Alcohol, the most commonly-used drug among youth, is responsible for the deaths of more than 4,300 deaths of underage Americans every single year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. During prom and graduation seasons, the temptation for kids to drink is especially high and the need for prevention particularly important.
Peer pressure is among the strongest factors driving the decision by teens to drink. The reasons are complex but mostly boil down to wanting to fit in, to exhibit independence, and to have fun. Preparing your child to avoid drinking during this high-temptation season could prevent a tragedy.
Underage drinking is dangerous because of the immediate health risks of alcohol toxicity and the potential for a drunk driving accident. In 2011, 226 children were killed in drunk driving accidents, with 54 percent of them riding in the same vehicle as the drunk driver, MADD reports.
Why Teens Drink
Teens know it’s illegal and dangerous for them to drink, so why do some drink anyway? While they may do it to simply “have fun,” the underlying causes may be more complex.
Social identity theory says that a significant portion of someone’s self-concept is formed through their peer groups, according to New York University research. For teens, this means their popularity and acceptance influence how they view themselves. To be viewed in a positive light, and therefore to see themselves in a positive light, they may give in to what everyone else is doing, and that includes drinking.
While an obvious offer of alcohol is one form of peer pressure, many teens are pressured into drinking without ever being asked. Seeing teens normally considered “cool” with drinks in their hands could pressure your child into modeling the same behavior, consciously or not, in an effort to be a part of the in-crowd.
Instead of solely looking at why kids drink, a study by the Century Council asked nondrinking teens why they abstained. Among the nondrinkers, 75 percent said they didn’t drink simply because they didn’t want to, 70 percent said it was unsafe or unhealthy, and 65 percent said they didn’t drink because it was illegal.
Notably, 60 percent of nondrinking teens said they chose not to drink because their parents asked them not to. The Century Council also found that parents, more than any other group — including peers, teachers, and siblings — had the most impact on whether or not a child would drink. This is promising news for parents and indicates that stopping teens from drinking or getting into a car driven by a teen who has been drinking could be as simple as telling them not to.