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Building Healthier Relationships: A Social Norming Model

Most students engage in and want to engage in positive, healthy behaviors. However, many of these students believe their peers actually engage in negative, unhealthy behaviors. As a result, students may do things they personally believe are wrong in order to gain acceptance by their peers.

The Social Norming Model for Building Healthier Relationships works by using “positive peer pressure” to educate students about what positive, healthy behaviors are truly acceptable by their peers. First, we look to determine these behaviors and beliefs about what behaviors are perceived as “normal” among peers. To do that, we carry out a survey of students at the school. 

Then, in our healthy relationship campaigns, we focus on helping students understand six common types of abuse: physical, emotional, sexual, stalking, financial/economic, and digital. We also ask questions and encourage dialogue supporting protective factors—that is, skills and strategies to cope with stressful events or situations. 

Some examples of supportive questions and affirmations we encourage in these classes:

  • ”I showed my partner respect and that I value them.”
  • “It is each partner’s right to have friends outside of the relationship.”  
  • “In the last year, have you spoken with an adult who encourages you?”

Bring us to your school!

Program Highlights

By educating young people about their peers’ actual behavior, we help to reduce the level of physical, verbal and emotional violence in schools.

On average, 94% of students recall the social norming messages promoted through each poster campaign implemented in the school hallways.

How does Social Norming work?


  • Analyze data gathered from whole-school students survey.
  • Study our audience’s interests (slang, social trends).
  • Identify six gaps to focus on throughout the year.


  • A group of student interns design campaigns.
  • Intercept with a group of 25-30 students for feedback on the design.
  • Revise, then hang posters intentionally in high trafficked areas.


  • Posters hang for two weeks.
  • Gather 25-30 students to determine effectiveness of each campaign.
  • Recall rate determines the impact messaging had on students.

Why is Social Norming effective?

Social Norming is an evidence based program that originated in Michigan State University that combines strategies from multiple fields including social marketing, sociology, behavioral psychology and evaluation research. The Conflict Center takes a strengths based approach to all its work, focusing on the positive behaviors and attitudes youth already possess  We do not use scare tactics or tell a students how they “should” behave. Rather, we simply present a “mirror” of the healthy norm that is already taking place.Social norming is used to address a variety of risk factors. The Conflict Center focuses on issues related to teen dating violence and sexual assault. When young people have a more accurate perception of positive behaviors that are acceptable by their peers, it is less likely they will engage in negative, harmful or violent behavior to seek peer acceptance. These efforts produce short-term and long-term results as young people learn that violence is never an acceptable part of relationships.

Engaging Youth as Partners

The Conflict Center understands that we can’t create and design effective campaigns for youth that are relevant and relatable. Through high school internships, we train, empower, and mentor youth to work alongside staff to develop messages for the healthy relationship campaigns in schools and take leadership roles throughout the campaign process.


“I was trusted and got access to a lot which felt empowering. Having exposure to funding opportunities was important for future professional directions and community relationship building. Lots of good opportunities for leadership, networking and professional contacts.“

Masters of Social Work Intern,
Kira Mack

“I knew exactly what I was getting into thanks to the TCC staff. I wanted to do some kind of social work and that is exactly what I did here. I always feel welcome, this community has always been so welcoming, caring and loving!”

High School Intern,
Christian Lobo-Lafore

“It was a pleasure working with you this year. I very much appreciated, that once we got up and rolling, that you were an entity unto yourselves and felt very comfortable coming into our school and driving the work. I know that the students appreciated the messaging and more than a few times did I see them engaging with the messaging – so empowering!!! I was very pleased with our partnership this year and look forward to continued collaboration.”

Principal at High Tech Early College,
Carol Tisdale

To inquire about the opportunity of bringing Social Norming to your Colorado school, please contact our Social Norming Program Coordinator at 303.865.5632 or sander.bregman@confictcenter.org.

In practice, positive youth development incorporates the development of skills, opportunities and authentic relationships into programs, practices and policies, so that young people reach their full potential.  This practical lens depicts youth and young adults as resources to cultivate, as opposed to problems to fix, and is dependent upon the use of the following guiding principles: strengths-based approach, inclusive of all youth, engages youth as partners, collaboration and sustainability

There has been a steady 1% decrease over the past three years as we campaign the norm, “During the past 12 months, how many times did you physically hurt someone you were dating on purpose?” From 7.7% in 2015 to 5.5% in 2017. Year over year data allows us to identify and close gaps in perception vs. reality, but also track behavior shifts. Perception change does lead to behavior change and healthier relationships for teens.

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For more information or if you’re interested in bringing this program to your school, please contact Sander Bregman at sander.bregman@conflictcenter.org or 303.865.5632.