Risky Business: Pilot of the social norms program for secondary schools

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Alcohol education, Behaviour patterns, Drug education, Health education, Social behaviour, Well being


Intent on contributing to drug and alcohol education in secondary schools, Life Education set out in 2017 to explore the viability of using a social norms approach that confronted young people's misconceptions about risk-taking behaviours amongst their peers. A literature review (Ahmed, Mitchell & Trevitt, 2018) provided strong foundations for developing and piloting Australia's first social norms-based drug and alcohol program for secondary school students. Norms are considered to have a behavioural dimension – how the majority of people in a group behave – as well as an attitudinal dimension – how this majority believes they and others should behave. As individuals, we are strongly influenced by what we perceive to be the norms of our peers. With alcohol and other drugs, a young person's use is considered to be strongly influenced by the perceptions they have of the behaviours and attitudes of those around them. Moreover, young people in particular, tend to overestimate. They perceive the risky use of drugs and alcohol to be much more prevalent and more acceptable amongst their peers than it really is. These mis-perceptions can have harmful consequences – they would seem to increase the likelihood of a young person engaging in the risky behaviour. During 2018, Life Education and the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) designed, developed and piloted an intervention for students in Years 7 to 10. The learning session used best-practice social norms approaches through the development of a purpose-built real-time survey-and-reporting tool, supported by a user-guide and interactive planning tool for schools. This report presents the culmination of the work that has resulted in the creation of Life Education’s aptly named, Risky Business program for secondary schools.

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