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Peer Pressure Sways a Child's Interest in Smoking, Drinking as Early as 6th Grade

January 23, 2001
CNN Web posted at: 1:31 a.m. EST

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Young people's attitude toward smoking and drinking may develop as early as sixth grade and is greatly influenced by friends, according to a study released Tuesday by the National Institutes of Health.

Bruce Simons-Morton, one of the study researchers, said a young person's affiliation with those who smoke or drink was the most powerful peer influence. "Sixth, seventh or eighth graders were nine times more likely to smoke and five times more likely to drink if they had two or more friends who smoke and drank," said Simons-Morton, who has studied youth and health issues for years.

The study also found that simply associating with smokers and drinkers carried a stronger influence than being offered a cigarette or a drink. Study results are based on data collected from a confidential survey about drinking and smoking given to 4,200 teens in Maryland's junior high schools. Previous studies with teens have shown that peer pressure and parental involvement have an influence on whether young people start smoking or drinking. The newly released study is one of the first to examine at what age those attitudes develop.

In elementary school, children's attitudes toward smoking and drinking are negative. But researchers found that by the time they reach middle school, students who associated with friends who drank and smoked were more likely to pick up the habits themselves. Girls, the study showed, were more likely to be susceptible to peer pressure than boys. The pattern carried over to high school.

Tips to counter behavior

The study's authors said there are several things parents can do to decrease the risk.

  • First, they need to be involved in the lives of their children, to know what the children do and understand who they know.
  • Second, parents should demonstrate high expectations. Children often rise to meet the expectations of their parents.
  • Third, the study recommends that parents hold their children in high regard, respect their opinions and listen to their ideas.

"Teens who reported that their parents were highly involved in their lives were about half as likely to smoke or drink (as) youths who felt their parents were not very involved," Simons-Morton said.

Source: Medical journal Health, Education & Behavior.

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