Derek Kreager and Dana A. Haynie released a study with the American Sociological Association on the drinking behaviors of adolescents and their peer groups.
They discovered that the adolescent drinking habits of a romantic partner’s friends are more likely to influence one’s drinking behavior than the adolescent’s partner or actual friends – this refers to both binge drinking and drinking frequency. 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.”
Derek Kreager, lead author of the study along with Dana A Haynie noted that adolescents typically attempt to be more like their partner’s friends in order to try and form a stronger bond with his or her partner. What this study elucidates is the influence relationships with peer groups have on adolescent behavior. The addition of new and often different peers introduces new norms and new opportunities to explore, and not all of them are positive. A romantic partner that hangs around with the party crowd is going to have a different influence than the partner who hangs out with a quieter crowd. With this in mind, the study also showed the positive influence of a quieter peer group on an adolescent that has had a history of drinking. In general, peer influence has a lot of power on the life of an adolescent.
Because we are in the recovery field, it’s common for us to view mental health and substance abuse from the psychological perspective. However, it’s important to also view it through the sociological lens. Influence from peer groups peak during adolescence, but it is often short lived. The long-term influence comes from family, i.e., one’s root relationship. Still, peer groups have strong influence on socialization, particularly during adolescence. It’s important to retain transparency as a family and open-mindedness, which will encourage an adolescent to reach out and come back into a healthier construct of family influence. If that family input is dysfunctional, however, a teen could subconsciously seek a seemingly more reliable root system to latch onto and they will seek that within their peer groups. Because teens tend toward impulsivity and risk-taking behavior, however, their choices in this matter may be compromised, though not always.
It’s important to make sure we come from a place of understanding and curiosity when we are working with adolescents and their peer groups. We were all adolescents at one point in our lives and if we can remember the challenges that came with it, we will be better parents and professionals to our teens. Understanding the value of teens and the incredible influence their peer groups have will help us redirect our teens if they are on a wilder path.