As the Director of Social Norms here at Faith Lutheran Middle School & High School, I am passionate about helping our students avoid risky behaviors like drugs, alcohol, tobacco, and sex. This January we have launched our Faith Facts campaign with renewed vigor to involve the entire Faith Family. Faith Facts is a major undertaking that is part of a comprehensive ‘Avoid Risky Behaviors’ program. To summarize the comprehensive approach, I will summarize it in three words ‘Danger, Data, and Divinity”.
There are a lot of dangers with doing any risky behavior and our children need to know what these dangers are. The vast majority of educational drug programs out there focus on the dangers of drugs, alcohol, and sex but these programs have had very limited success. Yes, sharing the dangers of heroin has been very effective and only around 2% of teens use heroin but for obvious reasons…IT IS DEADLY!
When it comes to the things that tempt our children the most (tobacco, marijuana, alcohol, and sex) scare tactics have been largely ineffective. Research shows us that many adolescents reject the scare tactics approach because all of these risky behaviors are eventually legal at some point. They see others doing them and the media often minimizes the negatives and promotes the ‘fun’ of doing these risky behaviors. Finally, adolescence often feel invincible. The thought of, “It’s not going to happen to me.” is a very common feeling among the adolescent population. With emphasizing the DANGERS being largely ineffective, there has to be a better approach, and there is!
Keep in mind that as children in middle and high school mature, it is normal for them to want to feel grown up. Unfortunately, many young people associate adulthood with drinking, drugs and sex. They also have a desire to ‘fit in’ to the peers around them. If students simply think that a majority of their peers are (insert risky behavior here), they may feel the pressure to do these activities as well.
This is where social norms and DATA come in. The social norms approach is to survey the student population as to their personal behaviors as well as their perception of other students in their school. When research protocol is followed to gather anonymous surveys from students, this information is very trustworthy. In fact, this type of data is what researchers and the government rely on (www.cdc.gov & www.monitoringthefuture.org).
Here is what we know from tens of thousand of students who have taken anonymous surveys. The clear majority of middle and high school students are NOT using tobacco, marijuana, alcohol, or having sex. Yet, their perceptions about these behaviors are that most students are! Not only are there big misperceptions among students, but the reality is parents can have huge misperceptions. So again, if students simply think that most students are doing risky behaviors, that misperception alone can drive them to DO risky behaviors so that they can feel grown up and fit in with others.
Faith Facts is a social norms response. By evaluating our student survey results and using the positive data as facts, we create an advertising campaign to connect with students. Students need to be regularly reminded that the vast majority of them are not doing risky behaviors. Students need information. They need to ‘Know the real facts so they can make real decisions’.
Thanks to a dozen FL parents who are in the marketing and advertising field and passionate about helping our students avoid risky behaviors, our meme campaign launched in January. Instead of scare tactics, we’re using humorous memes to remind student of the truth: Most FL students are not doing risky behaviors. This meme campaign will continue throughout the rest of the year, and start up again in August. The campaign has to be ongoing . . . because students are regularly bombarded with messages telling them they should be doing risky behaviors.
Beyond the meme campaign we are trying to reach parents. Let’s face it, the vast majority of students that are experimenting or using drugs or alcohol are doing these things in homes or cars. Research tells us that adolescents believe parents are a credible source of information. We need our FL parents to communicate regularly with their children about their high expectations of not doing any risky behaviors. Our Facebook page FLCouragousParenting is a source of discussion, tips and factual information for parents to help their children.
Finally, we launched www.FaithFacts.net. This website has the facts, the surveys, ads, commercials, as well as national and local survey information for students and for parents to look at. We hope this is the place where parents and students will go so both can ‘Get the real facts so they can make real decisions’.
The third part of this comprehensive approach to keeping children off of drugs, alcohol, and sex is actually the most important one of all. Teach your children about the love of Jesus regularly! In Deuteronomy 6 we read, “and these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when your rise.” The Christian adolescent grounded in the word of God will want to live out 1 Cor. 6: 19-20 “You are not your own; you were bought with a price. Therefore, honor God with your bodies.” Christians of all ages understand passages (i.e. John 17) in the New Testament that remind us that we are to be “in the world, but not of the world”.
Christians, like anyone else are sinful, they will struggle with temptations to use, or feel the pressure to use from others. It is great to know that we are saved by grace alone, not works. When students have a strong identity in Christ; when they want to live for Jesus, the weight of DANGERS & DATA become less heavy. They do not want to do risky behaviors to the body God has given them, and they are not worried about ‘fitting in’ to what the world says. They focus on what Jesus wants.
I believe that as parents there is real value in sharing the dangers, sharing the data, AND sharing the divinity…the love of Jesus Christ with our children. If you have any questions or would like to contribute to our Faith Facts program, please contact me at email@example.com. I’d love to hear from you.
Dr. Karl Knorr serves as the 6th grade counselor and leader of Faith Facts and the Social Norms Program at Faith Lutheran Middle School and High School in Las Vegas, NV.