When It Comes to Drinking and Smoking, Peer Pressure Is Overrated

Once kids cross the threshold into adolescence, their friends are all that matter, and parental advice on drinking and smoking falls on deaf ears. At least that's the conventional wisdom.

Not so fast, say researchers at Columbia University and Queens College in New York. They say that peer influence is vastly overrated and that parents shouldn't be let off the hook. The fact is, when it comes to drinking and smoking, parents exert more influence than peers, according to a recent report in Adolescent and Family Health.

First of all, teens whose parents smoke or drink view these behaviors in a more positive light than those whose parents' don't. But what's especially intriguing is that parental patterns determine the kind of friends a teen seeks out.

In other words, adolescents don't smoke or drink simply because their friends do--they select friends because they share their attitudes about these behaviors. And these attitudes have been shaped by watching their parents. The peer group influence simply reinforces what they learned at home.

Even researchers studying school-based prevention programs are coming to this conclusion. Parents are the key.

So parents shouldn't despair. Even if their teenager appears to be ignoring them, their advice is probably sinking in. The best way, researchers say, to reduce a child's risks of substance abuse problems is an old-fashioned one: a firm parental hand.

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