Question: In your own words, explain Positive Community Norms and why you are hopeful that positive messages will make an impact on our communities and youth?
Cyndy: Positive Community Norms – or PCN – is an approach to promoting health and safety that builds on positive norms or healthy beliefs and practices that are present in a community. Let’s say, for instance, that a community wants to reduce the prevalence of drunk driving. They could run public safety announcements or newspaper ads that try to scare people out of driving drunk. You know, pictures with a red sports car wrapped around a tree or a 4 year-old girl bawling on the side of the road because a drunk driver has just killed her mother, those types of things. Or they could take the PCN approach and, after doing a little research in the community, build an awareness campaign around the fact that most people actually do not drink and drive. Rather than an approach based on fostering fear or scaring people out of doing the wrong thing, PCN is based on the belief that most people want to do – and in fact do do — the right thing, the healthy thing, most of the time. And that people want to be like others around them. In essence, it’s positive peer pressure.
Question: How might the PCN model be applied to the issue of underage drinking?
Cyndy: Well, recent surveys show that most local youth do not drink regularly. These same surveys tell us that most local youth think that the vast majority of other local youth are drinking regularly. So, there’s a disconnect here: everyone thinks that everyone else is drinking when in fact most really are not. A PCN approach would stress that most youth are making healthy choices regarding not drinking and would strive to increase the number of youth making those healthy choices. It would also work toward reducing the misperception that most youth are drinking, thus hopefully making drinking a little less appealing to youth.