Alcohol is one of the most popular substances for teens and adults to abuse. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics' Healthy Children website, four out of five people over age 12 have tried drinking alcohol. While not every teen tries her first sip of alcohol because her friends tell her to, peer pressure has a definite effect on many adolescents' decision to drink.
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Although friends often have an impact on what a child chooses to do from an early age, during the teen years social ties may begin to play a far greater role. Friends, schoolmates or even social acquaintances may put pressure on a teen to try something that he may not consider doing on his own. Some peer pressure is typically obvious -- such as when a friend says, "You should try drinking, we are all doing it." Other times, this type of influence is much more subtle. Instead of directly telling your teen what to do, his friends may make it known that he needs to conform to their rules in order to remain part of the group. For example, all of his friends may go out drinking every Friday night. Even if these friends don't explicitly tell your teen that he must drink, he knows that not joining in will isolate him from the clique.
When it comes to underage drinking, there is no such thing as a positive aspect or result. Although other teens may tell your child that alcohol is "no big deal" because it is legal -- for adults 21 and over -- your teen needs to know the facts and the consequences of drinking. The AAP, on its Healthy Children website, notes that car crashes related to alcohol use are the leading cause of death among young people ages 15 to 24. Additionally, according to the pediatric experts at Kids Health, alcohol use can cause short-term problems such as distorted vision, impaired judgment and altered emotions as well as long-term consequences that include liver cancer, vitamin deficiencies, memory loss or heart damage.
Just because a teen's peers are pressuring her to drink doesn't mean that she has to give in. While you aren't always going to have the opportunity to step in and say "No" for her, you can give your teen the tools she needs to keep herself safe and alcohol-free. Have an open discussion about drinking with your teen, bringing up subjects such as consequences, legal issues, how to resist peer pressure and what to say to a friend or acquaintance who is trying to entice your teen into drinking. Instead of giving general ideas such as "Just say no," provide your teen with concrete examples and ways to combat peer pressure. For example, tell her a story from your own youth when you told a friend no. Another option is to tell your teen to leave the situation, if possible. Let her know that there's no shame in telling her friends that she doesn't want to drink or that she wants to go home.
If you have doubts that your teen is getting the message that drinking is unhealthy and illegal, or you fear that peer pressure may win out, give your child a few statistics about alcohol that may make him think twice. The next time that your teen considers giving in to his friends' pleas to drink, ask him to remember that -- according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- alcohol is the primary culprit behind more than 4,700 deaths and 189,000 emergency room visits each year by young people who are under the legal drinking age. If your teen thinks that a casual drink here or there with his friends is acceptable, let him know that people who start drinking by age 15 are five times more likely than nondrinkers to develop an alcohol abuse problem as an adult, according to the CDC.