‘Most of Us’ survey shows that most students have healthy attitudes about abstaining from chemical use

Bad behavior gets attention, skewing perception about ‘all’ youth
Mary Diedrick Hansen
Staff Writer

If you think most kids in South St. Paul are underage drinkers, you’re in for some good news. Results of the recent “Most of Us” youth survey shows a disparity between students’ perception about underage drinking and the reality. The survey showed, for example, that while 71 percent of students believe that drinking alcohol is never a good thing for anyone their age, only 39 percent of students believe their peers have that same attitude. Similarly, 81 percent of students believe tobacco is never a good thing to use, yet only 29 percent think their peers feel the same way.

This is the latest in a number of surveys being administered by South St. Paul’s Healthy Youth Community Coalition in its effort to reduce underage use of alcohol, tobacco and drugs. It is part of the coalition’s Positive Community Norms Project, which is designed to highlight the difference between reality and perception about teen drinking and use positive messages to change behavior. The hope is that when the true norm is shared and publicized, positive peer pressure will take place, resulting in fewer youth using alcohol, tobacco and drugs. The “Most of Us” campaign is being launched in communities throughout Minnesota and is funded by the Minnesota Department of Human Services.

The anonymous and voluntary “Most of Us” survey was given to 7th – 12th graders in February 2008. The recently released results show that most students exhibit healthy behaviors most of the time but that many students have exaggerated misperceptions about the behavior of their peers.

“Misperceptions arise when negative behavior receives the most attention. Stories grow in the gossip circle. Negative instances get the most attention,” said Mikki Hoium, Healthy Youth Community Coalition coordinator. Hoium is also working with the results of a recent parent survey, comparing their answers to students’ answers, and looking at the biggest gaps and how to narrow them.

One example: 80 percent of students say parents should be communicating to them about underage use of alcohol, tobacco and drugs, yet only 56 percent report that they have had such family discussions.

On the contrary, the parent survey showed that most of them already feel they are discussing chemical abuse with their children. These results raise such questions as, do parents need to be more effective communicators? How can the coalition be helpful in that regard? These findings and others will shape messages that will appear in a variety of communication vehicles over the next three years.

Hoium is looking to her marketing committee for creative ways to get the messages out, like flyers on take-out pizza boxes or stickers on hot chocolate cups at sporting events. She relies on her Youth Advisory Council, made up of 20 high school students, to hone the messages.

In an effort to better support parents in encouraging healthy behavior in the family, Mike Funk, diversity coordinator for South St. Paul School District 6, has pulled together 13 different resource and referral organizations within the school district — from the Latino Cultural Liaisons to the Community Education and Adult Programming — to coordinate more effectively in their common goal of working with parents and families.

Funk is concerned that fallout from the recession will affect families and “will domino to kids,” increasing stress and resulting in more difficulties for children. “It’s important to have support programs for parents to lessen the blow at the back-end,” he said.

Hoium hopes to saturate the market with positive messages about youth behavior, create community partnerships, and coordinate an effort that can sustain itself.

“People care about kids in the community and aren’t shy about taking it on,” she said.

Bad behavior gets attention, skewing perception about ‘all’ youth