HUNDREDS of youngsters are taking part in a project that aims to shed light on their peers’ lifestyles and help them make informed decisions about their own.

All secondary schools across County Durham have been invited to take part in the social norms initiative, with 17 so far opting in.

Pupils are encouraged to give an honest and confidential view of their lifestyles which will be used to dispel myths and stereotypes, keep youngsters well informed and target any problems that are highlighted.

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Social enterprise group The Cornforth Partnership, based in West Cornforth, has been appointed by Durham County Council to lead the project with support from other voluntary organisations.

The team is working with all year groups in those schools taking part to complete a healthy lifestyle questionnaire about issues such as alcohol consumption, smoking and relationships which young people can complete online.

Karen Lynn, chief executive of the Partnership, said: “The idea is to get a picture of what is really going on with young people across the county.

“A lot of time there is a false perception about what young people are doing, part of this work is about correcting that- like saying not everyone is having sex or drinking so young people don’t feel pressure to do it themselves.”

Based on the findings, a marketing campaign will promote positive messages and target issues revealed by the youngsters’ feedback.

Project workers will come up with key messages both countywide and specific to each school and year group if particular issues become apparent among certain groups.

Schools will help create social marketing based on the messages and in a format their children find appealing.

Ms Lynn said the research should help the council target resources in year of cuts.

Nick Whitton’s, the council’s head of commissioning, said: “Young people often feel pressured into activities such as drinking, smoking and having sex because they wrongly believe that the majority of their friends and peers are already involved.

“The Social Norms contract was awarded in April 2012 with the aim of undertaking work to change the attitude of young people by establishing and promoting the real facts to challenge misconceptions around drinking, smoking or taking part in other risk-taking activities.”