Q&A

Below you can find common questions about the Planet Youth programme
with detailed answers.

The Icelandic Centre for Social Research and Analysis (ICSRA) was founded in 1999 in collaboration with the Icelandic Ministry of Education, Science and Culture, and municipalities throughout Iceland. Since then, ICSRA has conducted a national Youth in Iceland program of surveys among 10-20 year old children and adolescents, consisting of extensive data collection and information dissemination concerning family and adolescent welfare. Part of this effort was designed to inform the need for population-wide primary prevention through research aimed at arresting and reversing observed increases in adolescent substance use.

The three key aims of ICSRA are:

  1. to advance and distribute knowledge on the social determinants of health, well-being and behaviour of young people
  2. to enhance the quality of life of young people by improving health and well-being through the process of education and social change and
  3. to create a venue for collaboration of scholars; specifically for the education and training of young scholars.

ICSRA is located at Reykjavik University (RU), a vibrant international university with 500 faculty members and around 3,000 students.

Planet Youth was developed by ISCRA. The programme has been supported from the outset by ECAD (European Cities Against Drugs) and The City of Reykjavík. The patron of the programme is the President of Iceland, Olafur Ragnar Grimsson. The programme’s principal sponsor for the past 10 years has been Actavis Group.

Planet Youth is based on the Icelandic Prevention Model, an evidence-based model aimed at preventing children and adolescents from the initiation of drug use. The Icelandic Prevention Model Is Predicated Upon Three Pillars of Success:

  1. Evidence-based practice;
  2. Using a community-based approach, and
  3. Creating and maintaining a dialogue among research, policy and practice. 

We focus on impacting the following important risk and preventative factors that influence youth health; 1) family factors, 2) extracurricular activities/sports, 3) peer group effect, and 4) general wellbeing.

In developing our approach, we relied on global research findings, as well as our own local observations about those individual and societal factors that contribute to the likelihood of adolescent substance use in Iceland. Based on the literature, and informed by our own work, a community-based, bottom-up approach was designed to deter adolescent substance use. The emphasis of our approach was on getting all relevant stake holders to the table to build a network of support, monitoring and opportunities for positive youth development at the local community level. We aimed to demonstrate that it is possible to develop theory-driven intervention to promote and facilitate social capital on the neighborhood level, in order to decrease the likelihood of adolescent substance use by strengthening the supportive role of parents and schools and the network of opportunities around them. The prevention model that emerged reflexively and continuously links national-level data collection with local-level reflection and action to increase social capital. The model builds upon traditional planning models (iterative cycles of evidence, reflection, action) but with characteristics inspired by Icelandic spirit and temperament.

In the first step, a coalition of social scientists and policy makers use of national data to identify the scope of the problem and the broad outlines of the approach to be pursued. In Step 2, action shifts to the local level as team members ‘hit the road’, discussing the national data in communities and neighborhoods throughout the country. By design, these local level discussions are inclusive, mobilizing an ever-widening group of researchers, policy makers, practitioners and community members, including parents, school personnel, sports facilitators, recreational and extracurricular youth workers. Step 3 is local action in multiple sites, informed by the national data but animated by the uniquely different spirit, talents, and imaginations of neighborhoods, towns and regions. Step 4 is integrative reflection; as local activities are reviewed by participants, process and outcome dimensions of the aggregate activity are explored, and then analyzed with the new round of national data.

Several characteristics of Icelandic culture distinguish the model from other planning approaches. Because of its size and scope, everything happens quickly in Iceland; indeed, one full cycle of the iterative model can be completed in just one year. The model is based on quick and confident action, fueled by the Icelandic values of independence, cooperation and roles for everyone. Moreover, vertical and horizontal integration of information, ideas, activities and analysis is natural and relatively easy. The result is a model of intervention that has been grounded in efforts to address adolescent substance abuse but could be applied to a wide range of emergent health issues.”

See Sigfusdottir, 2008 for more information.

We are based at Reykjavik University and you can read more about our team members here!

https://planetyouth.community/team/

Our youth scored near the top in alcohol use, tobacco and other drug use, and were especially high in alcohol (binge drinking); Nationally, almost 25 per cent were smoking every day, over 40 per cent had got drunk in the past month. Information on all European youth can be found at Pan-European comparative ESPAD studies for comparison of different countries and youth behaviors (www.espad.org).

Before Youth in Iceland most approaches in Iceland were individual level health education, where we would teach kids about the harm of drugs, etc at school and youth centers. “At that time, there had been all kinds of substance prevention efforts and programmes,” says Inga Dóra, head researcher here at ICSRA. “Mostly they were built on education.” Kids were being warned about the dangers of drink and drugs, but, as Milkman had observed in the US, these programmes were not working. “We wanted to come up with a different approach.” These are common approaches, and as shown by the data, they were not helpful approaches preventing Icelandic youth from using drugs, alcohol, and participating in other risky behaviors. 

Laws were changed. It became illegal to buy tobacco under the age of 18 and alcohol under the age of 20, and tobacco and alcohol advertising was banned. Links between parents and school were strengthened through parental organizations which by law had to be established in every school, along with school councils with parent representatives. Parents were encouraged to attend talks on the importance of spending a quantity of time with their children rather than occasional “quality time”, on talking to their kids about their lives, on knowing who their kids were friends with, and on keeping their children home in the evenings.

A law was also passed prohibiting children aged between 13 and 16 from being outside after 10pm in winter and midnight in summer. It’s still in effect today.

Home and School, the national umbrella body for parental organizations, introduced agreements for parents to sign. The content varies depending on the age group, and individual organizations can decide what they want to include. For kids aged 13 and up, parents can pledge to follow all the recommendations, and also, for example, not to allow their kids to have unsupervised parties, not to buy alcohol for minors, and to keep an eye on the well-being of other children.

These agreements educate parents but also help to strengthen their authority in the home, argues Hrefna Sigurjónsdóttir, director of Home and School. “Then it becomes harder to use the oldest excuse in the book: ‘But everybody else can!’”

State funding was increased for organized sport, music, art, dance and other clubs, to give kids alternative ways to feel part of a group, and to feel good, rather than through using alcohol and drugs, and kids from low-income families received help to take part. In Reykjavik, for instance, where more than a third of the country’s population lives, a Leisure Card gives families 35,000 krona (£250) per year per child to pay for recreational activities.

The survey is ongoing, and new programming is being designed annually.

The numbers speak for themselves! Between 1997 and 2012, the percentage of kids aged 15 and 16 who reported often or almost always spending time with their parents on weekdays doubled – from 23 per cent to 46 per cent – and the percentage who participated in organized sports at least four times a week increased from 24 per cent to 42 per cent. Meanwhile, cigarette smoking, drinking and cannabis use in this age group plummeted. “Although this cannot be shown in the form of a causal relationship – which is a good example of why primary prevention methods are sometimes hard to sell to scientists – the trend is very clear,” notes Álfgeir Kristjánsson, who worked on the data and is now at the West Virginia University School of Public Health in the US. “Protective factors have gone up, risk factors down, and substance use has gone down – and more consistently in Iceland than in any other European country.”

The model is about creating a different micro and macro environment for children, and improving their culture and surrounding environment. This requires a long-term vision, and collaboration of all key institutions and agencies. 

Most countries with advanced economies encompass the infrastructure to run this approach. Collecting the data and getting institutions and agencies to collaborate is key to success. 

Research shows that participation in organized sport or other activities provides kids with an opportunity to commit to valued and positive character building approach which decreases the time they may spend on less positive things such as drug use. Finding a commitment and interest in such activities also decreases the chances of later drug use. 

Our research shows that lack of parental support, monitoring and collaboration with other parents is the biggest risk factor of youth substance use. Large amounts of unorganized and unsupervised idle hours (basically having nothing productive to do). Sloppy supervision and unclear behavioral sanctions. 

The “Youth in Europe – A Drug Prevention Program” (YiE) is based on primary prevention work which originated in Iceland in 1998. The evidence-based, international programme was initiated by Icelandic scientists, the city of Reykjavik and ECAD (European Cities against Drugs) and as of 2017 we have partnered with more than 36 cities in Chile, Portugal, Spain, France, Malta, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Slovakia, Romania, Moldova, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Russia, Sweden, Norway, Faroe Islands, Kenya, and Guinea-Bissau. You can find out more here: http://planetyouth.community/get-involved/communities/

The model requires a shift in thinking, from an individual perspective to a collective perspective, and from short-term goal setting to long-term goal setting. Once outlined, many of our colleagues believe it is simply too challenging to facilitate such changes in approach. If you would like to get involved, please contact us here: https://planetyouth.community/contact/