Young People Must Lead the Change

Viv Bennett, the Department of Health’s Director of Nursing, recently posted a great blog on how consulting with young people makes for more effective Public Health messages.

Titled “Nothing about us without us”, she comments on how “listening to children and young people is core to PHE and Department of Health values”. For 5 years now that is exactly what we have been doing with our R U Different? programme which uncovers real attitudes and perceptions of young people on numerous topics including tobacco, alcohol, sex & relationships and drugs. Schools can then use this information as a framework for PHSE lessons whilst ticking all important Ofsted boxes.

The article describes a recent meeting between PHE and a group of young people aged between 12 and 18 years old where they discussed what health and wellbeing means to them. A key point that arose was the need for “clear accessible, age appropriate and reliable health information, making more use of digital media”. At Social Sense we already understand that a funky coloured leaflet just does not cut it anymore when it comes to public health messaging (did it ever?!). It’s imperative to keep up with the latest technology trends that youths are engaging with. That’s why we are constantly thinking of new ways to engage with young people, from a mobile quiz app to using augmented reality.

Viv further states the need for public health workers to understand the importance of peer pressure amongst young people and this false assumption that ‘everyone is doing it’. She particularly applies this to trying drugs and alcohol but this can be applied to almost any behaviour within Health and Wellbeing.

Take smoking for example;where our data tells us that while in reality 9 out of 10 students never smoke, the perception held was that 1 in 2 DO smoke. Focussing on this value has allowed schools to change perceptions around smoking to a belief that 7 out of 10 are NOT smoking and ultimately maintain (or delay) the non-smoking rate into later years.

At one school 50% of students told us they have only one sweet drink a day, but believed that just 11% did the same. The school is now able to focus efforts on healthy eating using this resource.

As Viv states, it’s essential that young people receive “more reliable information about the risks and the realities” in order to make more informed decisions around certain behaviours.

If we are to create successful health campaigns for and about young people there is no other way than to bring young people themselves on that journey too.

To read the full article click here.

We are currently looking for new Schools and Local Authorities to take part in the R U Different? project next academic year. If you are interested please contact


  1. I found your article from Viv’s original post. Ive began working in schools teaching magic and were looking at ways to aid this notion of empowerment with magic into a bigger picture of social messages. Looking forward to read the rest of your blog.

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