Characteristics of Norms of Behavior

Norms of Behavior

Behavioral theorists have long recognized the influence of norms upon behavior, and for decades at least, practitioners have tried to use the media, group opinion leaders, and small-group or other interactive activities in sexuality and HIV education classes to change norms and to thereby change behavior. In addition, for a variety of reasons, people have tried to increase connectedness between youth and their families, schools and faith communities. Thus, simply recognizing that norms and connectedness influence behavior is not new. However, what is striking is the extent to which social norms, connectedness and their interaction partially explain so many research findings involving both risk and protective factors and the impact of programs. While no single theory can explain, all findings on adolescent sexual behavior are remarkably powerful.

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Young teens are more likely to have sexual intercourse if they believe their friends have already done so, according to a specialist in adolescent medicine from The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “Sexual initiation is a planned activity for these young adolescents, who often make their decisions at the beginning of the school year. The main motivation for adolescents to participate in sexual activity is not because ‘it’s cool’ but because they don’t want to be left behind,” (O’Sullivan, L.F., Meyer-Bahlburg, H.F.L., & Watkins, B.X. (1999, August).

Parents and educators can address the issue of early sexual initiation by focusing on peer groups rather than solely focusing on an individual teen, Increasing rates of HIV among urban adolescents have raised concerns about their participation in risk behaviors. Little is known about the developmental processes of normal sexual behavior in early adolescence, particularly among urban adolescent girls. Efforts to reduce rates of adolescent participation in risky sexual behavior have had only limited success. To curtail the incidence of new HIV and STD infections, we must develop and implement interventions that effectively promote safer sexual behaviors. Past researchers have examined a range of social networks associated with the onset and experience of sexual activity, yet most have failed to examine the intermediary step which is how these social interactions are interpreted by adolescents, and ultimately contribute to their sexual expectations, decisions, and behavior.

Girls’ interactions with others during the process of socialization are assumed to affect their understanding of sexual roles, and hence, acquisition of socio sexual cognitions (i.e., attitudes, expectations, beliefs about their own role and the role of others in sexual behavior and relationships). The underlying premise guiding the current project is that HIV prevention efforts designed to change adolescents’ sexual behavior will be most successful when (a) we understand the social cognitions associated with adolescents’ sexual behavior and (b) we incorporate into the intervention scope those social networks which influence sexual development and support participation in risky sexual behaviors.

Children learn aggressive behavior through both observational learning and enactive learning.

There is a positive relationship between a child’s observation of others behaving aggressively and the child behaving aggressively. Many researchers have examined the internal relations between occupation and adult development, occupation and parenting style, and parenting style and children’s behavior.

The relation between occupation and level of children’s antisocial aggression, however, has not been examined. Parents’ involvement in community affairs may be a domain of adult development where They would likely learn communication, organization, and negotiating skills, which would

Affect their parenting styles; therefore, parents are being questioned about their volunteer

Activities. A short adult intelligence test is being administered. Parents’ attitudes on violence, beliefs in the appropriateness in the use of violence, and parents’ own conflict resolution scripts are being examined. Parents are being questioned on the messages, which they give to their children concerning violence: do they recommend negotiation, avoidance, or direct aggression in resolving conflicts.

The influence of an adolescent’s peers was found to explain student behavior throughout the high school years better than any other variable. Having academically oriented friends seemed to encourage students to behave well and to help them resist drugs and alcohol. On the other hand, a negative peer influence seemed to greatly increase a student’s risk for behavior problems and substance abuse.

Peer relations have an important role in social development of adolescents and the influence can be positive or negative. Because a school has outstanding academic accomplishments does not necessarily indicate that it is a positive social context for healthy adolescent development.

It highlights the importance of understanding of peer groups and developing strategies to foster positive peer relations. Students, adolescents in particular, define themselves by groups with which they affiliate (Goodenow, 1992). This peer subgroup affiliation has a strong influence on a sense of school membership, whether negative or positive. Subgroups or cliques are not a new phenomenon. The concern is when these groups become outright hostile toward each other or the subgroups prohibit a school from becoming a community of learners. Teacher/adults can positively or negatively influence the separation among groups.

Individual influences of problem behavior range from poor self-esteem, low achievement, low school attachment, and low or no participation in school activities. Familial influences of misbehavior include an inconsistent discipline style, a stressful family environment, and low parent involvement. School or institutional influences involve factors such as school size and school climate. Researchers have found a large school size (defined by enrollment) and a poor school climate to be associated with student behavior problems. Research on the social influences of behavior problems centers on one factor – the influence of a student’s peer group. See Giancola (1998) for a detailed accounting of the research in each of these four areas.

The media are the biggest educators in today’s society (Strategies, 1992). “By age 18 a young person will have seen 350,000 commercials and spent more time being entertained by the media than any other activity except sleeping” (Davies, 1993, p. S-28).

Such media-saturation is cause for concern, especially in the area of health. Davies (1993) discussed the impact of the media on adolescents in terms of nutrition; sexual information, alcohol and tobacco, violence, and stress the media perpetuate poor diet decisions. One study estimated that early adolescents between two and 12 contributed $82.4 billion in food and beverage purchases in 1990 (McNeal, 1992). This figure is alarming when studies show most of the advertised foods contain little nutritional content (Dwyer, 1982; Gerbner, Gross, Morgan, & Signorielli, 1982). Even more alarming is the issue of body image. Young adolescents are led to believe that the media-created image of the ideal body is how their bodies should look (Davies, 1993). This leads to females trying to look like Cindy Crawford and Kate Moss. In their attempt to have the perfect body, females often end up adopting fad diets that may lead to more serious eating disorders (Davies, 1993). Davies (1993) also points out that boys are susceptible to media body images because they want to build muscles like many actors and sports heroes. This desire to “bulk up” often leads to poor diet and possibly the use of steroids.

According to Media Literacy (1989), a textbook published by the Ministry of Education in Ontario, what we know about the world beyond our immediate surroundings comes to us via the media. Unfortunately, the media does not present its messages in a neutral and value-free way; it shapes and distorts reality (Considine, 1990; Melamed, 1989). This poses a problem for society. Individuals, especially students, are unable to distinguish between genuine and questionable messages sent by the media. For example, NBC’s “ER” has encouraged responsible sexual behavior by showing Dr. Doug Ross giving condoms to a teenage girl who was living on the street, but it also depicted irresponsible sexual behavior when it was revealed that Dr. Peter Benton got his girlfriend pregnant. In order to handle these mixed messages young people must be taught to be responsible consumers of the media. But who is going to do the teaching? The logical choice is America’s educators

Student misbehavior is one issue that both parents and educators agree is a problem, and it is also an issue whose influences neither parents nor educators fully understand. Hence, violent incidents such as those in Colorado, Arkansas, and Kentucky as well as the more general problem of student misbehavior seem to invoke much introspection as well as finger-pointing. Many parents blame the teachers and the school environment. Many educators blame the parents and the home environment of students. Some seem to think that an instability or vulnerability inherent in the child caused him or her to be violent. While many others believe that the media – including music, television, movies, and video games – has been irresponsible by their portrayal of youth, sex, drugs, and violence. However, laying the blame for student behavior problems is not productive, as it does not change what has happened nor does it prevent what atrocities might happen in the future. What is important is our understanding of what influences behavior problems in children and further, our ability to design programs based on this understanding to prevent and treat these problems.

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