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If you're worried about your teenager engaging in unsafe drinking, you might want to keep an eye on who her boyfriend hangs out with.
Teens are more influenced by the drinking habits of their romantic partners' friends than they are by the habits of their own friends or romantic partners, a new study finds.
For example, the odds that an adolescent will binge drink are more than doubled if her partner's friends drink heavily compared with if her own friends are heavy drinkers, the researchers said.
"The friends of a partner are likely to be very different from the adolescent and his or her friends, and they might also be, at least a little, different from the partner," said study researcher Derek Kreager, an associate professor of crime, law and justice at Pennsylvania State University. Adolescents are motivated to be more like their partner's friends in an effort to strengthen their relationship with their partner."
The influence is not always negative. "If an adolescent is a drinker and he or she starts going out with someone whose friends predominately don't drink, you would find the same effect but in the opposite direction," Kreager said.
Kreager and colleagues used data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, a survey of U.S. adolescents enrolled in grades 7 through 12 during the 1994 to1995 school year. The researchers examined responses from 449 heterosexual couples (898 students) in 1994, when they hadn't necessarily paired together yet, and in 1996, after they had become couples.
Before getting together, adolescent dating partners shared few of the same friends, and any teen's friends are likely to be the same gender as he or she, the study showed.
Under the influence of dating
These results support the idea that dating exposes adolescents to new opportunities and norms that influence their own drinking behavior, while also increasing friendships with the opposite gender, the researchers said.
However, it's important to note that although the drinking habits of a dating partner's friends are more influential, a teen's own friends and partner still hold sway, too, the researchers said.
The study is published in the October issue of the American Sociological Review.
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