Study: Teen Drinking Influenced by Wide Social Circle

A new study has found that teenagers are pressured to drink by a wide social circle--the friends of their boyfriends or girlfriends, rather than the romantic partners themselves. The research, which was published in the journal American Sociological Review, found that "second-degree friends," or friends of boyfriends or girlfriends, had the strongest influence over teen drinking of any group of peers.

Why? Dating introduces adolescents to new and different social networks and also creates a kind of indirect peer pressure, says lead researcher Derek Kreager, Ph.D., an associate professor of crime, law, and justice at Pennsylvania State University, in University Park.

A teen's longtime friends tend to be like-minded when it comes to values and lifestyle, but romantic partners are more likely to come from a different circle.

"Think of your son or daughter's new significant other as a bridge to a whole other group that he or she is now going to be exposed to," Kreager says.

When teenagers begin dating, they tend to meet in the middle when it comes to habits like drinking. If a teen girl who has yet to experiment with alcohol starts dating a boy who drinks often, for instance, the boy is likely to cut back while the girl is likely to give drinking a try.

"He has an incentive to change, to be more like her," Kreager explains. "On the other hand, his friends don't really have any reason to change, so they continue drinking. Meanwhile, she has incentive to be like those friends, because that's what appeals to her partner."

Experts urge parents to talk to their teens about drinking and peer pressure before they start dating. Also, parents are encouraged to get to know their teens' friends, boy or girlfriends, and wider social circle.

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