For a lot of teens, drinking alcohol can be a way to fit in. Unsure of themselves and insecure about their ability to be accepted, some teens will decide to drink. The cruel irony of this decision is that, in some school environments, the teen winds up feeling even more ostracized and alone than the kids who don’t go ahead and drink. And once the teen feels apart from the crowd, grades begin to suffer too.
According to a 2012 study published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, the problem is most pronounced in small schools where few students drink and where there are strong social cliques. For the teen that drinks, he or she feels like part of the group only when they are with other drinking students. The rest of the time, using alcohol makes them feel lonely and isolated from their peers.
The study found that when teens feel like they don’t fit in with other students it shows up as bad grades. Even smart and very bright students find it difficult to overcome the social stress of not feeling included and fitting in. In fact, the researchers, who carefully tracked grades, discovered at least a one point drop in GPA when a teen was struggling with social issues.
Researchers from the University of Texas, Austin and the University of Michigan analyzed data gathered through the Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health – a study that is considered to be the most far-reaching study of high school teens to date. Information on nearly 8,300 teenagers from 126 schools around the nation was used. Researchers factored out issues such as race, gender, ethnicity and social/economic status.
The results of this analysis revealed that drinking created more social anxiety than it cured and that stress led to a lower academic performance, most particularly in small school with tight-knit friendship groups. The researchers said that their findings don’t indicate that teens who drink would fare better in schools with cliques accepting of drinking. Instead, they warn that some school environments which may seem positive (e.g.: small schools with anti-drinking attitudes) are not necessarily helpful environments.
Social-emotional development and academic performance are clearly intertwined. So helping students to develop positive social interactions can actually improve a teen’s learning and school performance. Parents need to be attentive to both aspects of their teen’s development.
Here in BuchananCounty the St Joseph Youth Alliance wants to help parents create positive social environments. The program BC Rocks encourages parents of teens to sign a public pledge to keep their house that kind of environment. Parents who sign the BC Rocks pledge are giving their word of honor to keep alcohol away from teens and to provide adequate supervision when teens gather in their home. We encourage all parents to sign up and help kids find a better place to fit in.
What is the strongest factor influencing whether or not your teen will drink alcohol? A study sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism points to the attitudes of friends as the number one determining influence on when and whether a young person drinks.
The study surveyed 820 teenagers ages 14 – 17 from six separate locations across the nation. The majority of the teens came from high-risk situations but fewer than 50 percent had an alcoholic mother or father. The researchers looked at the age each teen had taken their first drink of alcohol and then looked at other contributing factors such as degree of social skills, whether their closest friends drank, family history of alcohol abuse, and assessments for disruptive behavior (i.e.: were the teens natural troublemakers).
Researchers found that close to half (four out of 10) of the teens who drank at an early age also reported having best friends who were drinkers. Compared to all the other examined risk factors, having a close friend who drinks makes it twice as likely that a young person will drink.
There is a good news/bad news angle to the friendship factor however. Research conducted in 2012 underlined the powerful influence of close friends, but it went a step beyond to assert that even the parents of close friends can influence a teenager.
This means that if a best buddy has a permissive parent, drinking may be encouraged. It also means that friends with strict, tee-totaling parents can also exert some influence. That particular study found teens whose friends had authoritative mothers were significantly less apt to drink, smoke tobacco or use marijuana compared to kids with permissive moms and dads.
The importance of delaying a person’s first experience with drinking cannot be over-emphasized. Drinking before age 14 is a risk factor for later adult alcohol dependency in numerous studies. The medical and physical risks of drinking for teens are a litany of reasons why young people should wait to drink alcohol. But if friends can exert this much influence over a teen’s decision to drink, what is a parent to do?
First, keep in mind that the parents of friends share in the best friend influence factor. You can be a positive influence on your teen’s friends in discouraging early alcohol use. Second, just because parents don’t have the strongest voice, doesn’t mean that they have no voice. Moms and dads should talk with their teens about their feelings on alcohol use.
Finally, the Youth Alliance has developed BC Rocks as a way for parents to connect with other like-minded moms and dads who will be that second tier influence away from underage drinking. Check out the BC Rocks participation pages to see if your teen is headed to a home where the adults are standing tall and speaking against underage drinking by refusing to turn a blind eye.