What is the definition of social norm?

Published 9:00 am Sunday, May 31, 2015

Families First by Maryanne Law


What is a “social norm”?

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A social norm is a behavior that we believe is acceptable and approved by more than the majority of people in our group or society. Social norms are beliefs that influence our behaviors. If, as a group, we think that “most of us” do a behavior, we are likely to do it ourselves. It’s not the statistical fact that influences our individual choice, it’s the power of our individual perception.

April was the month in Minnesota when Law Enforcement and prevention educators team up to raise awareness about the dangers of cell phone use while driving. “Most of us” know that cell phone use while driving is a dangerous distraction; still way too many drivers still think it is acceptable behavior. Our society has managed to influence the social norm of restricting cell phone use in a variety of locations. We know that “most of us” turn our cell phones off (or on silent) during an entertainment performance, during a business conference, during an educational lecture and during a church service. If we forget and our cell phone rings during those times, we are embarrassed by the disapproval of the rest of the group. “Most of us” will cooperatively follow the directions to turn our cell phones off before take offs and landings during airplane travel and when we are in hospital emergency rooms. In these scenarios, a social norm is working for the benefit of the group. This spring is a very good time to decide to be part of cell phone use social norm pressure: Talk about the dangers of talking and texting on a cellphone while driving with anyone in your circle of influence who drives, or who has a young driver. Make the decision to turn off your own cell phone/or put it on silent yourself, when you are in your car and then go the “social norm” extra mile and tell other people that you’ve decided to change your own behavior for the sake of safety. Be serious about cell phone use in cars; don’t joke about it or shrug it off. Openly disapprove.

If you would like to talk with a parenting specialist about the challenges in childraising, call the toll-free Parent WarmLine at 1-888-584-2204/Línea de Apoyo at 877-434-9528.  For free emergency child care call Crisis Nursery at 1-877-434-9599.  Check out www.familiesandcommunities.org and the Parenting Resource Center Specialty Library at 105 First Street SE, Austin.


Maryanne Law is the executive director of the Parenting Resource Center in Austin.