Preventing Youth Injury and Violence by Changing Social Norms

(Salt Lake City, Utah) – Injury is the leading cause of death for youth aged 1-19 in Utah. Today, state and local public health officials gathered at a summit sponsored by the Utah Department of Health (UDOH) and Safe Kids Utah Coalition to discuss how changing social norms in a community can decrease injuries and violence among youth.

Social norms are the perceived standards of acceptable attitudes and behaviors prevalent among members of a community. In other words, the rules of behavior that are considered normal among a group of people. These norms may change over time based on one’s surrounding environment or situation. Social norms can be as simple as shaking someone’s hand when greeting or as complex as preventing binge drinking among college students.

Michael Haines, founding director of the National Social Norms Resource Center, spoke to attendees of the Utah Safe Kids and Injury Prevention Summit. Haines has several decades of experience using social norms to change behaviors regarding alcohol and substance use, sexual violence, and injury prevention.

“Human beings are social animals. We tend to follow group norms. The Social Norms Approach uses this tendency to move people to lower their risk of injury. When people see messages like ‘Most Utah citizens think it is wrong to use violence to settle arguments’, then violent behavior is reduced,” remarked Haines

Those attending the summit discussed how social norms strategies could be used to curb the number of suicides among Utah youth. Data from the UDOH showed that suicide was the leading cause of death for youth aged 10-17 in Utah in 2015. “There are several effective social norms strategies we are beginning to use in Utah. First, emphasizing to people experiencing suicidal thoughts that they are not alone. Second, that effective help is available. And third, that recovery is within reach,” said Andrea Hood, UDOH suicide prevention coordinator. “We are also striving to change social norms to let people know there are effective treatments for mental health conditions and countless stories of survival.”

Sexual violence prevention efforts are changing too. About 30 percent of Utah high school students who are dating experience some form of dating violence. “In terms of violence and sexual violence, we want to change social norms by promoting more equitable gender norms and decreasing acceptance of violence, thereby creating more equal and healthy relationships,” said Megan Waters, UDOH violence prevention specialist.

Haines hopes attendees start to view social norms as an effective tool for preventing violence and injury.

To learn more about violence and injury prevention, visit

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Media Contact:
Tammy Kikuchi
Violence and Injury Prevention Program