Perception Have you ever stared at a piece of abstract art for a minute or longer and then discussed with someone what you each took out of the piece? Many times people have different views, or perceptions, of the image. Have you ever had someone else’s opinion impact a decision you were going to make? Have you ever thought about how community norms shape your community?
Perception is a tool used for judgment. Such a simple process is a powerful thing, especially when it comes to community norms. “Norms are defined as values, beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors shared by most people in a ‘group’. In other words, norms are what most people value, believe, and do.”1 Perceptions play a large role in behavioral decisions. Unfortunately, peer norms are often misperceived. Community perception is something to be thoughtfully considered when substance misuse and abuse is of concern because of the powerful behavior impact and unintentional harm the perceptions can cause.
Heath Effects Marijuana has recently been a hot topic across the nation and the state. As it becomes legalized in other states, the health effects associated with marijuana use may be becoming misunderstood. Studies have shown that adolescent marijuana use effects the brain development in reduced attention, memory, and learning. It also effects decision making, coordination, emotions, and reaction times.2 Studies have shown that for users who start before the age of 18, about 1 in 6 marijuana users will become addicted.2 Research is still developing on marijuana use health implications, especially regarding the adolescent brain. It is, however, well understood that adolescent use is not harmless.
Local Data According to the Minnesota Student Survey (MSS) data, Wayzata 8th, 9th, and 11th-grade students have a misperception of other students’ marijuana use. The most notable gaps in perceived marijuana use are in 9th and 11th grade.
It is also worth noting Wayzata high school students’ perception of risk in regards to marijuana use, goes down as they get older.
These two data sets indicate that as students age they are more likely to use, more likely to believe their peers use, and less likely to believe marijuana is risky. Research has shown that lower levels of perception of risk are associated with higher levels of use. Additionally, the 2016 MSS statewide and Wayzata High School data both indicate that students who perceived other students used marijuana were approximately five times more likely to use marijuana than other non-using students. This suggests that those who believe their peers use are much more likely to use themselves.
What to Do? Believing most students use marijuana can have a powerful impact on students’ decision to use or not use. The best thing for caregivers or community members to do is talk with the young people in their lives and let them know that ‘MOST students in their school do NOT use marijuana’. Listen to ‘why’ they think most are using and continue to talk with them about these misperceptions. It is also important to let students know they are cared about. Students who feel their caregivers or other adults care for them are much less likely to start or engage in substance use.3 Strong social competency is another protective factor. This includes ensuring your young person has the skills to cope, express themselves, make decisions, resolve conflicts, and build relationships.4 Letting your student know you are there for them, no matter what they are going through, and helping them cope with their stress and struggles is key for their future. An easy way to do that is through conversation together. If a conversation with your young person seems difficult to start or approach, there are many tools and resources available to help start and guide conversations.
For more information on what marijuana is, visit Partnership for Drug-Free Kids website.
If you are a caregiver or adult reading this who would like help with how to talk to your young person about marijuana, check out: How to talk about marijuana. A great Marijuana Talk Kit is also for free to download. A parent's guide to preventing underage marijuana use. Published by Seattle Children's Hospital and the UW Social Development Research Group. It is available in seven different languages.
Interested in joining community substance abuse and misuse prevention efforts? Consider joining your local coalition Partners in Prevention.
Are you from a different area? Check to see what is going on near you here and contact your Regional Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drugs Prevention Coordinator to get connected. If you are interested in staying up-to-date with prevention news and resources, consider signing up for the Minnesota Prevention Resources Center newsletter.
Blog post was written by Kjirsten Anderson All data graphs were co-created by Emma Boyce, Minnesota Strategic Prevention Framework Epidemiologist *All data used to generate report was derived from the Minnesota Student Survey Reports 2013-2016 accessed at http://w20.education.state.mn.us/MDEAnalytics/DataTopic.jsp?TOPICID=242 Wayzata data (ISD 0284) from 2016
Kjirsten Anderson is a Regional Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drugs Prevention, Coordinator (RPC), located at the Association for Nonsmokers-Minnesota. Kjirsten serves Minnesota’s seven-county metro area, providing personalized resources, consultation, and technical assistance to local coalitions, agencies, and community members. The MN Department Human Services – Behavioral Health Division provides grant funding for this program. She completed her Master’s degree in Public Health, with a concentration in Community Health Education, from UW La Crosse in 2017. Kjirsten is also a Certified Health Education Specialist and a Certified Prevention Professional. References
1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2014). Promoting Positive Community Norms: A Supplement to CDC’s Essentials for Childhood Steps to Create Safe, Stable, Nurturing Relationships and Environments. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/efc-promoting-positive-community-norms.pdf 2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018). Marijuana: How Can It Affect Your Health? Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/marijuana/health-effects.html 3. Substance Use in Minnesota. (2018). Caring Relationships + Substance Use [Fact sheet]. Retrieved from http://sumn.org/~/media/612/Caring_Relationships_and_Substance_Use_2018_SUMN_Fact_Sheet.pdf 4. Substance Use in Minnesota. (2016). Social Competency & Substance Use [Fact sheet]. Retrieved from http://sumn.org/~/media/495/MSS_Social_Competency_SUMN_2016_Fact_Sheet.pdf