Who's the Biggest Influence on Teens' Drinking Habits?

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While "peer pressure" is an ever-present force in social interactions, it may not be the peers you expect that are having the biggest influence on teens... Or at least when it comes to underage drinking. According to new research, instead of being influenced by what they believe all of the other kids are doing, teens are actually impacted the most by the decisions of their close friends. In other words, if a teen hangs out with others who drink, they're more likely to engage in that behavior themselves. Likewise, if a teen hangs out with non-drinkers, they're less inclined to drink, despite what a bunch of their classmates may do on the weekend.

This insight comes from a study at the Indiana University led by Jonathon Beckmeyer. He decided to take a look at how social relationships shape teen alcohol use. Science Daily explains the findings:

Even if a teen perceived that many teens in general consumed alcohol, they were less likely to have experimented with it themselves if they did not think their friends drank alcohol.

Expanding upon that idea, Beckmeyer explained how parents and teachers can help prevent teen drinking. It starts by considering who the teens are spending most of their time with. He says, "Really working to encourage teens to make friendships with non-alcohol-using friends could be one of the more effective things parents can do to help."

For more about the ways that peers can impact each other's decisions—in a positive way, check out the "Friendfluence!" story from the October issue of Choices. Also take a look at the "Alcohol Poisoning" piece from 2013. Choices is a health, well-being, and life skills magazine for teens.