drug education

In US Schools and FE Colleges reductions have been shown in alcohol, tobacco and cannabis use amongst young people, following corrections of misperceptions. Closer to home, social norms campaigns have been undertaken in Swindon schools to address alcohol use.

Government guidance to schools says that drug education should "challenge misconceptions that young people hold about the norms of their peers’ behaviour and their friends’ reactions to drug use.
This ‘normative education’ is important because young people often overestimate how many of their own age group drink, smoke or use illegal drugs" (DfES, 2004, Drugs: Guidance for Schools).

More recent guidance for schools from Mentor and Drinkaware also emphasise the need to include an element of social norms in school drug education programmes.

Local support for social norms

Would you like to know more about using social norms in your school or classroom, how young people can be involved and how to ensure that a social norms campaign actually works?

We provide creative, practical suggestions for including social norms related activities in the classroom, as part of our Advanced Skills in PSHE Education courses. If you would like further information or support in promoting social norms please feel free to contact us.