Does Peer Pressure Influence Underage Drinking? Pro

Caroline Cook


You may feel an urge to stop reading now.  If you want to consider the question further, then read on.

Ask yourselves the following:

Have you ever purchased an item of clothing because your friends were wearing it?

Have you ever done anything that you later regretted just to make somebody new like you?

Have you ever shoplifted while out with a group of friends?

Have you ever been caught up in the moment and known that what you were doing was wrong or harmful, yet you were unable to stop?

Have you ever had sex because somebody pressured you to?

Have you ever vandalized property while out with friends?

Have you ever been part of a bullying incident with your friends?

Have you ever tried drugs or alcohol just because your friends were doing it?

Dr. Thomas Dishion, director of research for the Child and Family Center at the University of Oregon, calls the influence of peers on one another “peer contagion,” because each member of a group influences each other. “Some kids abstain from decision making when they are in the context of their friends; they just go with the group,” said Dishion to the National Institute of Health in 2007.

Peer pressure exists for all ages. No one is immune. Six-year-old Johnny begs his mother to buy him Pokémon cards because his friends compare them on a daily basis. Without shiny cards, Johnny will be considered an outcast by fellow kindergarteners.

Twelve-year-old Sarah purchases a pair of parachute pants, then refuses to wear them ever again after her friends ridiculed them. 16-year-old Jeff, works out three hours every day, to become “ripped.” When one of his friends offers him anabolic steroid supplements, he accepts.

Peer pressure can be positive. Goal oriented teens, planning on attending college, influence their friends to study and work hard in school. Many peers encourage friends to exercise, avoid smoking, and follow their dreams.

Conversely, peers can convince their friends to experiment with alcohol, drugs, and promiscuous sex.  Some teens become sexually active because they believe it will increase their status among their peers, according to a report from the Massachusetts General Hospital for Children.

The strength of peer influence is prevalent during adolescence as teens struggle to find their place in the world.  Afraid to appear different, the majority want to belong to a group and fit in.

Recent studies at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, show that even rats, the most social of their species, submit to peer pressure. According to the study, brown rats tend to disregard their personal experiences and copy the behavior of their peers. In the experiment, rats were conditioned against eating cinnamon-flavored food pellets, by suffering nausea inducing injections after consumption. Nevertheless, these rats continued to eat the cinnamon pellets when placed in a setting with non-conditioned members of their clan who chowed down on the cinnamon bits.

There is no reason to believe that Miramonte students react differently to peer pressure in connection with underage drinking than in regards to the latest fashion trend.  The question is not whether peer pressure influences underage drinking, but instead, why can’t autonomy be the new black?