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Grand Futures: Not everyone’s doing it

Lexi Miller/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Do you ever hear from your kids “Everyone is doing it, dad” or “But, Mom, it’s what all the kids are doing?” How many times have you said “Just because everyone is doing, it doesn’t mean you have to” and then wished you had some facts to back that up?

This is what we in the prevention field like to call social norming, a misperception of other people’s attitudes or behaviors towards something. Or, in other words, kids thinking that all of their peers are using marijuana all the time when, in reality, most of our students in Routt County are making positive choices. Unfortunately, when teens think everyone is doing it, they also think it can’t be that bad, or that they will be left out if they don’t try it, too. That is where the slippery slope begins.

Recent studies have found that perception of harm from substance abuse is decreasing among our youth, meaning they no longer think certain substances are dangerous or that the risk of trying them is minimal.

Of course, this varies among different substances, but alcohol, vaping and marijuana are among the top substances that kids think are not very harmful. This misperception is a result of the false belief that everyone is doing it and, therefore, it must be safe.

The more dangerous or risky drugs, alcohol or tobacco are believed to be, the more it delays kids from trying it. One of the best ways to raise this perception of harm, in addition to giving our youth the facts about drugs and alcohol, is to educate them about the reality of what their peers are doing instead of buying into the misperception.

Teens and adults tend to overestimate the percentage of youth who are using substances, which misrepresents the social norm — a group of behaviors that teens and adults believe are normal among others of the same age. An example is thinking everyone is using marijuana because it is legal in Colorado.

Through social marketing campaigns and education, Grand Futures strives to expose the facts so more people are aware of the reality, which decreases the gap between what is perceived and what is actually happening. By being in the know, you can help your children to understand that not everyone is doing it, and have the facts to back up your statement.

In the 2017 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, we found the majority of Routt County high school students are making positive choices, but that their peers believed almost the exact opposite.

• Marijuana: Eighty-four percent of high school students in Routt County are making positive choices and have not smoked marijuana in the past 30 days, yet their peers think only 32 percent of high school students are making good choices. That is a huge gap that leads students to think they are in the minority if they are not indulging, when in actuality most of their peers are just like them.

• Alcohol: Seventy-three percent of high school students have abstained from drinking in the past 30 days, but their peers believe only 17 percent are abstaining, leaving another significant misperception gap that is influencing our teens to potentially make a poor choice when faced with the decision to drink or not.

No wonder they say “Everyone is doing it, Mom,” and if everyone is doing it, it can’t be that bad, right? As adults, we know better, but we need to make sure our kids do, too.

At home, you need to be communicating to your kids how harmful alcohol, drugs and tobacco are and help them understand how poor choices can negatively impact their lives. Helping your son or daughter understand the risks and reality of how many of their peers are making positive choices can better prepare them when they come up against peer and societal pressures.

Talking to your kids when they are young and making sure to have casual and ongoing conversations throughout their lives can have the largest benefits.

For more information about how to talk to your teens about substance abuse prevention, visit our website at grandfutures.org for resources.

Lexi Miller is a Tri-County Administrator for Grand Futures.


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