Teen smoking and drinking do not occur in a vacuum -- both parents and peers may promote or discourage substance abuse among teens, according to a study of more than 4,500 students in the sixth, seventh and eighth grades.
"This is one of the first studies to report that both peer and parent influences are independently associated with smoking and drinking," said lead author Bruce Simons-Morton, EdD, MPH, of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development at National Institutes of Health, in Bethesda, Maryland.
The teen study participants took a substance abuse survey that included questions on how many of their friends smoke and drink and how often friends had encouraged them to smoke or drink over the past year. The teens were also asked how aware their parents were of their daily activities, about their parents' expectations concerning smoking and drinking and about their parents' level of regard for them.
Girls and boys who associated with friends who smoke and drank were more likely to do so themselves, the researchers found. "Our findings underscore the powerful influence affiliation with substance-using peers can have on smoking and drinking," said Simons-Morton.
The study results are published in the February 2001 issue of the journal Health Education & Behavior.
In general, girls were more likely to drink than boys and were more susceptible to peer pressure from friends encouraging them to drink, according to the study. "This is consistent with other research suggesting that girls may be more susceptible than boys to peer influences to smoke or drink," noted Simons-Morton.
Parents also appeared to influence teen smoking and drinking, the researchers found. "Teens who perceived that their parents like them, respect them, take them seriously, listen to them and give reasons for rules and decisions that involve them were less likely to smoke and drink," said Simons-Morton.
"Teens with parents who do not establish clear behavioral expectations, do not keep themselves informed about their teen's life and do not demonstrate their regard for their teen are more likely to experiment with substance use," the researcher added.
According to the researchers, one way to help teens resist the negative influences of their peers is by bolstering their social skills training. "Our data suggest that social skills training may be even more important for girls than for boys," said Simons-Morton.
Ideally, parents could also be offered training to help them maintain open lines of communication with their adolescent children. "The challenge is to find effective ways of reaching the parents of early adolescents and educating them about authoritative parenting practices, in which parents are both demanding and responsive to their adolescent children," said Simons-Morton. "High parental expectations, involvement and monitoring have been found to be negatively associated with substance use."
The study was supported by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
Health Education & Behavior, a bimonthly peer-reviewed journal of the Society for Public Health Education (SOPHE), publishes research on critical health issues for professionals in the implementation and administration of public health information programs. SOPHE is an international, non-profit professional organization that promotes the health of all people through education. For information about the journal, contact Elaine Auld at (202) 408-9804.
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