Expert says 'fear
factor' not good drug deterrent
Students don't respond well to scare tactics
By Elissa Grossell
American News Writer
Good intentions; bad science.
That's how Jeff Linkenbach
assessed those who use the "fear factor" to try to stop risky
behavior in youth.
Linkenbach, director of the
Montana Social Norms Project, was in Aberdeen Monday at Northern State
University and Tuesday at the Avera St. Luke's Wellness Center promoting
a different, positive way to get through to kids - the social norms
Some Aberdeen officials are
looking into using the method.
Linkenbach's visits were
sponsored by the Aberdeen Coalition Against Underage Drinking. The mission
of this newly-formed community group is to create a community understanding
that underage alcohol use is unhealthy and unacceptable, according to
a press release.
Monday and Tuesday's focus
was on bringing in key leaders in the community to see if there is interest
in Linkenbach's approach, said Kristi Spitzer, community prevention
specialist with Northern Alcohol & Drug Referral & Information
Center. About 6 people attended Monday's presentation; about 15 were
Linkenbach, also a research
faculty member in the Department of Health and Human Services at Montana
State University, said students do not respond well to "health
terrorism," or scare tactics that are found in some anti- smoking,
drinking or drug ads. In fact, some believe this could actually have
a reverse effect and may be contributing to the numbers of people experiencing
problems with substance abuse, he said.
Instead, Linkenbach said
people should promote health to increase health. He proposes doing that
through the social norms approach, or the "science of the positive."
Misperceptions, he said,
are the hidden risk factor. Even if kids aren't drinking or smoking,
they think their peers are. A study of Montana males 18-24 found that
most thought others were consuming double the amount of drinks than
the actual average, he said. "We drink up to what we think is going
on," he said.
Linkenbach showed an anti-smoking
ad with several blue fish smoking and one larger yellow fish not smoking.
It said "Dare to be different" at the top. He pointed out
that while the intentions were good, the ad is actually relaying to
youth that it's normal to smoke. If you don't smoke, you are "different"
- something no young person wants to be.
The key is changing what
people perceive to be normal - not just changing how much of a bad behavior
is going on, but how much people think is going on.
Data actually shows that
a majority of young people - South Dakota included - do not engage in
such behaviors, he said. It doesn't mean that there's not a problem,
he said, but the hope is that demonstrating this to youth and changing
could make them want to join
the majority. In Montana's Most of Us campaign, for instance, Linkenbach
and others capitalized on the fact that 70 percent of young people in
the state are tobacco free.
A lot of agencies at the
national level are starting to follow the social norms method, he said.
And there have been dramatic results - college campuses nationwide,
including the University of Arizona and Northern Illinois University,
have seen 18-21 percent reductions in heavy drinking over two years.
Officials present Tuesday
seemed to respond well to Linkenbach's ideas.
Brown County Chief Deputy
Tom Schmitt said if kids realize everyone isn't doing drugs, alcohol
or smoking, it takes away the "mob mentality."
"It's almost like reverse
peer pressure," Spitzer said.
Later Tuesday Spitzer
said the coalition is definitely interested in utilizing the social
norms approach. The next step is to secure funding to pursue things
like a media campaign.
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