dents’ perceptions about peer norms regarding problem behaviors do reduce their incidence (Cook et al., 1993).
Although not a social group itself, the media is also an important source of adolescents’ views about social norms. Youth and adults who watch more television believe the world is a more violent and dangerous place than do those who watch less television, and they are more likely to believe that violence is an appropriate problem-solving strategy. They also score higher on a scale of sexism and have more distorted views of the world of work (Gerbner et al., 1994). On the positive side, health education programs that incorporate mass media intervention as a way of changing perceived social norms are more effective at reducing adolescent smoking than health education programs without media (Elster and Kuznets, 1994). In addition to their effect on perceived social norms, the media must be recognized as an important competing influence on adolescents’ internalization of the prosocial norms advocated by schools, families, and other traditional socializing institutions, such as faith-based institutions.
Research on community programs also indicates that social norms are critical. On the positive side, Cook et al. (1993) reported that acquiring conventionally positive social norms did a better job of explaining the results of one prevention program than did social skills training. Smoking prevention programs that taught both how to resist peer pressure and support heath behavior changes are among the more effective youth health promotion programs (Sallis, 1993). Efforts at teaching social norms against early steady dating and against sexual intercourse were also related to reductions in dating and pregnancy in three studies of the Girls, Inc., Preventing Adolescent Pregnancy Project (Nicholson and Postrado, 1992; Postrado et al., 1997). A more rigorous evaluation of these programs in now under way.
Promotion of certain types of positive social norms may be particularly strong in faith-based youth settings: religiosity is positively associated with what developmental psychologists call prosocial values and behavior (see Eisenberg and Fabes, 1998) and negatively related to substance abuse, premature sexual involvement, and delinquency (Benson et al., 1997; Catalano et al., 1999; Elder and Conger, 2000; Jessor et al., 1991; Werner and Smith, 1992).
On the more controversial side, two in-depth observational studies have documented the reinforcement and reproduction of gender stereotypes in sports and extracurricular activities; for example, both studies found that sports promoted masculine aggressive and competitive norms