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Where does this Ossining data come from?
Ossining middle- and high-school students have been surveyed regularly for more than a decade, and through ongoing collaboration within our community, plus dedicated support from our school district and law enforcement officials, we have made great progress in reducing substance use by our young people.  But the only acceptable use level is a zero-use level, so our efforts to educate the community on Ossining’s social norms will continue.
What are “social norms”?
Social norms are the behaviors and attitudes that are most common in a group.  As a group-oriented species, we often use what is perceived as the “normal” behavior or attitude to guide our choices and shape our personality.  Research reveals that our perception of our peers, particularly when it comes to high-risk behavior, does not match reality.  We overestimate the extent of our peers’ risky choices and underestimate their penchant for healthy choices; this has been confirmed many times over by behavioral scientists.

 

Embedded in their statistics is an unfortunate outcome for our young people:  The non-users believe that the use of alcohol and other drugs is “the norm,” regardless of what may actually be the case, and they may rely on that misperception to determine future choices.  Those currently using alcohol or other drugs continue to use them, believing they are “just like everybody else.”

Shouldn’t we be skeptical of any too-good-to-be-true claims about young people and substance use?

Negativity bias served us well in responding to ancient threats as we evolved, but its lingering presence in our brains makes it hard for us to embrace positive news and pleasurable experiences as readily as we accept the bad news or dire circumstances.  If you expected the reported number to be much higher, a statement like “only 29% of all 7 through 12th graders reported using alcohol in the past 30 days” will be dismissed with “the students lied” or “the survey wasn’t valid.”  If your personal experience is that you know a number of students who happen to drink alcohol, you will probably be convinced beyond all doubt that the survey findings are false.  But facts are just as stubborn as our negativity bias, and the facts are these:

 

  • Reliable Instruments: The surveys we employ are widely accepted research instruments, professionally constructed and used by many school districts. Questions are based heavily on the survey approach of Monitoring the Future (MTF), a national study that has been conducted by the University of Michigan annually since 1975.
  • Reliable Technique: Our surveys are administered with fidelity on a regular basis to a valid sample. Data is tallied, reported and interpreted by a third-party, professional research organization.
  • Reliable Benchmarks: MTF provides a longstanding, consistent cache of data against which we gauge the reliability of our findings from survey to survey, along with comparisons to the trend data aggregated from neighboring school districts.  The lack of extreme swings from year to year, and ongoing reasonable consistency with other independent data sets, indicates reliability in our numbers.
  • Reliable Responses: Though its validity has been questioned along the way, self-reported data continues to be the basis of behavioral and other types of health research. Pharmaceutical companies, for example, rely heavily on patient-reported data in their drug development and testing efforts.  The professional research community acknowledges the validity and reliability of self-reported data (SRD) when the respondent understands the questions, when belief in anonymity is successfully established, and there is little fear of reprisal.  And research on the research indicates that most students don’t lie in these surveys, though they believe most of their peers do.

In the absence of a 100-percent-accurate means of measuring substance use among our youth, self-reported data gathered responsibly and regularly provides an indispensable measure of our community’s health.  When viewed in concert with other measures—both objective and other self-reported data—these survey results guide our efforts in responding to underage drinking and the use of other drugs in our community with a reasonable degree of confidence.

Why are these norms important to the Ossining Community?
Eroding the misperceptions of high-use levels within our community, disseminating an accurate understanding of the normative behavior of our young people, and spreading the good news about the strides we have made in recent years in diminishing the use of alcohol and drugs by our students creates empowerment, providing a solid foundation of non-use/lowered-use statistics, from which students can better assess their choices and feel confident in their decision to avoid substance use.
What should parents do with this data?
Parents play a special role.  Research continues to confirm that a parental attitude of disapproval is a key factor in a young person’s decision to avoid alcohol and drugs.  Your children are listening, even if it doesn’t seem that way to you.  Setting clear no-use expectations, carrying through on consequences, and having frequent conversations about the use of alcohol and other drugs are effective protective factors.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, teens are more willing to talk to their parents if they think their parents can be trusted, have useful advice to offer, and are open and available to listen and talk.  Teens who are satisfied with their relationships with their parents tend to be more willing to follow the rules.
How can Ossining residents support our youth?
Set the record straight.  Don’t let the extreme behaviors of the few overtake our conversations about our children’s use of alcohol and drugs.  There are many positives to focus on, and significant advancements in student choices that we can all be proud of in Ossining.  We must continue to protect our young people from alcohol and drugs, because quite simply, these substances harm a young person’s developing brain and put physical well-being at risk.  And there isn’t really an upside to underage drinking and the use of illicit drugs by our children.  So let’s continue focusing on our strengths and accomplishments, and celebrate the multitude of our young people who make healthy choices every day.

%

of Ossining teens DON'T drink alcohol

(Source:  New York State Youth Development Survey, November 2015 at OHS and AMD. Grades 8, 10 and 12 students reporting no alcohol use in the past 30 days.)

%

of New York State teens DON'T drink alcohol

(Source: New York State Youth Development Survey 2014-2015. Grades 8, 10 and 12 students statewide reporting no alcohol use in the past 30 days.)

%

of teens nationwide DON'T drink alcohol

(Source:  Monitoring the Future, University of Michigan 2015. Grades 8, 10 and 12 students reporting no alcohol use in the past 30 days.)

%

of Ossining teens DON'T use marijuana

(Source: New York State Youth Development Survey, November 2015 at OHS and AMD. Grades 8, 10 and 12 students reporting no marijuana use in the past 30 days.)

%

of New York State teens DON'T use marijuana

(Source: New York State Youth Development Survey 2014-2015. Grades 8, 10 and 12 students statewide reporting no marijuana use in the past 30 days.)

%

of teens nationwide DON'T use marijuana

(Source:  Monitoring the Future, University of Michigan 2015. Grades 8, 10 and 12 students reporting no marijuana use in the past 30 days.)

%

of Ossining teens DON'T binge drink

(Source: New York State Youth Development Survey, November 2015 at OHS and AMD. Grades 8, 10 and 12 students reporting not having 5 or more drinks in a row in the past 2 weeks.)

%

of New York State teens DON'T binge drink

(Source: New York State Youth Development Survey 2014-2015. Grades 7 through 12 students statewide reporting not having 5 or more drinks in a row in the past 2 weeks.)

%

of teens nationwide DON'T binge drink

(Source:  Monitoring the Future, University of Michigan 2015. Grades 8, 10 and 12 students reporting not having 5 or more drinks in a row in the past two weeks.)

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OSSINING IS THE

COMMUNITY THAT

Comes together to secure the long-term health and well-being of Ossining youth and their families

Assists our residents—especially parents and young people—by providing education, resources, and services for substance-abuse response and prevention

Reduces the use of alcohol and drugs in Ossining and prevents underage drinking

Esteems the accomplishments of our young people and supports them in making smart choices

Reach Out to Us

7 + 7 =

Ossining Communities That Care | Alice Joselow, Coordinator | 165 Main Street | Ossining, NY 10562 | 914-502-1304

Social norms text and design on this page copyright Hellmich 2017.  All rights reserved.

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