Teen Drinking – The Friend Factor RevisitedBy
Your teen’s drinking patterns are heavily influenced by his or her friendships, but not in the way you may think. An interesting series of studies recently examined the relationship between teen social selection and rates of drinking.
The first interaction was found in the manner by which younger teens select their friends. Below the age of 13 or so, friend selection is not based upon drinking or drug use. In fact, social activity within these younger age groups is more or less driven by circumstances outside the control of the kids themselves. Though preferences do arise, things like sports, proximity of homes and parental friendships become the driving factor behind most friendships.
Drinking and drug use begins to appear on the social scene around age 12. As kids enter the 6th and 7th grades, it becomes known that some of their friends are involved with substance abuse. At this stage, a kid’s existing friendships have a significant influence upon whether or not they themselves initiate drinking behavior. Having friends who begin drinking or using drugs is a strong predictor.
Around the ages of 14 though 16, we begin to see a different pattern. Kids in this age group exert much more control over their friendships. They begin selecting social circles based upon drinking and drug use patterns. A child who is interested in drinking and using drugs is far more likely to select friends with those same interests or activities. Conversely, those who do not wish to drink or use drugs commonly select friendships in line with those interests.
The implications of these studies suggest that kids in the lower teen years, say 13, would benefit greatly from the reinforcement of social refusal strategies. They should be encouraged to resist the influence of existing friends who begin to engage in risky behaviors. Those in the older age groups, say 15 years of age, should receive encouragement regarding their selection of friends who support a drug free lifestyle and who reinforce their own healthy values.
The studies, “Dynamics of Friendship Networks and Alcohol Use in Early and Mid-Adolescence” and ” Friendship Dynamics: Selection and Socialization in Early-, Middle- and Late Adolescent Peer Networks” were published in this month’s edition of the Journal of Alcohol and Drug Studies.
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