Peer Pressure to Drink, Smoke Hardest on Girls
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Teenage girls may be more susceptible than boys to powerful peer influences that pressure them to take up smoking and drinking, say researchers at the US National Institutes of Health (NIH).
However, the study also found that supportive, involved parents can help girls and boys alike resist these types of pressures.
``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,'' explained study lead author Bruce Simons-Morton, of the NIH's National Institute of Child Health and Human Development in Bethesda, Maryland.
His team's study, based on questionnaires filled out by over 4,000 6th-to-8th-graders, is published in the February issue of the journal Health Education & Behavior. The surveyed youngsters lived in suburbs or rural areas outside Washington, DC.
Consistent with previous US studies, about one in every ten of the 6th-graders who completed the questionnaire said they had tried smoking and 13% had tried drinking at least once in the past month. This number rose to about one in every six, or 18% to 20% of the youngsters, by the time teens reached the 8th grade. Rates for drinking and smoking did not vary by sex.
Gender does seem to play an influential role in deciding whether young people will crumble under the pressure to smoke or drink, however. When it came to the use of alcohol, especially, ''peer pressure was significantly associated with drinking among girls but not among boys,'' the NIH team points out. They say the finding is consistent with other studies that suggest that ``girls may be more susceptible than boys to peer influences to smoke or drink.''
Parents can be a child's main line of defense against the pressures of the peer environment, however. Children who said their parents were ``highly involved'' in their lives were 2.5 times less likely to smoke and nearly two times less likely to drink than kids with more 'distant,' less-involved parents, according to the survey. Parents who treated their children with respect, held open the doors to communication, and set well-explained rules were also much more likely to keep their children from smoking and/or drinking, compared with parents who did not.
Simons-Morton's team stresses that none of this takes a superhuman effort on the part of parents. Relationship-building behaviors such as ``frequent, open communication and an attitude of acceptance of the teen, are within the capabilities of most parents,'' they say.