Bradley Expert: Romantic Partners Make Teens Drink More
Monday, October 03, 2011
“Dating someone whose friends are big drinkers is more likely to cause an adolescent to engage in dangerous drinking behaviors than are the drinking habits of the adolescent’s own friends or romantic partner,” says Derek Kreager, lead author of the study and an associate professor of crime, law, and justice at Pennsylvania State University. “This applies to both binge drinking and drinking frequency.”
Love over friendship when it comes to influence
For example, the study found that the odds of an adolescent binge drinking if his or her partner’s friends engage in heavy drinking is more than twice as high as the likelihood of an adolescent binge drinking if his or her friends or significant other drink heavily.
“The friends of a partner are likely to be very different from the adolescent and his or her friends and they might also be, at least a little, different from the partner,” says Kreager, who coauthored the study with Dana A. Haynie, a sociology professor at Ohio State University. “Adolescents are motivated to be more like their partner’s friends in an effort to strengthen their relationship with their partner.”
Bradley/Hasbro expert agrees
Christie J. Rizzo, Ph.D., psychologist at Bradley/Hasbro Children's Research Center and Assistant Professor at Brown Medical School, sees the early influence that romance has on teen behavior. "Even in early adolescence many teens report being preoccupied with issues related to romantic relationships," Rizzo says. "Teens who have initiated dating often spend countless hours talking about, thinking about, and spending time with their dating partners. We also know that many teens initiate romantic relationships with other teens in their friendship network. So, it is not surprising that teens are influenced not only by their friends, but also by their romantic partners."
Rizzo sees the study as part of an important direction in adolescent behavioral research. "As research on adolescent dating relationships has progressed," she says, "we have learned more and more about how these relationships shape the social and emotional lives of teenagers. It seems that teens are constantly faced with opportunities to engage in risk behaviors and the development of romantic relationships potentially opens the door to even more sources of peer pressure."
On the bright side
Rizzo sees one positive outcome in the influence, however. "The good news is that the risks associated with peer influence can be mitigated by helping young people develop skills that support making healthy choices," she says.
And, as Derek Kreager points out, the influence of a significant other’s friends on an adolescent’s drinking habits is not always negative. “If an adolescent is a drinker and he or she starts going out with someone whose friends predominately don’t drink, you would find the same effect but in the opposite direction,” he says.
In terms of policy implications, Kreager said, “The study demonstrates the need for educators and policymakers to more closely examine dating and the people dating puts adolescents in contact with when they consider interventions to address drinking behaviors, attitudes, and opportunities.”
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