Quantitative findings: Adolescent characteristics and motives for signing a SFA
Table 1 presents the characteristics of the adolescents in the study and compares adolescents who signed a SFA and those who did not. Overall, half (50.5%) of the adolescents, who answered the questionnaire, reported having signed the SFA, 27.4 % reported that they did not sign the agreement, while 22.1 % did not remember or did not know if they had signed the agreement. Further, 11.3 % of the adolescents identified as current smokers, and 19.0 % reported that they had tried smoking at some point.
In Table 1 it appears that for adolescents who signed a SFA, 71.7% live with both parents where 60.0% of the non-signing adolescents, live with both parents. Further, for those signing a SFA, 14.2% were from reconstructed families while among non-signers, 20.7% were from reconstructed families. Even though not statistically significant it appears that adolescents who signed a SFA were most likely to be characterized as high and mid-level of SES, e.g. for adolescents who did not sign an agreement, 9,2% had low SES while for adolescents who signed an agreement it was 5.7%. A statistically significant difference between adolescents who signed, did not remember whether they signed or not and did not sign, was found for the following characteristics: current smoker, ever smoked, mother’s smoking, sibling’s smoking, best friend’s smoking, ever tried hash, ever tried electronic cigarettes and ever tried snuff whereas the highest percentage did not sign a SFA.
Table 2 and Table 3 shows attitudes toward the SFA, for the adolescents who respectively signed and those who did not sign the SFA. Most of the adolescents who signed a SFA (Table 2) reported that signing the agreement does not matter because they do not smoke (58.4 %), that the agreement would not make any difference (43.0 %), or that it is easy to forget that you have signed it (25.3 %).
In table 3 the adolescents’ different motives for not signing an agreement is illustrated. The adolescents most often responded that their refrainment from signing was due to them not smoking in the first place (43.5 %), while few adolescents did not sign because they smoked (8.5 %).
Some adolescents did not sign because they did not want to sign a SFA with their parents (21.4 %), while only few adolescents experienced that their parents did not want to co-sign (2.7 %).
Others reported that they were not present at the time the agreement was distributed at the school (18.4 %).
Not smoking, or no intentions to initiate smoking, were prominent reasons for both signing and refraining from signing the SFA. Adolescents who signed reported that the agreement will not do any difference (43.0%) indicating that the meaning of the SFA is perceived as limited for some adolescents.
The agreement was perceived, for some adolescents who did or did not remember if they signed it, to be a good occasion to talk to their parents about smoking (20.7%).
At the same time, parents also operated as a barrier to signing the agreement, as some adolescents did not want to commit to a SFA with their parents (21.4%).
To substantiate the quantitative results, we draw from focus groups to elaborate how the adolescents approach the SFA by exploring their attitudes. To understand the adolescents’ attitudes, we use Johansson and Vinthagens (2016) concept of resistance and will in the following sections draw from the dimension of repertoire of resistance and subsequently unfold resistance in relation to the power (imbalance) between adolescents and their parents.
Adolescents attitudes toward the SFA as reflecting repertoires of resistance
In the following, we address the adolescents’ attitudes and reactions to the agreement and what these reactions illustrate when interpreted as acts of resistance. As illustrated in the questionnaire data, the adolescents had different explanations for signing the agreement.
In general, the adolescents from School B signed the SFA (89%) and expressed faith in the effectiveness of the agreement. Their attitudes and willingness to sign a SFA was explained in a focus group:
Felix: For some people it’s really good, but I just signed it and thought that I won’t be smoking anyway. So, no harm in signing.
Hellum: No harm in getting something out of it somehow.
Felix: There might be some people who go for it more. I don’t think about it much – ‘now I have to be aware that when I go into town, I must remember not to smoke.’ I don’t think about that.
Moderator: They ‘go for it’?
Felix: Yes, go for not smoking.
(Focus group, School B)
The excerpt illustrates the general finding that SFA only seemed relevant for those with intention of or already partaking in smoking. Signing a SFA do not seem compromising when smoking is not a practice which one is engaged in and thus do not impose any constrains. This perspective was likewise presented in another focus group: “It’s a bit like killing two birds with one stone. I had never thought of smoking, but I attend a competition” (Focus group, school B). Generally, adolescents at school B had no intention to engage with smoking, and therefore signing the SFA and partaking in a competition was perceived as a profitable situation. “I just think it was a good agreement in regard to you could win a prize for something you wouldn’t do anyway” (Focus group, school B). The emphasize on a lack of desire and lust to smoke, express a general anti-smoking attitude among the adolescents at school B. By such, signing a SFA can be interpreted as part of their repertoire of resistance. As the adolescents are already complying with general anti-smoking attitudes signing put no strains on the adolescents at school B and thus the resistance is directed at smoking as phenomena.
Among the adolescents at school A, 41% signed a SFA. And the adolescents either refrain from signing the SFA or signed but expressed little attention to and trust in the effect of the agreement:
Jonas: I don’t even have any idea what’s written in it.
Eske: I don’t think I handed mine in last year. I forgot.
Ann: I did, but I don’t think it’s very important.
Sofie: No, I don’t think it makes any difference.
Simone: No, I don’t think it makes much difference.
Sofie: You forget it two weeks later.
(Focus group, School A)
As illustrated in the excerpt adolescents at school A stress a lack of trust in the effect of SFA as well as familiarity with the concept of the SFA. Even though this was the general approach to the SFA other adolescents at school A hold a more positive attitude to the concept, however, still emphasize the distrusts in the effect of the SFA.
It doesn’t make that much of a difference, but it’s okay to consider it, I think, and you kind of try to do something from the outside too. It doesn’t change much, but it’s okay that someone is trying to do it – I mean, from the outside – trying to make you not do it. But I don’t think the effect is very big
(Focus group, School A)
This indicates that despite a lack of trust in the effect of the agreement some of the adolescents are accepting and acknowledging the purpose of it. This approach to the SFA, among others, rest on a perception of certain adolescents’ non-compliance with the initiative. “Nobody complies with it [SFA] anyway. Well yes, those who do not smoke. But otherwise…” (Focus group, School A). The effect of the agreement is thus ascribed those who are not partaking in smoking and indicates that the effect of the SFA has limited influence on the adolescents’ behavior. This was especially prominent among the adolescents at school A.
Like for the adolescents at school B, the competition and the possibility of winning a prize worked as an incentive to sign the agreement. And even though the SFA was not something the adolescents put a lot of thought to and eventually forgot, the possibility of winning a prize in particular received the adolescents’ attention. This was, among others, illustrated by an adolescent when asked about the SFA during a focus group.
Eske: Was it the thing [the SFA] where you could win a prize?
Eske: (..) I can’t remember that I signed it but when they [school staff] told us who the winner was, then I remembered. You forget the smoke-free agreement very quickly.
(Focus group, School A)
The adolescent does not give the SFA a lot of attention after having signed. As such, the prize loses its symbolic meaning of being a reward for staying smoke-free, as one phrased it: “You can win a prize but those who win they can have smoked anyway, without telling” (Focus group, school A). The distrust in the agreement, among others, is influenced by an anticipated lack of correspondence between signing a SFA and staying smoke-free.
Moreover, some adolescents dismissed the influence of the SFA on the adolescents' smoking behavior as well as the motivational value of possible winning a prize:
I maybe though it was a bit strange that there was like… Out of all those who haven’t done it, it’s only one who gets anything out of not having done it – not having smoked. I think it’s strange that there is a gain for only one person. Because there are lots who haven’t done it, and they get nothing out of not having done it. I’m just thinking that there are probably some people who can’t be bothered to sign it if only one student has any real benefit. You might just as well not sign it and keep away from smoking anyway, if it doesn’t make any sense to sign it
(Focus group, School A).
The excerpt shows that the cost of signing the SFA expand the benefits as there is only one who wins a prize. This further indicates that signing the SFA can be perceived as challenging the individual choice to smoke and that the adolescents can have resistance toward being subject to such limitations. As previously described, the prospects of winning a prize could act as a motivation for signing a SFA however, as expressed in the excerpt above, the prize also yield a contrary reaction.
All together this indicates that the SFA seem to have little meaning for the adolescents at school A. As their approach to the SFA is tainted with a general resistance expressed as which therefore appear to have little meaning for the adolescents at school A. Thus, the adolescents at school A display a comprehensive repertoire of resistance expressed as a lack of interest, attention and trust in the SFA.
Parental involvement and repertoire of resistance
The adolescents at the two schools’ express differences in regard to how and if they involve their parents in the SFA and moreover in how much they experience their parents to be involved in the concept.
From Johansson and Vinthagen (34
) resistance perspective the different ways the adolescents involve their parents in the SFA reflects the relationship between the agents i.e., the parents naturally possess power over the adolescents. This relation furthermore influences the repertoire of resistance which the adolescents’ use.
At school B, the adolescents involved their parents in the agreement, and experienced that they were positive towards the initiative:
Andy: My mum, she just signed it straight away and said, ‘bloody good concept’. She’s been smoking for a long time, and my grandpa did die from lung cancer. Well, maybe not a long time, but almost five years, and now she’s quit completely, which is really good going for her. She signed it straight away without asking any questions. I think my dad did too. I can’t remember if they both had to sign.
Ella: My mum just signed it.
Moderator: Did you talk about tobacco when you signed?
Andy: No, because we’ve talked about it before. So, I have a very good understanding of smoking.
Ella: My parents said that it was stupid, and that they would be disappointed in me if I did it and so on.
Sasha: And there’s nothing worse than your parents being disappointed in you.
(Focus group, school B)
The adolescents emphasize their parent’s active involvement in the SFA indicated by them willingly signing an agreement.
While the agreement did not always drive a dialog about smoking the adolescents emphasized the parents non approval of smoking.
As such, the adolescents portray their parents as opposing smoking which reflect their own approach.
One adolescents at school B described how the agreement brought about a concern with the parents but fostered a dialog:
As soon as I came home with it [SFA], they asked, ‘why are you suddenly coming home with this; has something happened?’ or something like that, and I was just like, ‘no, no’, so that was all good. And then they asked me about my opinion, and we started talking about it.
(Focus group, school B)
This anti-smoking approach underlines the alignment between the parents' and adolescents' understanding of smoking. From this we understand that adolescents and parents both resist smoking thus signing and talking about smoking seem to pose no threat to the adolescents at school B.
Contrary to the adolescents at school B, the adolescents at school A expressed a general resistance toward involving their parents in the SFA and when they involved them, the adolescents experienced that their parents showed little interest in the initiative.
The latter was, among others, expressed by some non-smoking adolescents.
Mads: I think they’re [the parents] just like, ‘yeah, yeah’. They don’t really care about it [SFA].
Ruben: We also just put it to one side and quickly signed it. But it doesn’t really make any difference, if you can say it like that. You can still start smoking and sign.
Mads: It’s the same as saying to your parents, ‘I don’t smoke’, but you can still do it – that’s the same thing.
(Focus group, School A)
This indicates that the adolescents resist parental involvement (in the sense of the power the parents have).
This we draw from two points the adolescents make in the excerpt. First, the adolescents emphasise the lack of parental attention to and interest in the SFA. This also imply that the agreement did not foster a dialog about smoking and consequently no parental restrictions in this matter.
Second, the adolescents challenge the influence of the parents by indicating that there might be a lack of correspondence between what the adolescents actually do and what they say to their parents that they do (framing themselves as non-smokers).
Which, moreover, suggests that parents hold little control over the adolescents.
When emphasising the lack of parental involvement in and attention to the SFA as well as the possible lack of correspondence between smokers and non-smokers this operate as a way to (silently) resist the power of their parents.
Other adolescents, primarily those who partook in smoking either daily or occasionally, refrained from involving their parents in the agreement.
This was illustrated in a focus group when talking about whether the participants brought home the agreement.
Fie: Yes, I have it in my room [laughs].
Moderator: Have you shown it to you mum or dad, or…?
Fie: No, it’s – they know… They [the school] have contacted the parents, so my dad knows. But he hasn’t tapped me on the shoulder yet.
Henriette: Well, my parents know that I have it, but they couldn’t care less.
Marikka: Well, my parents couldn’t care less either. They say to me that those who want to … if I want to sign it or not…
Moderator: Yes, it’s your own choice?
(Focus group, school A)
As shown in the above excerpt the adolescents at school A in general emphasize their parents' lack of involvement in SFA.
The adolescents take a position as having power to decide how and whether the parents get the possibility to involve in the agreement.
However, worth noticing is that the power to decide themselves whether (or not) to sign the SFA is partly “given” to them by the parents.
Thus, the adolescents at school A are in general accepting the power imbalance between them and their parents but, nonetheless, positioning themselves as being in power of signing.
This in the sense that to or not to sign is their own choice. In general, the adolescents’ and their parents do not engage in a dialog about smoking.